How Seriously Should We Take Satan?

June 28, 2006 | 34 comments
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How seriously ought we to take Satan? Prior to his conversation to Christianity, St. Augustine was a Manichean, and as such he took Satan very seriously. Indeed, in the Manichean world there is a good god and an evil god. They are fighting one another and it is not clear who is going to win. Christianity, however, is unabashedly triumphalist. In the end, we know that Satan will be crushed beneath the heel and God and Christ will reign forever and ever. Yet prior to the millennial triumph, how seriously do we take Satan?

Consider the ransom theory of atonement. On this view, Christ’s suffering is explained thus: When we sin Satan gains control over us. The only way that he can be made to relinquish his control is to be bought off. Christ did this by letting Satan torture and kill him. (Incidentally, this is the theory of atonement that C.S. Lewis presents in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.) The rhetoric of the ransom theory shows up all over the scriptures, but for most theologians it has been a big embarrassment. After all, why does God have to bargain with Satan at all? Why can’t he simply sweep in and rescue poor miserable sinners by overcoming Satan? If you believe in creation ex nihilio, the ransom theory becomes utterly silly. Satan is God’s creature, and as such cannot possibly force God to pay his son in ransom for sinners.

Most Mormons who have directly addressed the question have rejected the ransom theory. The consensus seems to be that it is fine to use the rhetoric of ransom in sermons, but we shouldn’t take it theologically seriously. I wonder though. After all, we don’t believe that Satan is ultimately God’s creature. Like you and me, he is co-eternal with God himself. Furthermore, as Lucifer, Son of the Morning, he was one of the great and powerful ones in the council before the world was organized by the gods. He is not exalted, but it is not beyond the realm of theological possibility that he partakes of a kind proto-divinity.

At the end of the day, I am not really persuaded by the ransom theory, at least as I have stated it. However, I do think that it is very much an open question how seriously we are to take Satan.

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34 Responses to How Seriously Should We Take Satan?

  1. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2006 at 10:03 am

    (1) Whether or not you take the ransom theory seriously, the scriptures and the modern prophets are clear you should take Satan very seriously.

    (2) I take the ransom theory seriously. It is all over the scriptures, as you say, and it makes sense in Mormon belief in a way it wouldn’t for creedal Christians. There is the real possibility, as you say, that Lucifer has real power. But, more importantly, there is the idea that justice and its requirements are independent of God’s whims and not violable by him. So if some cosmic justice requires that people who effectively give themselves over in service to a being cannot be freed from him by force, but only with that being’s consent, then of course Satan does have to be offered a ransom.

    (3) It woul be a mistake to think that one theory of the atonement is sufficient, but I’m pretty sure the ransom theory is one of the right ones.

  2. Frank McIntyre on June 28, 2006 at 10:25 am

    Adam,

    I am fine with a ransom theory where we are ransomed from “justice”.

    But I have my doubts about us being ransomed from Satan in any real sense. If so, it seems to me that either he is an idiot or it is not a bargain so much as a forced thing– at which point we are being ransomed from justice, not Satan the fellow prisoner.. Why in the world would Satan take the deal where Christ suffers for the sins of mankind so that many can be exalted? Satan does not care about justice, so what would he really gain from this?

  3. Nate Oman on June 28, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Frank: Christ and God may have tricked Satan into the deal, although given all the prophecies about Christ rescuing sinners from death and hell Satan was certainly constructively on notice of all of the relevent facts. If Christ and God did trick him, does he have a claim for recision of the contract?

  4. Rob Osborn on June 28, 2006 at 10:59 am

    The whole purpose of Satan tempting Jesus was to overcome him. Satan threw evrything at Christ in order to get him to fail in his mission. Christ broke the bands of deaths grasp both physically and spiritually through the ordeal of the atonement. Because Christ was the only one who did this we must take his name by proxy on us in order to be saved.

    It says in the scriptures that Satan and his works will be destroyed. To destroy works in this sense you have to destroy will or change it. So the real question in Satan’s eternal welfare is if you can change his will towards good at some point through anguish and pain? When there is nothing more for Satan to do, will he surrender? The scriptures talk of those who kept not their first estate (Lucifer and followers) being held in reserve to be judged again. It also states that they won’t receive glory in the same kingdom as those who kept their first estate. This talk in the scriptures reminds me that there will come a time when all of God’s children will come around to his will. Why suffer for infinity if there is the chance of joy?

