The Reality of Satan

August 19, 2008 | 54 comments
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I heard a story on This American Life a couple of weeks ago that has had me thinking about the reality of Satan and just what that means for us in our lives. The program’s introductory segment featured a man being interviewed about a traumatic experience he’d had as a young boy that forced him to question the reality of Satan. He was twelve and attending a church summer camp at the time. Around the campfire one night, he and several other boys got to talking about the devil, Ouija boards and rumored experiences that people they knew supposedly had had. After heading off to bed, the boy awoke to strange sounds he attributed to the devil, and so he borrowed his friend Joe’s crucifix to get through the night.

The next day, as he was walking back to his cabin from a morning activity, the boy saw a huge storm rolling in and began to muse that the devil had sent it. For whatever reason, his reaction was to “challenge” the devil, taunting him along the lines of “let’s see what you’ve got.” He’d figured that he was safe, being at church camp and all. Right away, however, a torrential downpour hit, something he once again chalked up to the devil. He scurried to his cabin for shelter and to change for lunch. Once ready, with raincoat in hand, the young boy asked his friend Joe–the same one he’d borrowed the crucifix from–if he should wait, but Joe told him to go on ahead. As the boy neared the mess hall several minutes along the trail, he heard a deafening crack of thunder. Six kids, including his friend Joe, had been hit by lightening. Several of these young boys died from the injuries they sustained, Joe among them (whose crucifix the boy still had).

Upon hearing the news, this young boy immediately felt a crushing weight of responsibility. He was convinced that he had brought this on by challenging the devil, resulting in the death of his friend. He said he’d been warned in church not to fool around with spirits or the devil because they were real. He confessed to his camp counselor and then his priest, who tried to reassure him that it was not his fault; that he hadn’t caused this to happen. This bewildered the boy though, causing him to question whether the priest really believed in the devil himself. The boy went on to struggle for years with this experience, and, somewhere along the way, he said he stopped believing in the devil; he could see no way of holding to such a belief without condemning himself.

Hearing this clip brought to my mind countless conversations that hovered over campfires I sat around growing up. As a youth I was very much convinced of the reality of Satan and can remember talking about these sorts of things on more than a few occasions. I’d always been taught of a Satan (with his minion of spirits) who had actual power on this earth and could literally influence our lives. This belief was only bolstered by a mass-marketed, young-adult, semi-apocryphal biography called Jay’s Journal, that was purportedly adapted from the personal diary of Mormon teenager from Pleasant Grove, Utah who had dabbled in the occult. Urban legends surrounding this book abounded when I was in high school. And while my friends and I were skeptical about many of them, I don’t remember any of us ever questioning the premise behind them, that Satan did indeed exist and shouldn’t be trifled with.

In spite of this, however, I can still see Latter-day Saint leaders giving the very same sort of counsel as the priest did above–reassuring a young boy in similar circumstances that his friend’s death was not his fault (and I would tend to agree with them). The situation forces us to explore, however, what exactly we mean when we speak of the reality of Satan and the power he possesses. Granting that Satan has genuine power, under what circumstances do we attribute events, acts or occurrences to him and under what conditions can he control or be controlled by us? Does Satan typically exercise his power in an Exorcist-like manner (as imagined above) or in some more subtle way? Moreover, what limits bind him and what protections against his power does God afford, especially to the innocent, the young, and the naive? Given such protections, how do members and non-members alike place themselves beyond the security these protections offer? In teaching our youth of the reality of Satan, how should we explain his power? And what should our counsel to a young boy in the situation above be?

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54 Responses to The Reality of Satan

  1. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 1:17 am

    There is no question that there is a dark side and it wields substantial power.

    JSH 1:15-16
    I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

    But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

    Young children are protected.

  2. clark on August 19, 2008 at 1:24 am

    I doubt the devil has the power to move large weather systems. Ask him if he honestly thinks God would let Satan have that much power just because of a young boy being stupid. Maybe, Satan’s power came from putting fear into the boy. The great liar’s greatest power is (surprise) lying.

  3. Sue on August 19, 2008 at 1:52 am

    I get all confused about this, because my understanding based on temple experiences (that I won’t spell out) was that Satan is to a certain extent bound from physically interfering with us here on earth. He can interfere with us spiritually, but not physically. I have no idea if that’s actually correct, that’s just what I’d always understood.

