This is the first in a series of posts based on research undertaken by myself and Jeff Bradshaw.
The Mormon Satan
At first glance, the Devil of LDS belief does not depart substantially from the Devil of conservative Christian theology. There are, however, a few beliefs held by Mormons about the Devil that, to some Christian ears, might seem rather curious. While few traditional Christians would disagree with the LDS belief that God “allows” Satan to tempt us— for how else can we understand God’s refusal to stop the Devil’s work?—most would avoid the kind of rhetoric uttered by Elder Jedediah M. Grant at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1854:
I have this idea, that the Lord our God absolutely gave Lucifer a mission to this earth; I will call it a mission. You may think it strange that I believe so good a being as our Father in heaven would actually send such an odd missionary as Lucifer… but his mission, and the mission of his associates who were thrust down with him, …is to continue to oppose the Almighty, scatter His Church, wage war against His kingdom, and change as far as possible His government on the earth.
Though one might be tempted to write off Elder Grant’s stark utterance as an anomaly from the early days of Mormonism, it must be admitted that the general idea he voices, albeit with language unlikely to be heard today, is not alien to current LDS belief. For the Latter-day Saints, Satan is not only the diabolical chief of the fallen angels, nor is he simply a monochrome incarnation of evil and temptation unhappily tolerated by a God who—for whatever reason—will not forcibly remove him from the world. For Mormonism, Satan is, in some respects, a curiously “necessary evil.”
Mormons believe that the purpose of earth life is to “prove” mankind “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” Such a test requires a fallen world, one which the Devil himself helped institute through his temptation in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, in his ongoing role as head Tempter, he ensures that this proving process continues today. Writes Ostler:
“Ironically, God has adopted a plan to use Satan’s desire to steal our agency as a means of ensuring our agency: ‘And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have the bitter they could not know the sweet.’ Thus, God has created this world as a space to choose by granting us the opportunity to experience ‘opposition in all things.’ Satan provides the opposition necessary to further our agency.”
In sum, Mormonism avers that the Devil and, in particular, the Fall that he facilitated, are, in crucial respects, the very means by which God fits His children for eternal life. And yet, despite this, LDS belief remains clear that Satan is an enemy of God whose opposition to God’s plan is both absolute and intractable. Some account of this puzzle seems necessary.
Our research explores the Devil’s paradoxical role in Mormon theology, noting Joseph Smith’s statement that it is by “proving contraries” (Satan-as-God’s-tempting-agent vs. Satan-as-God’s-enemy) that the “truth is made manifest.” Our intention is to attempt an answer to the following question:
In what specific respects were Satan’s actions objectionable since temptation—the “proving” deemed necessary by Abraham 3:25, and subsequently demonstrated in the expedient Fall and the book of Job—is part of God’s design?
A fresh reading of Satan’s plan as understood by Mormon theology seems to shed new light both on his strategy for the Fall in the Garden of Eden, and on his tactics to tempt man thereafter.
Next: A “Jobian” Satan?