  5. Frank McIntyre on June 28, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Nate,

    Alright but now you’ve made Satan into an idiot. I guess we knew he was at least something of an idiot for turning down the Plan, so maybe this is the most theologically satisfying.

    As for recision, I really don’t know but he should have access to plenty of lawyers to find out :)

  6. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2006 at 11:10 am

    Frank M.,

    I think it entirely plausible with Satan’s character that he would risk whatever hold he had on thousands for the opportunity to make Christ suffer all the miseries, and perhaps even to break Christ and take him prisoner. In C.S. Lewis it is a trick, but I doubt it was in real life. Its probably a mistake to think of Satan as a purely rational actor, but even from a rational Satanic perspective, he didn’t have a lot to lose, since people would still be free to reject the Atonement.

    Justice seems less plausible to me because I don’t see how Christ suffering satisfies justice in the abstract. It makes a lot more sense to me to think of justice as being owed to particular individuals. If its owed to God, even I’m not bloody-minded enough, usually, to think that God would require his Son’s bloody sacrifice as a condition of relinquishing the claims. If its owed to Satan or his fleshless ones, then Satan can agree to relinquish the claims for a crack at Christ. If its owed to individuals, those individuals will either agree to relinquish their claims as part of their acceptance of Christ or Satan acquires ownership of those claims as part of his ownership of the individual, so either way the claim is relinquished. I know this conception of justice is heavily informed by my legal training, but it works for me.

  7. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Several folks commented at the time that the last General Conference had several testimonies to the reality of the Dark One and his followers, and the real threat they posed.

  8. Paul Mortensen on June 28, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Frank:

    I don’t think Nate necessarily turns Satan into an idiot. I think Satan’s initial sin was that of pride and arrogance. It’s possible that Satan agreed to a ransom because he was certain that either Christ would be unable to seal the deal or that he, Satan, was more than capable of tempting Christ into failure. Satan may have just overestimated his own abilities while at the same time underestimating those of the Father and Son.

  9. Satan on June 28, 2006 at 11:56 am

    You should take me very seriously. Consider this seriously funny joke:

    What\’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup?
    Everyone can roast beef.

    Now that\’s comedy, seriously.

  10. roland on June 28, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    In the early part of the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives a very strong dire warning about the Great Abominable Church and Secret Combinations in the last days. That they will wage a vicious war against the Saints of God.

    Today this great prophecy is being fulfilled as we see world churches full of priest promoting a very liberal lifestyle, violent religious terrorists and evil criminal business cartels flooding the streets and homes of America with drugs and pornography. This destructive influence is constricting around the homes of the very elect and there are some that don’t survive.

    I’m really surprised that the LDS church leaders do not take a more proactive stance in battling these great evils. Our kids get one lesson from family and church and are then bombarded all week long with a different message from mass media, schools and their non-LDS peers.

  11. Frank McIntyre on June 28, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Okay, so he thought maybe Christ would not be able to carry off the atonement, or that most people would not take advantage of it anyway?

    But I still don’t see why I “owe” Satan for sins I have committed. It seems more reasonable that I owe God.

  12. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    “But I still don’t see why I “oweâ€? Satan for sins I have committed.”

    Interesting. At several points, the scripture suggest that there is no real freedom, only a choice between masters. So you’d have to think of sin as an agreement to give yourself over into Satan’s ownership. I don’t know if that’s entirely satisfactory, however. I’ll have to think about it.

    Or maybe its a reliance thing on Satan’s part.

  13. Matt Evans on June 28, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Frank, Satan is an idiot, so long as we consider someone motivated solely by hate to be an idiot. It’s predictable that someone “irrational” like that would give up everything to torture the object of their hatred.

    Adam, Alma suggests that there’s a cosmic law of abstract justice that Christ could satisfy because his suffering was both infinite and unwarranted.

  14. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Matt Evans,

    One can say that there is an abstract law of justice which in part states that crimes against that law can be expiated by infinite, unwarranted suffering.

    One could also say that there is an abstract law of justice which in part states that if one man does another wrong, he must pay for it himself or have the other release him; also that we are bound by our commitments (to Satan, e.g.) unless released.

