3. Why Was It Essential That Premortal Spirits Be Given the Opportunity to Receive a Body?
Joseph Smith taught: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment.” In LDS discussions of the purpose of the body in mortality, the necessity of being able “to experience the pleasures and pains of being alive” and to seek “perfection and discipline of the spirit along with training and health of the body” are the kinds of reasons most often mentioned. However, the teachings of Joseph Smith also include the idea that the clothing of spirits with bodies would provide power and protection for them. As Matthew Brown succinctly summarizes:
“All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith. The “spirits of the eternal world” are as diverse from each other in their dispositions as mortals are on the earth. Some of them are aspiring, ambitious, and even desire to bring other spirits into subjection to them. “As man is liable to [have] enemies [in the spirit world] as well as [on the earth] it is necessary for him to be placed beyond their power in order to be saved. This is done by our taking bodies ([having kept] our first estate) and having the power of the resurrection pass upon us whereby we are enabled to gain the ascendancy over the disembodied spirits.” It might be said, therefore, that “the express purpose of God in giving [His spirit children] a tabernacle was to arm [them] against the power of darkness.”
The reasons for the importance of a body that Joseph Smith most often emphasized are frequently forgotten in Mormon discussions of the purpose of earth life, yet they seem vital to the LDS understanding of Satan’s efforts to undermine God’s plan.
In recap, we have presented three issues that bring into question core features of popular Mormon assumptions about Satan’s premortal role and objectives. It is difficult to achieve theological precision in these matters, but closer examination of the writings of Joseph Smith and his successors has led us to consider the following as, perhaps, a more faithful representation of these teachings:
1. The idea that Satan’s proposal to “redeem all mankind” was intended to enable only a minimal form of “salvation”;
2. The likelihood that Satan’s ploy “to destroy the agency of man” was something other than the exercise of coercive power to force mortals to do right;
and 3. The acquisition of a body in mortality was to enable not only the new experiences of pleasure, pain, and parenthood, but also to provide a protective power from the influences of Satan. After a discussion of the circumstances of the Fall, we will argue that the significance of these possibilities goes beyond their potential value in revealing unwarranted assumptions about what the Prophet taught, providing, in addition, a cogent rationale for Satan’s actions in the Garden of Eden.
Next: On to the Tree of Life!