Satan in the Premortal Councils in Heaven
N.B. What follows in the next series of posts is what we consider to be an internally plausible reading of Mormon theology.
In the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith, Lucifer is described as “a son of the morning” and “an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God” who “rebelled… and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ.” He was jealous, “selfish, ambitious, and striving to excel,” and “became Satan” as he wickedly sought that God should give him His “own power.”
In explaining how all this took place, the Prophet revealed a Satan who, like the satan of Job, was once an active participant in divine councils. In contrast to the Jobian satan, however, Lucifer’s ostensible objective in these councils—and later in the Garden—was not really to “prove” humankind but rather, on the contrary, to provide universal “redemption” ultimately without requiring such a test—thus opposing and frustrating God’s original designs.
In the next few posts, we will explore three questions:
1. What did Satan mean when he proposed to “redeem all mankind”?
2. By what means did Satan seek to “destroy the agency of man”?
3. Why was it essential that premortal spirits be given the opportunity to receive a body?
A close examination of the answers to these questions will set the stage for further exploration of the events surrounding the Fall and Satan’s strategy in the Garden in the next section, thus arriving at the “sin of Satan.”
1. What Did Satan Mean When He Proposed to “Redeem All Mankind”?
Describing the contrast between Lucifer’s proposal and the plan of the Father that was advocated by the premortal Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith taught:
The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the Devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the Devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him. [Teachings, 7 April 1844, p. 357.]
The most common understanding of this statement is that it implies a difference in the consequences of the two plans for mankind in general. In other words, it is generally supposed that, according to the plan advocated by Jesus, only the righteous would be saved, whereas in the Devil’s plan, “all generations of man… would be returned into the presence of God.” However, if we can trust the accuracy of a retrospective summary of a discourse by the Prophet from the journal of George Laub, the controversy highlighted in this statement more specifically concerned the fate of the “sons of perdition”:
Jesus Christ… stated [that] He could save all those who did not sin against the Holy Ghost and they would obey the code of laws that was given. [J. Smith, Jr., cited in E. England, Laub, discourse apparently given 7 April 1844, p. 22, spelling and punctuation standardized.]
Laub’s version of the statement emphasizes specific limits of the guarantee of salvation promised by Jesus Christ. While, of course, allowing for the possibility of exaltation for the obedient, its burden in context was to lay out the major differences with Satan’s proposal. The statement implies that Jesus’ atonement could only provide absolute assurance of a minimal form of salvation, namely, that all men, except those who sinned against the Holy Ghost, would be “resurrected to [at least] a telestial glory, escaping the second, i.e., spiritual death.”
Satan, on the other hand, was reported in Laub’s recollection of the Prophet’s statement to have countered with an absurdly unconditional proposal:
Send me, I can save all, even those who sinned against the Holy Ghost.
Apparently trying to do away with the need for an atonement, Satan is here portrayed as having “sought… to redeem… all in their sins.” Following the logic of Laub’s account, this option presumably would have been most appealing to those spirits who would stand to benefit most from it; namely, those who had already manifested a proclivity toward the unpardonable sin and, preeminently, Satan himself.
Next : 2. By What Means Did Satan Seek to “Destroy the Agency of Man”?