    The second makes more sense to me. I can understand a law of justice that governs our obligations to each other, but not a law of justice that we would owe obligations to itself. But I by no means want to shut down various lines of thinking about the Atonement. Carry on.

  15. Seth R. on June 28, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    I think you can embody the opposing viewpoints with two contemporary writers:

    C.S. Lewis

    J.R.R. Tolkein

    C.S. Lewis heartily disagreed with the notion of taking Satan seriously. He thoroughly disagreed with the portrayal of the “Son of the Morning” in Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” His book, “The Screwtape Letters” can be regarded as an embodiment of his view on the Devil.

    Tolkein seemed to take the forces of evil much more seriously.

    I like Tolkein’s books better.

  16. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Seth R.,

    Lewis took Satan very seriously, he just didn’t think there was anything grand or admirable or so on about him. I think Perelandra best captures this–the devil is a very great threat and contemptible at the same time. Or perhaps in the Great Divorce, where the devil and all his work can fit in a crack in the ground, but is nevertheless leading away thousands to damnation.

  17. Mark Butler on June 28, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    I think one key to understanding the scriptures that refer to the devil and the spirit of the devil is to recognize that the latter is used as a metonym for all forces, activities, inclinations that oppose the plan of salvation.

    For example, some aspects of the “church of the devil” are not inspired by the devil personally, they are just the works of men that are incompatible with the plan of salvation – that they unwittingly oppose the work of God.

    “But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
    (D&C 46:7)

    We know that the spirit of contention is of the spirit of the devil. Does that mean that the literal influence of the devil must be present for any two individuals to sharply disagree with each other? If so who tempted Satan?

    But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
    (James 1:14-15)

    So then it seems that the potential for both good and evil are necessary consquences of our existence as freely willing individuals under the constraints of natural law.

    And the conflict of wills between all persons, to one degree or another leads to a state of relative chaos or contention – in other words simple disagreement about how things are to be done leads to a “natural” state of mankind in a Hobbesian law of the jungle existence – wars, rumors of wars, tumults, contentions, disputations, etc. The devil does not really have to accomplish to thwart the work of god but to preserve this state of affairs.

    Where God on the other hand, has to persuade all mankind of the merits of the plan of salvation, that he has the power to establish an everlasting peaceful harmony, a righteous society, through the grace of Christ, under the terms and conditions he has laid out for our eternal welfare.

    So while the bondage of sin is real, it is usually not to the devil personally, but rather to our own habits, inclincations, and desires that we develop that are incompatible with the character we must have to come together in the unity of the faith, and furthermore bondage to the various combinations, organizations, “churches”, etc. that by degrees thwart, oppose, or distract the work of salvation. That is what is meant by the “church of the devil” and it arguably has greater presence in the ivory tower and along Madison Avenue than in religious organizations, as a rule.

    The philosophies of men are usually not quite as destructive as the philosophies of the devil, but sometimes the boundary gets very hard to distinguish, on both sides.

    Anyone see a problem with that account of the power of the adversary?

  18. Julie M. Smith on June 28, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    “It would be a mistake to think that one theory of the atonement is sufficient”

    amen

  19. Robert C. on June 28, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    First, I think 2 Ne 9:8-9 is a very interesting LDS passage talking about the devil, a devil, our capacity to become devils, and how the devil “stirreth up” sin:

    “For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become alike unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies . . . yea, to that being who . . . stirreth up the children of men.”

    In response to Mark (#16), I think 2 Ne 2:16 provides an important counter-view: “Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” The notion that we must be enticed underscores the question of who tempted Satan, but suggests at least to me that all evil could in theory be traced back to Satan enticing humankind, although that tracing could be either very direct or very indirect (in which case perhaps it would be more properly referred to as the influence of men not Satan). Another view might be that after we are enticed to evil, perhaps then we, who have/had potential to become as God, have the ability to create our own evil in some sense….

  20. Mark Butler on June 28, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    I believe the ability to create works of either good or evil is inherent in our existence (cf. D&C 93:30), indeed in any kind of existence at all. Joseph Smith did not preach the doctrine of total inability. Satan has a limited degree of power to persuade others to follow him simply because he exists. So do we, for both good and evil.

