Mormon Beliefs: The Nature of Evil
The Agency of Man
In Mormon belief — that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Agency is the ability to choose between two things in opposition to each other. It is "the ability and privilege God gives people to choose and to act for themselves" (Guide to the Scriptures). For humankind it is the opportunity to choose between good and evil, between Christ and anti-Christ, to choose life (following Christ) or death (spiritual separation from God). Agency is the guiding principle behind God's Plan of Salvation for His children.
- And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you (Helaman 14:30, 31).
- That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.(Doctrine and Covenants 101:78).
- The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father...(Moses 7:32-33).
Opposition in All Things
In order to exercise agency, there must be contrasting elements to choose from. Thus, opposition is as central to God's plan for us as is agency. Mormon scripture talks about opposition as a necessary part of life:
- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,...righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility (2 Nephi 2:11).
Thus, it appears that if men and women existed without opposition in all things, life would be so neutral that there would be no joy, because there would be no despair. There would also be no choice, and therefore, no progress, for we need resistance in order to grow. We mature in the exercise of agency and develop strength of faith in our adversities. Through adversity—trials, troubles, and distress—man can have many experiences that lead to spiritual growth and eternal progress by turning to the Lord (Guide to the Scriptures).
Mormon doctrine holds that the principle of opposition in all things has been on this earth from the beginning, and is the reason the Lord gave Adam and Eve conflicting commandments. Adam and Eve, while they dwelled in the Garden of Eden, lived in a "terrestrial" state, or paradisaical state, wherein there was no death or disease, no conflict, no sin. They walked and talked with God in the garden, but they were "innocent," in this case, meaning "naive." Everything was static. They had not the ability to age, nor to have children while in the garden.
- And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (See 2 Nephi 2:23-25.)
Thus, we see in God's Plan of Salvation for mankind, that the fall of Adam was not an unmitigated tragedy and awful sin, but a transgression that was part of God's plan. The fall was necessary for the rest of us to be born upon the earth. It was planned from the beginning. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was ordained from the beginning and took away the effects of the fall, overcoming both physical and spiritual death.
Satan is the Author of Evil
The Holy Bible speaks of a war in heaven and the fall of Satan. Revealed scripture has more to say.
The Plan of Salvation was presented to all of us in the Pre-Mortal Life before we came to earth. We used our God-given agency to uphold, sustain, and commit ourselves to that plan. Christ had already created worlds without number, and was God the Father's first-born in the spirit. He stepped forward to perform the infinite atonement for us, in order for us to exercise our faith and agency and choose to repent, lay ahold of His sacrifice for us, and in so doing, qualify to continue to progress in realms of heaven eternally.
However, another spirit, Lucifer, also stepped forward and offered to be our savior, proposing a way in which not one of us would be lost (either by force or complete lack of agency), and for this he wanted God's power and glory. Remember that God's plan, with Jesus as our Savior, would redeem us from our sins, not in our sins. Lucifer could not have offered himself as a sinless and infinite sacrifice to atone for our sins. That he should consider himself a worthy offering showed his inordinate pride and lack of concern for the mission of God, whose work and glory is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).
- And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
- But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice (Moses 4:1-4).
- And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the ghosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;
- And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels; 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 bitter they could not know the sweet— Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation.
- Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed. But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son.
- And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe (Doctrine and Covenants 29).
In a vision of the kingdoms of heaven, Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith also saw the fall of Satan. Joseph Smith recorded the following in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations to Mormon prophets:
- By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God— Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning; Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision (vs 12-14).
- For we saw him, even on the bright hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning! And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ— Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about (vs 23-29).
Could a Loving God Create Evil?
Evil exists because of the eternal principle of agency. Lucifer used his agency to rebel against God and Jesus Christ. One third of the hosts of heaven used their agency to follow him. All those who have ever been born onto this earth used their agency in the Pre-Mortal Realm to follow Christ and accept God's plan of salvation. We have obtained mortal bodies as the next step in our progress to return to God as resurrected, immortal beings. Satan and his followers will never have mortal bodies, and therefore, will never have immortal bodies. Their progress ended when they were cast out of heaven. These wage war against us, but we have a choice. Satan only has influence when we allow him to. His influence has led men to commit unspeakable atrocities to satisfy their greed. Know that Satan is willing and able to commit every one of those atrocities, one at a time, or all at once — he is that evil.
And yet, he has the ability to tempt us because God allows it, that we might exercise our agency and choose life, by following the Savior. In Him there is protection, progress, forgiveness, mercy.
The Forces of Good Will Win in the End
The Lord views earth life as a brief testing period. As it was revealed to Abraham:
- And there stood one among them that was like unto God [Jesus Christ], and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them (Abraham 3:24, 25)....
The Lord knows the suffering of mankind. Though He atoned for our sins on the cross at Calvary, He suffered all our sorrows, loss, regret, and pain in Gethsemane. His atonement guarantees that all living things will be resurrected and live forever without being subject to pain, disease or death. His atonement and plan are structured to give us every chance to accept Him and lay hold of His suffering and sacrifice for us. Mormon scripture and revelation received by Mormon prophets, shows that those who never hear the gospel on earth will hear it in the Spirit World after death. The gospel will also be preached to the dead in the spirit world to those who rejected it on earth. Even if they reject it again, after suffering for their own sins until the end of the millennial reign of Christ on the earth, they will inherit a kingdom in heaven. In other words, all will be well. Satan and his angels will be thrust down to hell (sometimes called "outer darkness," because it will receive none of God's light), as will those few who receive a perfect living witness that Jesus is the Christ and then deny Him. All others will be saved.
- ...for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free (2 Nephi 2:4).