  4. Ray on August 19, 2008 at 2:01 am

    My take:

    Satan has much more power than skeptics tend to think and much less power than believers tend to think. I see the account of the boy and the storm as an example of our ability to put any meaning to anything we see, exactly like the Virgin Mary appearing through toast or the Three Nephites fixing a broken down car. We really do see what we believe, not vice-versa.

  5. Drex Davis on August 19, 2008 at 2:20 am

    What a horrible story. And what a crushing burden to be carried around for that boy.

    I’ve a belief that there is an Adversary, but the influence of the Adversary is (a) restricted to the influence we permit through our belief and behavior and (b) restricted to the influence God permits. And God only permits it (a la Job), for our own good, for our own development. God permits it not if it would not redound to our benefit.

    The Adversary is a source of opposition. Overcoming opposition righteously is a way in which we approximate godliness.

    I have serious doubts that the Adversary has power to take lives through nature (influencing weather systems, etc). I am open to the thought that the adversary can take lives by influencing those who service him to take lives. Human agents doing the bidding of the Adversary, yes. Nature per se, no.

    That’s my take.

  6. DonLivingston on August 19, 2008 at 2:56 am

    I think C.S. Lewis put it quite well in the opening to \”The Screwtape Letters.\” He said (paraphrasing), that there are two equal and opposite errors into which humans can fall about the devil. One is to completely disbelieve in his existence, the other is to believe and feel an unhealthy and obsessive interest in him. Satan himself is equally pleased by both errors, and enjoys leading away both materialists and magicians away from the truth.

    Satan is a reality. And he has more power in this world than we are usually comfortable with crediting to him. At the same time he is subtle, and he knows all to well that most often the light touch can produce better results (in the long run) than overt displays of power.

  7. Steve on August 19, 2008 at 3:06 am

    “There are many Elders in this house who, if I had the power to mesmerize that vase and make it dance on that table, would say that it was done by the power of God. Who could tell whether it was done by the Power of God or the Power of the Devil? No person, unless he had the revelations of Jesus Christ within him. I suppose you are ready to ask Brother Brigham if he thinks the power of the Devil could make the vase dance. Yes, and could take it up and carry it out doors, just as easy as to turn up a table and move it here and there, or to cause a rap, rap, rap, or to bake and pass around pancakes, or to get a hold of a person’s hand, and make him write in every style you can think of, imitating George Washington’s, Benjamin Franklin’s, Joseph Smith’s, and other autographs. Can you tell whether that is by the power of God or by the power of the Devil? No, unless you have had the revelations by Jesus Christ.”

    Discourses by Brigham Young 3:157

    Young seemed to believe that the Devil has considerable powers over men and physical objects. I tend to think Satan’s powers are more on the spiritual side stemming from his knowledge as he did not pass trough the veil. Whatever powers Satan may have, I believe God will protect us.

  8. Dave on August 19, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Satan as the explanation of and moving force behind evil in the world is actually a rather late biblical development, tied to the emergence of the apocalyptic world view — see references to Ehrman’s survey of this and alternative explanations for evil here. The problem with simply granting Satan autonomous existence and power — thus conveniently relieving God of the responsibility for evil in the world — is that it compromises God’s omnipotence, no minor theological problem. Which is why theologians don’t generally talk about Satan.

    If one is nevertheless willing to push omnipotence to the side and declare in favor of truly autonomous powers as the explanation of evil, then consider the additional options Mormonism presents. In the Christian scheme, humans are created beings, “creatures” of God’s action. In the Mormon scheme, however, not just Satan but also we are autonomous, eternal beings with the power to act for either good or evil. Thus just like Satan, we are capable of perpetrating evil on ourselves and on others (and this certainly corresponds to earthly experience). This doesn’t require abandoning the idea of Satan, but it does push us towards the healthy perspective of taking a bigger chunk of responsibility on ourselves for the evil in this world. And it certainly moves us in a better direction (confession and repentance) than does testifying this and that about Satan in the World.

  9. ukann on August 19, 2008 at 4:10 am

    I’ve always understood Satan ruled the waters – and that’s why missionaries aren’t allowed to swim. Or is this just another faith-promoting rumour?