    The highest good, however is coming together with the community of the Saints – the heavenly host, the divine concert. The highest evil is to go with those ho are not only in distraction, but actively seek to thwart the work of God – the culture of death is the very spirit of the devil, because he is not satisified to stay in his own playground and “do his own thing”, but instead seeks to destroy the works of all others.

    Now as to why we generally become angels to the devil if at the last day we are left without the gates. The problem is that a Hobbesian world isn’t a very pleasant place to live, so people seek protectors, and evil protectors are better than none – gangs, organized crime, despots of all sorts, operate on a comparable principle. Perhaps some of the people in the D&C 88:24,32 limbo manage to escape this practical necessity, but clearly Jacob did not think so.

    So in short, the devil seeks to establish his own kingdom, greater than that of the Most High, but God’s work would be thwarted whether the devil accomplishes that objective or not, rather manages to preserve mankind in a state of Hobbesian confusion – the chaos that existed from the beginning – the natural state of the universe prior to divine creative activity.

    Now it is true that to be judged properly, one must have a knowledge of divine law (and the alternatives), because where there is no law there is no sin. But that does not imply that evil is a consequence of law. That is ridiculous. Responsibility is a consequence of law. Good and evil of various sorts are a consequence of free will – not the fulness of divine good and satanic evil, but middling goods and evils nonetheless. “The origin of evil” is an oxymoron.

  21. Dan Richards on June 28, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    At least one church member takes Satan pretty seriously.

  22. greenfrog on June 28, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Robert C wrote: …I think 2 Ne 2:16 provides an important counter-view: “Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.â€? The notion that we must be enticed underscores the question of who tempted Satan, but suggests at least to me that all evil could in theory be traced back to Satan enticing humankind, although that tracing could be either very direct or very indirect (in which case perhaps it would be more properly referred to as the influence of men not Satan).

    I’m interested in this reading, as I tend to think of that same verse as evidence that Satan is really an abstraction. The verse, to my mind, is essentially an affirmation of dualism — for human cognition to work, it must be able to distinguish between “X” and “not-X.” Though it takes several steps to get from that perception to full consciousness, I think it’s a relatively straightforward path. Perception of distinction combined with the ability to choose = morality. In any given situation, if the choices are distinguishable, one will be better than the other — one will be good and the other bad.

    Satan becomes the desires that would be satisfied by choosing the bad alternative. God (in this verse, at least) becomes the desires that would be satisfied by choosing the good one.

    Moroni 7: …every thing which inviteth to do good…is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil…is of the devil….

    As I understand these verses, they are defining terms, not ascribing causation.

  23. Mark Butler on June 28, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Manicheanism is problematic, because good and evil are not natural substances, but a consequence of free choices, and also because the power of the adversary cannot compare with the power of God, but conventional orthodoxy about evil being a deprivation of grace doesn’t work quite right either – in fact, in part due to the horrors of the twentieth century, the idea that evil is real in an important sense is on the upswing in the theological world.

    I see natural good and natural evil on a pretty linear spectrum, mostly noise, chaos, decay on the left and sanity, order, peace, and harmony on the right. However, once you get into synthetic goods and synthetic evils there are no end of odd combinations of good and evil, and one can no longer see the world even in shades of gray, but must add all sorts of color.

    The amazing thing of course is that evil seems to come in far more varieties that good does – true goods harmonize with other true goods far better than evil does with evil. We identify the ultimate good with the true unity of all good, which is Christ and his Church – it is a good thing for us that evil seems less inclined to cooperate, indeed hardly to show its face, than good does. So ideally, we let evil fight against evil while the true good goes unscathed.

    That is the picture often painted of what the Kingdom of Zion will be like in the last days – standing alone pursuing our proper business while the kingdoms of the world have it out with each other (cf Moses 7:13-17). The non-linearity of evil is our fortune, the non-linearity of good may likewise become our fate, if we do not work together.

  24. Robert C. on June 28, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    greenfrog (#22): I appreciate your reading, but I think it’s a bit of an unnatural read of 2 Ne 2:16 in light of the ensuing verses 17-18 (I posted a brief and rough explanation here). On your view it seems we have to understand the serpent in the Garden, the many verses about the devil (who is often depicted as “the father of lies”), and the “angel of God” who fell from heaven all as abstractions (or I guess we could read that at some point the narration is abstracting, or that the scripture is metaphorical and not literal, but these are what I would consider unnatural or strained readings).

