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The Devil Made Me Do It (1)

Velska - October 21, 2008

The line is perhaps a little funny, and usually meant to be so. But I wonder. Can we discount the reality of the adversary? The the answer can be found in this jewel of a quote from Nephi (2 Ne 28:22). One of the Devil’s best moves has been to convince people that the horned, cloven-footed guy with a funny tail doesn’t exist and there are no consequences to breaking the commandments. The really clever move was to etch the caricature of him so deep in our culture – and thus our collective subconscious – even while his existence was not in doubt that it’s hard to remember sometimes that he is in fact nothing like the popular culture has portrayed for the last millennium or so. I don’t know what he looks like, but I suspect he wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows if we were to see him around here. It’s been said that he can appear as an angel of light (2 Ne 9:9), so I don’t expect him to advertise his intentions by his appearance.

Just as there is a loving God, who wants his children to be happy, there is the antagonist, who wants us to be miserable like he is. It is necessary that there are both forces in the world, or we wouldn’t be able to act for ourselves.

We must remember that our adversary only has as much power over us as we allow him. Just as God won’t force us to act in a certain way, the Devil can’t. Remember, we are free to act for ourselves. There are some circumstances where people lose control of their faculties to a degree or for some time. That can happen through willful surrendering of our willpower to the adversary (like intoxication or persisting addictive habits) or perhaps some types of mental illness. I have experience with depression, and it seemed to me that it did limit my ability to control myself (medication was a different kind of problem, but still a problem).

The Scriptures and the living prophets tell us about how the Devil works, and we should heed the warnings. Other than that, we are much better off learning how we can develop Christlike attributes in our lives than by obsessing about the adversary. Again, it is in his interest to say there is no Devil. It is also in his interest to get us so fascinated by him that we exclude worthy pursuits.

Jesus said that you can not serve God and mammon. The living prophets have talked about how we have to choose our side. Some of us want to be neutral, but that is impossible.

Yet it is true that in many instances our choices are not between good and evil. They can be between good and best, but that is another story. We can use our own reason and seek guidance from the Spirit.


  1. We must remember that our adversary only has as much power over us as we allow him. Just as God won’t force us to act in a certain way, the Devil can’t. Remember, we are free to act for ourselves.

    Interesting point. This was reinforced in a recent lesson in PH/RS:

    “Satan cannot seduce us by his enticements unless we in our hearts consent and yield. Our organization is such that we can resist the devil; if we were not organized so, we would not be free agents.”

    “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him; the moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.”

    On May 16, 1841, the Prophet addressed the Saints: “President Joseph Smith … observed that Satan was generally blamed for the evils which we did, but if he was the cause of all our wickedness, men could not be condemned. The devil could not compel mankind to do evil; all was voluntary. Those who resisted the Spirit of God, would be liable to be led into temptation, and then the association of heaven would be withdrawn from those who refused to be made partakers of such great glory. God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not; and such ideas as were entertained [on these subjects] by many were absurd.”

    We tend to try to give the devil more credit than he really deserves because it lets us off the hook. It’s important to remember the fact that we really are in the driver’s seat.

    Comment by MCQ — October 21, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

  2. True, true. But I still can’t stand all the temptations.

    Stupid Satan.

    I can say that, right? It’s different than blaming him for my sins. ;)

    Comment by cheryl — October 23, 2008 @ 7:37 am

  3. At the same time, we could credit the adversary for providing markers through those who do succumb to temptation. Through example, the sinners help us to be saints.

    In the ninth book of The Republic, Plato observed that “the virtuous man is content to dream what a wicked man really does.” Freud further argued that lawbreakers (sinners) make it possible for the rest of us to adapt to the demands of normality by acting out, and being punished for, our own unacknowledged impulses. Also, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim observed the criminal (sinner) contributes to civic well-being (righteousness) not only by promoting a sense of solidarity among law-abiding citizens (the obedient), united in condemnation of the malefactor (or in this case, sin), but by providing a cathartic outlet for their primal vengeful impulses.

    It’s kind of like watching Jackass from the safety of the couch, only with spiritual implications.

    So blame him, don’t blame him– he’s a necessary tool to help us prepare for eternity.

    Comment by David T. — October 23, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  4. I agree David, to an extent, but “primal vengeful impulses” are themselves sinful. We can’t really grow until we recognize ourselves in the sinner. We are all sinners. We are all beggars. We have no one to look down on or feel vengeful toward. That’s the lesson we all eventually need to learn, I think.

    Comment by MCQ — October 23, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  5. MCQ,

    I agree. Speaking for myself, I have seen people fall in a big way and the thought has crossed my mind, that could have been me. So in respect to seeing ourselves in the sinner, that is true– and valuable to salvation. But I wonder if the “primal vengeful impulse”, while sinful, isn’t somehow darkly related to our need to experience justice– whether we’re feeling vengeful toward the sinner or just the sinful act (even in a masochistic way: as a kid I’ve felt undercurrents of relief when I was caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to). So while harnessing our vengeful thoughts & impulses, we do still grow from witnessing justice do its duty; the cause and effect of bad choices.

    Comment by David T. — October 23, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  6. Just as a kid feels relieved when caught doing something he’s not supposed to do, many a serious sinner feels the same after confessing – even if the confession is forced by being caught.

    When we do things we know we’re not supposed to be doing, our conscience tends to make us squirm. Some say this kind of “guilt” is a bad thing, but I figure it’s one of the main mechanisms for keeping some semblance of order in society (and the more the society around us eliminates guilt the less order we seem to have).

    But what I was going to say was, we all have sinned, and “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. (I’ll let you guess the reference.:))

    That “primal vengeful impulse” is a “natural man” thing that we should learn to do away with. I don’t think it makes anybody any more righteous to join the chorus of condemnation. But it is true that example can teach us – even warning example.

    Comment by Velska — October 24, 2008 @ 12:06 am

  7. So while harnessing our vengeful thoughts & impulses, we do still grow from witnessing justice do its duty; the cause and effect of bad choices.

    The problem is that mere observation of the world around us does not produce a conviction that justice does its duty, necessarily. An observer is just as likely to learn contempt for justice because it miscarries so often and the wrongdoer prospers or is not punished. The fact is that justice is never going to be perfect until Christ is in charge. We need to learn righteousness in an imperfect world, not because we fear the application of justice, but because it’s the right thing to do. That’s much harder, but much better.

    Comment by MCQ — October 24, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

  8. The miscarriages of justice of which you speak relate more to the Joe Friday-types of transgressions– embezzlement, murder, etc.– and we do learn about consequences from these acts as well because, more often than not, the transgressors pay for the crime. I agree some members of society seem to think they can avoid justice– and some do– but the majority do not. The justice I was speaking of though was the type we see executed around us every day– the consequences of lying or losing temper or just being a jerk. We can learn from the evils of others, and the fallout that comes from it, and enjoy– not their penalty or misfortune– but the confirmation that by avoiding such paths we can be happier. Of course that happiness isn’t full until we come unto Christ, but that’ another subject.

    Comment by David — October 25, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

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