  10. Dan on August 19, 2008 at 6:14 am

    First of all, the above story is coincidental in nature. Can I have a show of hands who here went through a somewhat similar experience regarding first learning about Satan, or anything relating to the “dark side.” Now, out of those (should be everybody), how many have had a similar experience when “questioning” whether or not Satan was real. (Few hands should be raised). This is very similar in nature to the flip side. God supposedly rewards us financially, materialistically, etc for when we obey him, so therefore I must have been blessed because of my obeying God. But like that particular incident, most of us here have been obeying God and not received our “dream house” after doing something for the Lord.

    Granting that Satan has genuine power, under what circumstances do we attribute events, acts or occurrences to him and under what conditions can he control or be controlled by us?

    I would be very wary of any claims that Satan controls weather, or any physical matter, with the purpose of killing God’s children. I believe God has very strongly prohibited Satan from having that kind of power. We’d get into all sorts of trouble when trying to explain, for example, the tsunami that killed 200,000 people (or whatever the final tally ended up being) back in 2004. Was that God punishing those Muslims (as I heard a Mormon tell me once) or was it, disturbingly, Satan?

    Satan’s power is only what we give him. Thusly, he can exert enough influence over human beings so that particular human beings do dastardly things that take other people’s lives. That person then claims “But Satan told me to.”

    Does Satan typically exercise his power in an Exorcist-like manner (as imagined above) or in some more subtle way?

    Subtle is his art. Rare is he a bludgeon.

    Moreover, what limits bind him and what protections against his power does God afford, especially to the innocent, the young, and the naive?

    As we know from the events in the Garden of Eden, Satan was specifically prohibited from inhabiting the bodies of the children of men. If you recall, Satan threatened to do just that. Now, we know from several examples in the New Testament of Jesus ordering out some evil spirits from particular men. As to how accurate those tales are…well, I can’t say. Several of the four witnesses who we have (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) write about the incidents. But without more information, who can judge the veracity, especially since, here in our modern day, there are such rare examples. One would think that the law of averages would mean that in today’s world of six billion people, there would be a far greater number of such incidents…

    Given such protections, how do members and non-members alike place themselves beyond the security these protections offer?

    Don’t play with fire.

    In teaching our youth of the reality of Satan, how should we explain his power?

    Explain that Satan is real, and that his power and influence over humanity and individual humans is only what we give him ourselves. If we reject him, he has absolutely no power over us at all.

    And what should our counsel to a young boy in the situation above be?

    The poor sap will believe that the rest of his life. It is seared into his being, especially because the events were so traumatic. Whenever people die and you feel you are the cause, you’re going to feel that for the rest of your life no matter what really happened. This poor kid can’t be helped, especially not immediately. I would honestly recommend therapy and counseling.

  11. quinn on August 19, 2008 at 7:08 am

    i was taught as a youth, not by church leaders but by my parents, that satan is just a cop out. my parents told us that people should take responsability for their actions, and not attribute our mistakes to satan tempting us, but rather to our inability at that moment to make a wise decision. they often would say: the more power you give this satan, the more power he has. so, if you attribute nothing to him, then he can do nothing. perhaps their view was just a way of being extreme to help us take action and responsability, but i think the message was helpful to me. by the same token, they would say that god was all powerful, but we should attribute everything to him, because people have the choice to choose unwisely, and therefore do bad.

  12. sscenter on August 19, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Wow Marc, what have you started? I know Satan is real (I cringe to say that because that the line I often use in my personal testimony is that the BOM is real) and that he has no power of himself. Rather if I understand correctly he gains “power and glory” through the sin and wickedness. As we know he is the God of this world but I wonder if that is not a metaphor meaning that this is a wicked world and someone like Satan being wicked glories in it and that he is the ultimate evil consultant. So when you are here and your personal goal is to be evil, then Satan has influence to move you in that direction more effectively. For many however, I wonder if Satan’s effect is not more indirect. Evil effects us because other people do evil things to us, or to others and that effects us. Personally, I know that I sin regulary and have gotten quite good at it but my desire is to be righetous and so I believe that my fallen and sinful nature lead me to sin and my love of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost lead me to want to repent. So in conclusion, am I fooling myself to believe that i am somewhat immune to the personal individual effects of Satan because I am protected by the covenant of baptism?