  25. Mark Butler on June 28, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    I would say the real problem is that Genesis 2-3 is a very poorly constructed, and essentially irreparable allegory, that ignores conditions in our first estate, where we know everything wasn’t exactly hunky dory. If the events happened at all, the classical interpretation does not make a whole lot of sense and the LDS reconciliation makes even less.

    If they are actual events, what was God thinking? The tree of life is a metaphysical impossibility directly contradicted by later teachings on the necessity of a suffering atonement. The tree of knowledge is what? Some sort of super vitamin pill? And why is knowledge such a bad thing? Sure there cannot technically be sin without a knowledge of the law, but there can sure be lots of evil.

  26. Robert C. on June 28, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Mark (#25): One of my problems with approaching the scriptures (or truth) from an analtyic, systematic theological perspective is that it seems to be wresting/bending the scriptures to that framework, rather than trying to submit ourselves to what the scriptures (or Spirit or prophets) are trying to teach. I’m OK reading the Garden narrative (which is surprisingly prominent in LDS scripture) as allegorical, but I’m sincerely curious (I understand you’re probably being at least partly flippant) where/how you find the confidence to call it a “poorly constructed” and “irreparable” allegory.

  27. Mark Butler on June 28, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    Robert C, There is no question that there are an infinite number of ways to get systematic theology wrong, and at most one way to get it right. The proper objective of systematic theology is to discover that way – not to force God into an artificial system, but to discover the principles of God’s system, more commonly known as the plan of salvation.

    If God is not systematic, if there are no laws or principles constraining the salvific process, then presumably he can do what ever he wants, and doesn’t need any kind of reason or justification to do anything. Whatever he wants he gets, God said and done. No rationality, no character required. Any whim is as good as any other, right? I mean he might condescend to govern his playground according to some mortal conception of consistency, but he could change his mind about everything tommorrow and we would have no basis to complain. Wipe out the universe and start over again, erase our memories, change our characters, anything according to his sovereign will and pleasure.

    Now as regards the garden account in Genesis 2-3, the problems are manifold. There is hardly a single principle in there that is not contradicted by later scriptures. It is so bad I think some poor scribe just made it up, a nursery school story, a stop gap measure as Brigham Young thought.

    Let me repeat what I said over at Mormons and Evolution:

    “The problems include:

    1) The account teaches that evil, including *death* is a result of knowledge. Implying that it would be better for Adam and Eve to remain in a state of ignorance, naive little sheep. Unfortunately the road to hell is paved with naive intentions. More evil is a result of ignorance, than was ever a consequence of knowledge.

    2) The account teaches that there is a necessary choice between salvation and knowledge. That Adam and Eve could have partook of the tree of life, and thwarted God’s plan. Taking a short cut to salvation without any learning or effort of any kind.

    3) The account promotes a version of the Manichean heresy – that good and evil are magical substances that we are infused with, comparable to the doctrine of Irresistable Grace – that salvation is something that God does to us, not something that we have to work out in fear and trembling.

    4) The account implies that all evil in this world is a result of our corrupted natures, not our free decisions to obey or disobey God, to change our character to conform to his.

    5) The account implies that evil *began* in the Garden of Eden, when in fact it was prevalent in the War in Heaven, before the world was made, when the plan was still being discussed.

    6) The account implies that all of the opposition in this world, from noxious weeds to bee stings and spider bites is a consequence of Adam’s sin.

    7) The account implies that the necessity to work to sustain one’s life and family is a consequence of sin. That in heaven we will just kick back and watch Superbowl games for the rest of eternity.

    Now admittedly some of these errors can be explained away, however, allegory and analogy has a cost / benefit ratio, or return on investment, and in my opinion Genesis 2-3 as allegory has a negative ROI, which makes it shoddy, ill-defined, and unwise, one of those things that should be re-written (a la Brigham Young) or discarded.”

  28. Robert C. on June 29, 2006 at 12:19 am

    Mark (#27): Thanks for the clarification. In response, first let me make clear that I think systematic theology is a very interesting and worthwhile pursuit, I just don’t think it should be given ultimate priority. That is, if it comes down to me choosing between something that seems most theologically satisfying and something that “feels” right (in the Holy Ghost sense), I say go w/ the HG.

