The reality of Satan and evil spirits

In our Institute class this evening, we continued with chapter four of the Book of Moses. We were supposed to get into chapter five but the discussion got heavy on just the first six verses of chapter four. In fact, the questions were flying even before we got into the scriptures. Our instructor introduced the subject by showing the Boyd K. Packer video on Spiritual Crocodiles.

The subject of Moses chapter four is, of course, Satan. Now that's not a pleasant subject to discuss for most people, in or out of the church. It engenders some strong emotion because people have so much wrapped up in their understanding of the adversary. As I have noted in a previous post, amazingly, forty percent of the members of the church do NOT believe in Satan.

Inhabitants of the spirit world

What got things going was when our instructor asked the class to help him list on the board who are the inhabitants of the spirit world. The kids got all the standard answers correctly including one third of the hosts of heaven who were cast out, the spirits of the righteous and the spirits of the wicked. He then asked if they are able to influence us. Yes, most students agreed they can.

As the instructor reiterated what we had discovered and emphasized that the spirits of the wicked who die can also influence us, my wife gave me a quizzical look. Although a member of the church all her life, she had never heard this doctrine before. She leaned over and whispered to me, "I thought all the wicked people who die go to spirit prison." I thought she was kidding.

The wicked who die can influence us

One bright young man rose his hand and in a very agitated way said, "Wait a minute. I don't believe that old sectarian nonsense that you have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other whispering in your ear, enticing you to do good or evil. Where did you get such doctrine?" Not very respectful, was he? But it was a fair question, so the instructor read from the manual:

“Every person who desires and strives to be a Saint is closely watched by fallen spirits that came here when Lucifur [sic] fell, and by the spirits of wicked persons who have been here in tabernacles and departed from them. . . . Those spirits are never idle; they are watching every person who wishes to do right, and are continually prompting them to do wrong.”

Source: Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses, 7:239

Reality of possession by evil spirits

The instructor then told a story that demonstrated first hand knowledge of the reality that evil spirits do more than influence us; they can possess us if we let them. I won't relate the details without his permission, but it demonstrated the truth of the doctrine. He is a former bishop and the story had to do with the exercise of the power of the priesthood in casting out evil spirits.

He had the full classroom of forty-five college age students paying rapt attention for over an hour. Like my wife and most members of the church, or at least forty percent of them, most of the students in the class had never heard these things before. It never ceases to amaze me when the subject comes up how many are ignorant on this subject. I wonder why that is.

The methods of the adversary

The class continued with a wonderful discussion of the methods the adversary employs in deceiving the people of the earth. We concluded that he lies a lot just like he did to Eve in verse ten, "And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die," suggesting that God lied when he told Adam and Eve why they should not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

In fact, Satan is the father of all lies. If there is any lie told, you can be sure that Satan or his minions have caused it to come to pass. His desire is to capture and enslave us; to cause is to do his will. He does this by getting us to use our agency to choose darkness over light. It amazes me to think that anyone would want such a thing, but like me, I'm sure you've seen it firsthand.

We have power over Satan

The class concluded with a discussion of verse twenty where Satan is cursed. The curse is enmity - all mankind will hate Satan. He will have power to bruise our heel, or to bother us mercilessly as long as we are mortal, but we will have power to bruise or crush his head. In other words, we have power to overcome Satan in this life through obedience to God's law.

The cursing of the woman was discussed in verse twenty-two. In sorrow or pain shalt thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule or preside over thee. Adam was cursed that he would have to work all the days of his life to eke a living out of the earth. The ground was cursed for his sake, meaning that the hard work would do him good.

Summary and conclusion

I know that this is a subject that is not very enjoyable to consider. Apparently it is also one that is not very often discussed or understood, even among members of the church. According to the survey, the majority of Americans consider as hogwash the idea of Satan as a real being. In fact, only 27% believe in his existence. The majority believe he is only a symbol of evil.

Most Latter-day Saints know differently and we do not hesitate to teach it to the world. It's a sad commentary that it is still a struggle to educate even our own members on the subject. I suspect that problem will decrease as wickedness in the world continues to increase. Satan and evil spirits are real even though we cannot see them. Or can we? Some say that they have.


Anonymous said…
Interesting post.

I would wonder though, why trust Brigham on the idea? Does he claim that doctrine from a revelation, and if so, where is the revelation? Surely BY cannot be trusted for any casual doctrine?

If we "don't understand" BY on the Adam-God doctrine, as GBH said, why do we assume that we understand him on other points of doctrine?
Tim Malone said…
Hi Alain,

Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comment. I know the Adam-God thing is messed up. Someday I plan to write my own essay on the subject just so I can get it straight in my own mind. In fact, there is so much in the Journal of Discourses that really makes you wonder. The Brethren lived in a different world back then.

I remember when President Hinckley said that we don't understand what Brigham Young was trying to teach about Adam-God. My feeling is that he was misquoted or misunderstood because the scribes were taking note as fast as they could but not quite keeping up. I know, that is a lame excuse to some, but it's what I have used for many years.

I take quotes in official current church curriculum as much more authoritative then if I had just pulled it out of the Journal of Discourses myself. Reading it in the CES Institute manual gives it a stamp of approval for me.

So yes, I do trust what Brigham said in this particular quote and in many others that I find in our church manuals. Of course, I also read some of the really weird stuff there too. Some of it makes me shake my head and wonder what kind of a crowd he was talking to.

Anyway, like our institute class instructor, I know this one to be true from personal experience. I also have friends who have provided first hand accounts of having been in the presence of wicked deceased persons. I don't like to use the word demonic possession. I prefer "spirit attachments."

I know I am not the only one who believes this or teaches it, but you've got to admit, it's weird stuff and most people, even in the church think you're crazy when you bring it up. It really is an uncomfortable subject for many. Thanks again for your comment. Oh, here's the link in the Journal of Discourses for context. It's the ninth paragraph down.
Michael Brinson said…
So who does go to spirit prison then? You said you thought your wife was kidding when she said, "I thought all the wicked people who die go to spirit prison."

I had that understanding as well. Obviously based on the quotes you gave there is more to it than that, but we are told there is a spirit prison and that, "A place called spirit prison is reserved for "those who [have] died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets" (D&C 138:32)." -
(under "additional information")

Do you have any more insight into this?

Thanks for another great post. I'm really enjoying your blog. :)
Tim Malone said…
Hi Michael,

Rather than provide a bunch of scriptures and quotes from General Authorities, especially the early Brethren, I'm going to recommend that you read two books. One is entitled, Return from Tomorrow, by George Ritchie. You can read my comments on the book here.

The other one is Beyond the Darkness by Angie Fenimore. Jared (from LDS Alive in Christ) and I had some dialog about it in the comments on this essay. You can find either book fairly easily from online sources if you have not already read them.

I would be happy to provide the scriptures and quotes if you like. Just let me know. It's a subject that many people do not understand and feel uncomfortable discussing. But I have had enough knowledge of the subject to know that it is real, and not just a theoretical concept.

In other words, I know from personal first-hand experience of the reality of disembodied spirits hanging around troubling those of us who are still passing through our mortal probation. Spirit prison may not be the place off in the distance that we sometimes think it is. Like the spirit world, it is all around us.

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