  13. Tatiana on August 19, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Satan is real but, having no body, he has no powers that we don’t grant him. The weather is something I don’t believe he has any power over. I did once taunt God during a thunderstorm, in my mad youth, (I didn’t believe in God or Satan at the time) and just then a huge clap of close lightning/thunder had me scurrying inside and hushing up. Rather, I laughed and quit taunting God. It might have been coincidence but I’m really not sure either way. =)

    Satan is very real, though. I realize that every time we do any least thing that we know is wrong, we might as well be opening the door and saying “Come on in and live at my house, Mr. Satan” because he certainly will. Satan works always indirectly, though, by lying to us, convincing us that this really doesn’t matter, we really aren’t worth it, we don’t deserve happiness, etc. I don’t think everything bad that happens is directly due to our sin, or someone else’s sin, or whatever. But we do give ourselves a large measure of protection by living the commandments, particularly the big two. And even seemingly small errors, like a momentary impatience with our kids or passing by someone in need when we’re in a hurry, have repercussions that reverberate down the ages. I ask myself, “Is this worth having Satan live at my house?” How can I, knowing this, still do things I know I shouldn’t? (Like eat those cinnamon doughnuts.) It’s baffling how I can know so surely that my own happiness and wellbeing depends on doing some small thing, and then not do it.

  14. Entered Apprentice on August 19, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Marc, nice post. Longtime reader, first time commenter.

    I think it\’s tricky to teach kids about these things. I grew up in Utah County in the 80s and it seemed like there was this huge fear of the occult. As a 8-9 year-old I remember hearing about devil worshippers and Ouija boards at church and it scared me to death. I associated church and primary with learning about that kind of stuff and faked sick and tried to get out of going because I was scared.

    In hindsight, those people probably had good intentions but could have done a lot of damage. Associating church with learning about the occult and being scared is probably the worst thing you could teach a kid. I\’m glad I turned out to get a testimony, but that could have really driven me away for a really dumb reason. Kids are pretty sensitive which is easy to forget as adults. I don\’t think there is that same fear of the occult, but in teaching kids about that kind of stuff it may be better to tread lightly.

    I also think that more people get pulled into Satan\’s power by drugs and immorality than by the occult.

  15. Kylie Turley on August 19, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Most of you go seem to be going with the premise that “Satan is real but works indirectly” (I generally do, too). I’m just wondering what you say when someone vocalizes the oft-repeated comment, “Whenever I try to go to the temple, everything goes wrong. I know it’s Satan trying to stop me from going to the temple”? I don’t usually say anything because that hasn’t been my experience. I have lots of days when everything seems to go wrong, and I wasn’t planning on going to the temple at all; and a few days when everything goes right, and I was planning on going to the temple.

  16. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 10:20 am

    # 9 Regarding Satan ruling the waters. See D&C 61. Read the introduction and verses 14-16.

  17. clark on August 19, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I’m not saying Satan works only indirectly. I think he has power but that it is limited.

  18. Adam Greenwood on August 19, 2008 at 10:21 am

    The devil and his works are real. I can’t in principle say that it wasn’t the devil who did the lightning, in response to the boy’s challenge, though even if that were the case it would be the devil who would be primarily responsible for their deaths, not the boy.

  19. Marc Bohn on August 19, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Many of you have echoed the premise that Satan has no power but what we grant him. I’m curious how those who embrace this view interpret the opposition faced by Joseph Smith as he knelt to pray as a fourteen-year old boy. He describes being “seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun.”

    While I do think that Satan tends to work in more subtle ways and am wary of claims of overt action by him, I’m not sure I accept that Satan has no power to act more directly. I think, however, that God offers protections against this power to those who don’t knowingly open themselves up to it. As Dave suggests in (8) above though, I also think we often bear responsible for the evil we see in the world by virtue of our free agency. Lucifer didn’t create evil and only became Satan when he succumbed to it.

  20. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Btw, Tim Malone had an interesting post Brigham Young teaches about evil spirits.

  21. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Marc,
    JS’s experience was pretty unique; the veil was thinned and then parted for him. This exposed a mortal directly to the spirit world, both good and bad. Ultimately Satan’s power was stayed demonstrating that Satan was powerless to completely overcome him.

  22. Marc Bohn on August 19, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I agree the experience show’s the limits of Satan’s power, but I’m not sure where you find your support for the idea that Satan’s influence was somehow increased by the thinning of the veil (beyond what it normally is) before Joseph had his vision.

  23. Christopher on August 19, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Howard, I’m not so sure that “JS’s experience was pretty unique.” His recounting of the demonic opposition that tried to stop him from praying in 1820 was a standard trope among antebellum evangelicals in their conversion narratives.