    Second, although I understand your objections to the Garden of Eden story, I’m still confused as to why subsequent prophets would feed and use such a flawed story (BTW, thanks for the ROI terminology which is easy for me as a financial economist to understand!). If an important role of inspired prophets is to clear up false or flawed teachings, and if we accept that, say, Nephi was an inspired prophet, then it seems very strange that he would use the Garden of Eden story so much in his teachings (assuming he was referring to the Garden of Eden story as we have record of it and that we have an accurate record of his teachings). Where do you disagree?

    (This probably takes us far afield from the topic of this postpost—not that this has stopped me before—but I’d be happy with a brief/outlined response—I can imagine arguments against any of my statements above and can probably fill in the blanks myself, I’m just genuinely curious where it is you’d disagree….)

  29. Mark Butler on June 29, 2006 at 1:58 am

    I agree with regard to the Holy Ghost, however if one has that impression on a fundamental point of doctrine that is an indication that one needs to revisit his systematic theology and metaphysics from the ground up. I find few things more enjoyable or more rewarding. Inspiration assisted learning is where it is at. Technology pales in comparison.

    Now as to the Garden of Eden account, I don’t know. I think Lehi managed to use it to convey some pretty important principles, as did Paul, but I think what we gain is pretty abstract. There could be some deep semantics to the allegory I don’t understand of course, but the opacity of that account seems to exceed nearly all others if that is the case.

    I understand that relatively few LDS prophets have taken the whole account literally. Many of them have taught that Adam and Eve were born twice, first with bodies of less tangible spirit, and then with immortal tangible bodies of some kind. No creation of bodies out of dust and then infused with spirit, generally no blood in their veins before the Fall either, just spirit, like resurrected bodies. That is a major departure, but not too problematic either way in my opinion. Mechanism just isn’t that important.

    President Kimball taught that the rib story was allegorical, of course. Most of the early authorities taught that the fruit was allegorical, the “bad” fruit for sexual relations. Brigham Young taught that nearly the whole account was wrong, and taught a rather extensive doctrine in its place. In fact for most of the nineteenth century, seemingly no one took the account of the Fall very seriously at all – it was pretty much fortunate fall all the time – even in the 1980s we had a seminary teacher sunday school teacher telling us that Adam commanded the earth to fall to its present position, that the fruit thing never happened.

    So somewhere along the line we seem to see a return to almost an Augustinian orthodoxy on the matter, taking Paul’s statements (ones that Brigham Young disagreed with in general conference) and Genesis 2-3 very literally. That is fine by me, but I have long found the tree / fruit / fall account to be incomprehensible as a literal account instead of as an allegory of the pre-mortal human condition.

    This is one of the areas where we effectively have two doctrines with considerable currency in the Church (setting aside the strange A/G stuff of course), where we practically have to say that some good size number of authorities are wrong. And I tend to be doubly skeptical in situations where we have a grand Restoration, and then dump major aspects for something resembling Protestant orthodoxy. Of course neither Calvin, nor Augustine, nor Paul invented the questionable notions of the Fall account – they are scattered in several places throughout the Old Testament.

    Indeed you can read a proto-Calvinism in several Old Testament scriptures – something strikingly different than what we teach with regard to theological determinism, pre-destination, total inability and so on. So my best guess is that this account was either made up or heavily corrupted early on, and a whole series of questionable aspects were gradually tacked on in what we might call periods of Hebrew apostasy – periods preceding Moses in the case of the Genesis accounts, unless of course Brigham Young is right and Moses personally wrote it as a nursery school story for people not ready for the truth. Surely Moses knew the truth of the matter, right?

    Sometimes I think prophets are inclined to redeem rather than reject false traditions, and in my opinion, wittingly or no, that is exactly what has occurred here. The LDS / Moses version of the account sort of works, but is less consistent in many respects than the Genesis version. The whole thing seems kind of silly, punishment for a “planned” transgression – why not just tell Adam and Eve to take the “fruit” and get it over and done. The transition into mortality is a good thing right?

    The worst thing about the Fall is that it mixes good and evil too much – traditionally the Fall is the origin of sin, evil, etc., and we also have the Fall as the origin of mortality – well in LDS doctrine that association is incomprehensible – mortality is a good / necessary thing, God presumably could have created Adam and Eve in their mortal state, why the rigamarole?