  24. clark on August 19, 2008 at 11:13 am

    It has little or nothing to do with why missionaries can’t swim though. Basically anything remotely dangerous you can’t do so parents don’t get a call from the mission president telling them their kid just died on their mission.

  25. Dan on August 19, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Marc,

    #19,

    Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

    If I were to have to explain that, I’d mention that this was taken from the point of view of the person who experienced it, and not from the bigger view. The key word there is “seemed.” Clearly Satan has powers, but they are illusory in nature (for example, he can appear as an angel—fooling Korihor, for example). He also put on a nice show for Moses, who also was frightened. But in the end, in both the case of Moses and Joseph Smith we should note two very important points.

    1. Moses and Joseph Smith are key figures in the whole scheme of things. If Satan can make these two men get off course through exerting his power to its full potential, then hey, he succeeded.

    2. Both Moses and Joseph Smith used Christ to make Satan’s attack disappear as smoke.

  26. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Marc & Christopher,
    I’m not attempting to argue a position, I am merely pointing that his situation was much different than most of us typically encounter. My comments include an assumption that the veil provides protection as well as separation.

  27. Adam Greenwood on August 19, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Satan has powers, but they are illusory in nature (for example, he can appear as an angel—fooling Korihor, for example).

    I don’t think that this is the case, as evidenced both by the book of Job and by aspects of the temple ceremony which I would rather not discuss.

  28. Dan on August 19, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Adam,

    The book of Job is not a good one to use as an example, because its authenticity is disputed. Many scholars believe it to be a folk tale and not an actual person or sequence of events. As far as the temple ceremony, meet me in the Manhattan Temple and let’s talk. :)

  29. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Christopher,
    #23 Are you implying that JS’s was using a literary device to embellish or that some antebellum evangelicals may have actually had experiences similar to JS?

  30. Adam Greenwood on August 19, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Dan,
    the Book of Job is canonized and what scholars say or whether the book actually happened is irrelevant to that fact. I’d love to meet you in Manhattan, or you could come down Albuquerque way.

  31. Dan on August 19, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Adam,

    It is relevant to the fact whether or not the book is canonized. Canonization of scripture doesn’t change whether or not that particular story is real or symbolic. I personally lean on it not being real, or at the very least being exaggerated or flourished. It has the air of mythology, with its introductory section.

  32. Christopher on August 19, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Howard, I’m not interested in judging the validity or accuracy of any vision (or report of a vision), but yes, many, many evangelicals reported having similar (remarkably similar in some cases) visions as that reported by JS.

  33. JM on August 19, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    re: #25

    Well, when you’ve actually gone through a situation similar to Joseph’s, where you’ve seen and felt that darkness, you may change your tune.

    It wasn’t the darkness that “seemed” to be there, it was the feeling of impending doom that “seemed” to persist.

    The darkness he saw was just as real as the light he saw afterwards.

  34. Dan on August 19, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    JM,

    #33,

    I was referring to exactly as Joseph Smith stated it. The “seemed” was the impending doom. If you are under that kind of pressure from a dark entity, indeed it would “seem” to you from that perspective that impending doom was headed your way. It still doesn’t change the fact that Satan most likely did not have the power to actually kill Joseph. If he did, why would he wait until this last moment to do so?

  35. Adam Greenwood on August 19, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    It is relevant to the fact whether or not the book is canonized.

    No, it isn’t. The Book of Job *is* canonized.

  36. Dan on August 19, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Adam,

    What does “canonized” mean to you? Does it mean that whatever is written is “literal?” Can there be no symbolism or archetypes in “canonized” scripture?

  37. Marjorie Conder on August 19, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    The powers of life and death belong to God and God only. Life is the business of God (this is my work and my glory). I think that is the real problem with murder, war, abortion, etc. We (mortals) are assuming to ourselves that which rightly belongs only to God. (Shades of Satan in the Garden of Eden.)

    I don’t think Satan (without mortal help) can kill anyone, but he does have the power to scare the heck out of us–as in the JS story.

  38. Marjorie Conder on August 19, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    The powers of life and death belong to God and God only. Life is the business of God (this is my work and my glory). I think that is the real problem with murder, war, abortion, etc. We (mortals) are assuming to ourselves that which rightly belongs only to God. (Shades of Satan in the Garden of Eden.)

    I don’t think Satan (without mortal help) can kill anyone, but he does have the power to scare the heck out of us–as in the JS story.

  39. Marjorie Conder on August 19, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Sorry about the duplicates. My husband was fiddling with the electrical breaker box just as I tried to send my comment and my computer on this end said it hadn’t been sent. So I did it again. Sorry.

  40. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    This is interesting.

    Brigham Young:
    You never felt a pain and ache, or felt disagreeable, or uncomfortable in your bodies and minds, but what an evil spirit was present causing it. Do you realize that the ague, the fever, the chills, the severe pain in the head, the plurisy, or any pain in the system, from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, is put there by the devil? You do not realize this, do you?I say but little about this matter, because I do not want you to realize it. When you have the rheumatism, do you realize that the devil put that upon you? No, but you say, “I got wet, caught cold, and thereby got the rheumatism.” The spirits that afflict us and plant disease in our bodies, pain in the system, and finally death, have control over us so far as the flesh is concerned. But when the spirit is unlocked from the body it is free from the power of death and Satan; and when that body comes up again, it also, with the spirit, will gain the victory over death, hell, and the grave. (Journal of Discourses 4:133)

    Any thoughts?

  41. cw on August 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    The Lord’s comforting words to Joseph Smith in D&C 121:10 ring hollow if Job and his sufferings weren’t in fact real.

  42. Christopher on August 19, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    The Lord’s comforting words to Joseph Smith in D&C 121:10 ring hollow if Job and his sufferings weren’t in fact real.

    Why? I don’t buy the book of Job as authentic actual history, but D&C 121 still is a powerful response to sincere questions.

  43. cw on August 19, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Because the Lord would in effect be telling Joseph not to worry–his sufferings were not yet those of a mythical figure. The book of Job may not be authentic in all of its narrative detail, but I think it’s fair to infer that if the Lord alludes to Job as a benchmark of suffering then he was in fact a real man whose trials were epic–not just a legend. If the story of Job was merely a fairy tale, I have to assume that the Lord would have chosen a more appropriate example of real suffering.

  44. NoCoolName_Tom on August 19, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Yes, but allowing that D&C 121′s allusion to Job is entirely literal (as I feel it is), that still says nothing about the cause of Job’s sufferings and has little to do with the book. The Book of Job is probably not the best place to go to to study the reality of Satan. Similarly, knowing that Macbeth was a real historical figure does not mean we can study the play to learn about the way ghosts behave at the dinner table.

  45. Velska on August 19, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I guess that people won’t soon be in total agreement about the reach of Satan’s power. In the Bible we have Ex. 7:10-11 “And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.”

    Later, Aaron was told to take his rod and stretch his hand over the waters and they turned to blood, whereupon “the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments” (v. 22).

    Job we have talked about. We have Satan’s temper tantrum in Moses 1 shaking the earth. Then the Apostles of the primitive Church quite obviously believed that people were possessed by devils as recorded in the Gospels and Acts. Today we would be more likely to diagnose them insane – which doesn’t mean that they would be beyond the Lord’s power to heal.

    I can’t quite say how much power Satan has over the physical world. I think that would be very little despite Joseph Smith’s, Moses’ and Aaron’s experiences. I would attribute most of that to trickery – fooling our senses, which are quite susceptible. Mainly I agree with the idea that he has no more power over us than we allow him. And I know from sad experience, that when we do things we know are against the Lord’s will, we give him more power. We make ourselves especially vulnerable when we abuse drugs or alcohol, since they break down our moral barriers and ability to reason.

    Finally about the story in question: First of all, natural phenomena are just that – natural. The Lord has the power to use nature to His ends, but He doesn’t micromanage those incidents (iow, innocents can be victims, too). Thus, I don’t think He causes lightning to strike a sinner (if that happened often enough, people wouldn’t need much faith to choose the right; the incentive would be obvious). As to how far Satan is allowed to go in that area, it depends. To whom much is given, much is required, so, supposedly, against a Moses he would have more wiggle room. Thus, I would have definitely told the teenager that Satan had nothing to do with the storm and that God doesn’t go around meting out immediate punishment, either. The battle is spiritual in nature, not physical. I don’t know if that would have helped, though.