    Why do Adam and Eve have to sin / transgress to create noxious weeds? And indeed it is a sin, for sin is “the transgression of the law”. Can’t possibly be punished for something that isn’t a sin. Why does a transition into mortality required punishment at all.

    And furthermore, why despite the book of Moses, did Joseph Smith not discuss this much at all. If he did privately is was probably in the same “vein” (smile) as Brigham Young and the other early authorities. Brigham Young was not one to stray from the clear teachings of Joseph Smith, as a rule.

  30. Sarah on June 29, 2006 at 7:43 am

    I always thought the Fall and the Garden fit in nicely with an idea of Justice — that God can’t just twinkle everyone straight to the top of the Celestial Kingdom. In my Primary class we use an analogy about grades in school, mostly because they didn’t get any other metaphor I came up with before that; it makes no sense for the teacher to just hand out A+ grades to everyone, because really, it’s not about the letter of the grade, it’s about what you’ve done to get there. Plus, now we have a shorthand to remember the three kingdoms, which is useful since none of the kids can say all three kingdom names right.

    Of course, I also don’t see the problem you see, Mark, with the Tree of Life (wouldn’t that just skip to the resurrection and judgement? the worst that would happen would be what I sometimes hear people say about the Millenium, except everyone would be sitting around in the Spirit World getting Remedial Gospel Principles lessons, and “everyone” would be two people, because no one else would have bodies; that I agree would be a problem, and it leads one to speculate in a giggly mood about how many two-person planets there were before Adam and Eve finally took the bait.)

    I think the account teaches the inherent connections between choices, separation from God, mortality, and why redemption matters. It says “no, really, you’re probably not the stupidest person ever, but it might just work out okay anyway — have you gone to church this week?” It gives an okay version of what you might expect from a rebuilt world — a perfected, Godly version of what we have now. It suggests (which Mormons believe to be true) that before life on earth really began, we as individuals lived in the presence of God.

    In any case, death in the story wasn’t a result of knowledge — they were kicked out because of their choices. Once they had that knowledge, they had to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, and before they had that knowledge, “salvation” wouldn’t have made any sense. I have no idea where you get the idea of Good and Evil as weird forces, since I don’t see where that comes in at all. And I’m pretty sure there won’t be the need for gardening, hunting, and washing dishes in the Celestial Kingdom. There are different kinds of work, you know. I’d hope that work like carpentry and teaching and giant “let’s build a planet” projects will be the order of the day after exaltation.

    Also, I think Satan ought to be taken seriously. I just don’t think he ought to inspire hysteria and obsession; Tolkien’s bad guys remind me of the very worst of humanity and not Satan (his Satan analog is the part of the Silmarillion that least resonates with me — and yes, I know he didn’t want it to be an allegory for Creation.) Lewis’ devils make sense to me in terms of the attitude I’ve always imagined Satan to have — that is, one that sees all of us as food or something equally consumable/disposable. Even his most devoted followers are just appetizers, and he finds the idea of turning these nasty sacks of mostly water that have been wandering all over the place being stupid and getting dirty into partners with God to be offensive in a way that only someone who’s permanently stuck in a fit of rebellious adolescent pique could hope to keep talking about and fighting against for so long.

  31. Robert C. on June 29, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Mark (#29): Thanks for the clarification. Your view makes much more sense to me now.

  32. Seth R. on June 30, 2006 at 10:53 pm

    Mark,

    Satan encourages evil. He didn’t invent it.

    Nor does he perfectly personify it, I’d wager.

  33. Mark Butler on July 1, 2006 at 2:26 am

    Seth R., I agree on both counts. Satan has to adopt some principles of good to maintain a modicum of social stability in his kingdom – a false priesthood, thoroughly corrupted of course.

    The purpose of many of my comments has been to establish precisely that the existence of evil is not contingent on the existence of the devil, but rather free will.

    But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
    (James 1:14-15)

    The idea that all lusts are a consequence of mortality is a false doctrine. Lucifer and a third the hosts of heaven are examples to the contrary.

  34. Seth R. on July 1, 2006 at 10:43 am

    Sorry, lazy reading/commenting on my part.