    Which brings us to protecting innocents. I wonder first of all if Satan has any motive to use natural forces to kill *innocent* (as in children) people. He wouldn’t be able to claim them. But as we learn from Alma 14, he can use his influence over hardened people to goad them to hurt and murder, thus making sure that he has them firmly in his power. He wants us to be miserable like he is. But innocents are just that – so your toddler who hits the baby sister doesn’t do it because of being possessed by devils.

    Satan is definitely real, and C.S. Lewis was right, as already quoted in this thread. The Adversary’s greatest coup may be that so many people either don’t believe in him or then obsess about him to the point of insanity. But a healthy person can control most of the urges of the natural man and “Satan made me do it” is just a cop-out as quin’s parents said. We should not trifle with sacred things nor devils.

  46. Christopher on August 19, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    cw-

    I disagree. All that matters is that JS was familiar with the story of Job and that Job (whether real or not) was an individual who had suffered immensely. As long as JS understood that, then it really doesn’t matter whether Job actually existed and experienced what the Book of Job records he did.

  47. Drex Davis on August 19, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    re #40

    Brigham Young certainly had a lot of opinions about a lot of things, didn’t he? And were he alive today he’d likely change many of those opinions quite quickly.

    One thing I’ve always loved about Brother Brigham was that there was never a topic in any subject that he didn’t have an opinion about or seem to be certain about. Of course, many of those opinions have caused real headaches for the church, but I guess that anything he’s ever said that looks a bit loopy to my 21st century mind I’ve just chalked it up to his opinionated and self-certain nature. He did the best he could with the available information he had.

    I’ve often wondered – but tried not to speculate – which of our current or recent Apostles/Prophets will be looked back upon in the way Brother Brigham is. To a degree, Elder McConkie has been and in his own lifetime had to reclassify as “opinion” things which he had taught as “doctrine”. As “further light and knowledge” is poured out upon the earth, there will be things we have accepted as doctrine – opinions from leaders, but because of the certainty with which they’ve been addressed were generally accepted as doctrine – that will turn out to have been “opinion expressed with certainty”.

    There’s a lot of area where the Lord hasn’t spoken, yet leaders do their best to fill those gaps with inspired teaching. Mostly, it turns out to be inspired. Sometimes, it turns out to have been a good-attempt-given-available-information but ultimately false.

    It’s comforting to me to hear many of our currently leaders utter “we just don’t know” far more often than did their predecessors.

    The more we know, it seems the more we are aware of how little we know. That’s a good thing, IMO.

    As far as the Devil causing illness, I certainly think germs, bacteria and viruses are of the devil. Never did me no good. So I’m cool with that.

  48. Adam Greenwood on August 19, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    As far as the Devil causing illness, I certainly think germs, bacteria and viruses are of the devil. Never did me no good. So I’m cool with that.

    Heh.

  49. Jonovitch on August 19, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    God, the Eternal Father, only has as much power over us as we give him. If we avoid drugs, alcohol, Ouija boards, and R-rated movies, his Spirit will have a greater influence over us, and we will have even greater ability to resist evil. God also works through us to impact others for good.

    We believe that God’s Spirit can communicate to us, that it can influence us for good, can “whisper” to us for help or comfort, can be our constant companion, and can even dwell within us. We don’t understand the method or medium through which the Holy Spirit does all these things, but we accept them as real.

    We also believe that God can and does (on rare occasion) control natural, physical elements, but usually he doesn’t get in the way, neither does he usually need to. His methods are much more subtle.

    - – -

    Most of the comments here (and anywhere the topic of Satan comes up) are the exact inversion of the above. Both are right on, but few seem to connect the two sides. Go back and read through the comments (including the top of this one), inverting everything, and the tactics and techniques that Satan may use become clearer and make more sense in light of how we believe God communicates and acts with us.

    Spirit can speak to spirit; we just don’t understand how it works. Whether it’s God’s spirit, Satan or his minions’ spirits, or your twin sister on the other side of the country’s spirit, spiritual communication is real. The more sensitive our receivers are (depending on how “close” we are to another’s spirit), the more spiritual communication we will pick up. It’s true for God (how “tuned in” am I to his spiritual-channel?); it’s true for Satan (how much of his signal am I listening to?); and it’s true for my wife/children/family/friends (am I “in tune” with what they are trying to communicate to me? do I “hear” what they’re saying?).

    [Slight tangent: This ties in loosely to my theories on grace and works: what we "do" doesn't get us into heaven (we can't jump that high; we don't have the power to move "vertically"), rather our choices bring us closer to or further away from the One who has the ability to get there (he moves "vertically;" we can only move "horizontally" in this life). If our actions ("works") are good, we move closer to Christ; otherwise, we will move further away (again, horizontal movement). But that doesn't get us any "higher" or closer to heaven -- only closer to Jesus. If we are close enough to him when he finally returns to earth and then back up to heaven, and if we hang on tight, we'll move upward with him -- not due to our own power or abilities, but through his merits and his mercy and his grace (2 Ne 2).]

    So the more we dabble in drugs, alcohol, porn, Ouija boards, seances, occult, R-rated movies, (i.e., if our “works” are “bad”) the more sensitive our spirits become to Satan’s spiritual communication channel. Similarly, the more we avoid those evil influences and rather seek out and immerse ourselves in anything that is virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report (i.e., the more our “works” are “good”), the more sensitive our spirits become to God’s spiritual communication channel. And the more involved we get in someone else’s life (i.e., the more time, effort, and energy we devote to someone), the more “in tune” we become to them and their needs.

    These are real effects and real forms of communication that I’m guessing we’ve all experienced, whether we’ve recognized them or not, and whether we understand how they work or not. There’s a lot we can pick up when our spirits are tuned in to the right (or wrong) channels.

    Jon

  50. Jared on August 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    I’m sure there is more knowledge about satan among those writing comments here, than they are willing to relate. I think many missionaries have had encounters where they knew or at least highly suspected that satan was the cause.

    I have had several encounters with evil spirits and know they exist. As to the extent of their power I can’t say, but one experience I had is very similar to what Joseph Smith related. I believe I would have died if I wouldn’t have called upon the Lord for help. Immediately I was released and saw him walk away. In addition, I believe the Lord was the one that permitted the encounter in the first. I was living a wicked life and I feel that the Lord used this experience to get my attention. It did!

  51. Howard on August 19, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    His only power over man is that which is voluntarily yielded, for he cannot compel mankind to do evil (TPJS, 187). The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power (TPJS, 181).

    Joseph Smith said that the devil goes “up and down in the earth, seeking whom he may destroy-any person that he can find that will yield to him, he will bind him, and take possession of the body and reign there, glorying in it mightily, not caring that be had got merely a stolen body; and by and by some one having authority will come along and cast him out and restore the tabernacle to its rightful owner. The devil steals a tabernacle because he has not one of his own; but if he steals one, he is always liable to be turned out of doors.” (TPJS, 297-98.)

  52. Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill on August 22, 2008 at 1:15 am

    “In order that those from the East and West would know that there is nothing besides Me; I am YHVH and there is no other. I am the One who forms the light and creates darkness; Who makes peace and creates evil; I am YHVH, Maker of all these” Isaiah 45: 6-7
    ישעיה 45: 6-7

  53. Mark Bukowski on August 31, 2008 at 1:09 am

    OK now let me get this straight. At testimony meeting we all get together and bear our testimonies that Jesus is the Christ. This invites his spirit to us, Correct?

    So here, we all get together and bear our testimonies that satain is real. And this invites his spirit…….Where??

  54. Bruce on September 3, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Satan is real. I recall when I found this out. I am very thankful that it was vicariously. I was in the Mission Home on Main St., in Salt Lake City. I ws preparing to go on my mission. One night, we were awakened by a disturbance. We went to one of the rooms and there in the corner of his bunk was a missionary repeating over and over +\”You can\’t get me, Satan, You can\’t get me Satan…\” I could feel a darkness. We were all young Elders, most had be ordained less that a month before. We know nothing. We did not know what to do. But then the Mission Home President walked in. Immediately, the dark feeling left and the young Elder collapsed. We were all sent back to our room.

    The next day, we were told the young Elder had been sent home. He evidently had decided he wanted to know if Satan was real, so he prayed to Satan. We all found our just how real he is.

    As to Satan can only affect us when we let him. NO. He knows us from the pre existence. He knows where our weaknesses lie. He knows every chink we have in our armour, and he will exploit it to the fullest. We must constantly be on guard to recognize his assaults, subtle though they may be. He desires us to be his. Only the power of our Savior can save us from him.

    Do not doubt for a minute that he is real. For he is.

    Whether the young Elder ever served a mission, I do not know. I only know what I learned from the experience. Satan is real!

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