Book of Mormon | “Three Spirits: God, Devil, and Man” by grego
(I started this in 2005 and it’s been sitting the whole time… I figured I’d finish it and put it up.)
On one teaching experience on my mission, my companion for the day and I felt a very strong influence of the Spirit as we spoke with a young woman who was unsure of her faith, her testimony, her boyfriend, whether she should get baptized or not, and what she really wanted. It was clear by revelations we received as we spoke with her that the Spirit was there. Following what were clearly the promptings of the Spirit of God, I asked her to take out a piece of paper and a pen, and start writing down whatever came into her mind, especially her feelings and thoughts, without stopping. She finished a page; I asked her to continue. She kept writing until she suddenly stopped and said, “Ok, I’m done”. I asked her what she had written. With a blank look on her face, replaced by a startled look, she replied, “I don’t know”. She returned to her paper and read. She was very surprised to read her own testimony and her feelings and thoughts regarding the choices she knew she had to make. Tears came to her eyes and she choked up more than once; she was clearly overcome by the Spirit of God. She was later baptized. In a way, she had converted herself.
Years later, I found out that we had performed a session of what might be called “automatic writing”. Searching the internet, I found something amazing–most all the references said it was of the devil! What?? Interestingly, a friend said he had experienced automatic writing on both sides, and could tell the difference (which sounds kind of obvious, but might not be…).
In my experience, many ChristiansTM and LDS believe the following: there are only two spirits in the world–the “spirit of God”, and the “spirit of the devil”. Everything can be categorized into those two groups: for God (good), or against God (evil). These two spirits control everything, and fight for everything. It might be possible, but unlikely, that there is a mixture of the two spirits–something is usually either just “good” or “bad”. (This is why books like “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View” cause such a ruckus and chaos for both ChristiansTM and LDS.) While this all might be true in a few cases, I believe that it is extremely simplistic, general, and incomplete.
Here is a classic example:
“1. Joseph Smith’s family were occultists, and he had been personally involved in both the occult and necromancy since his youth. There is consistent evidence in this regard, including affidavits signed by neighbours that verify amongst other things, his participation in occultic animal sacrifice and contact with the dead. LDS seminary teacher Grant Palmer documented the occultic beliefs and practices of the Smith family in his book, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”(SLC, Signature Books, 2002, pages 175 to 195). And Ed Howe mentions in his book, “Mormonism Unvailed,” that sixty‑two residents of Palmyra, New York, had signed affidavits negatively reflecting on the Smith family, their reputation, character, occupation and habits. And Joseph admitted to having been a “money digger,” which was the designation used for a person who claimed to have the ability to locate the whereabouts of buried treasure (History of the Church, Volume 3, page 29).” (from a source that has within two days disappeared form the internet..? Either that or Google has messed up; but there are similar quotes and claims elsewhere on the internet.)
Anyone looking more closely at the Smith’s family real history and with a deeper understanding would find that these claims eventually amount to nothing of substance–though I imagine that since very little checking of sources occurs, the writer might have been been misled (hmmm… God, devil, man?). Notwithstanding many clear logical responses of many LDS/ Mormon apologists, claims like this and more continue to litter the internet.
I propose that LDS think of three spirits being in the world: God, devil, and man; and that everything that is or happens can be categorized into five groups: clearly and directly of God (though when given to man, it becomes less than perfect); influenced by God; clearly and directly of the devil; influenced by the devil; and of man. Mixtures and especially fluctuations are definitely possible, and quite likely. Truth can be mixed with untruth, either intentionally or unintentionally. So, for example, a religion could contain many truths, and a few falsehoods. (Even LDS Sunday School can be like that!)
According to David Whitmer, in 1829 Joseph Smith taught that “some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.31). While there is a lot of support that David Whitmer’s statement is not factual ( http://en.fairmormon.org/Did_Joseph_Smith_attempt_to_sell_the_Book_of_Mormon_copyright%3F ), especially in its intended con-LDS interpretation, nevertheless–I guess for those who must believe it–it’s pretty much true. Many misinterpret this to mean that Joseph Smith received revelations from men and the devil, and was confused and couldn’t tell them apart; but, the statement means just what it says–we can separate things in this life, and assign them to, three spirits or sources–God, man, and the devil.
If I think and make a decision–any decision–it had to come from somewhere; likely it came from one of those three, or a combination. Did God, Satan, or yourself tell yourself to go through your daily routine of getting ready this morning? Which source told you how to start your car last time you drove? Sure, God created the world, but is he in complete infinite conscious micromanagement of every atom in this world and every other? Does he have to remind the sun to rise every day, or does he set laws and boundaries and things follow a course?
What is the spirit of man? This is obviously a harder topic. However, I believe it to be pretty simple, more or less. Basically it’s a misnomer–there is no “spirit of man”, so to say; it is the natural laws that exist here on this earth, both inside and outside of us. It consists, more or less, of non-saving, non-gospel truths.
By holding that there is clearly only good or evil, right or wrong, white or black, there is a strong limitation of knowledge and useful or helpful application. The LDS Church doesn’t talk about much of anything outside of saving truths and gospel truths, even if it were to be of benefit, though “tips” often do make their way into many talks and a few publications. This is understandable, and agreeable for a church. However, this limiting seems to have put an unspoken restriction on the search of truth and knowledge outside of gospel and traditional acceptable Western studies, and brands anyone who searches for truth outside of these subjects–unless possibly done in a Western “professional” or “scientific” way–a loony, a fruitcake, an inactive, a rebel, or something worse (like “a son of perdition” ;) ).
This is interesting because miracles have been defined by many leaders in the LDS Church as occurrences that are according to the laws of nature that we don’t understand yet. I don’t know if we really understand what that means. In general we interpret it as “laws of nature that fit in with out traditional scientific paradigm”. But it really means that there are many things, about the natural world we live in, that we don’t understand yet. LDS accept angels without the blink of an eye, but have a hard time accepting the possibility of ghosts. LDS can accept that a man can walk on water with the help of God, so why is it impossible for a person to walk on water without the help of God? Perhaps even worse, if ChristiansTM see it done by non-ChristiansTM or even competing ChristiansTM, it’s not from God. And if LDS see it done by a non-LDS, we in general likewise naturally assume that it is either trickery or done by the power of the devil.
I’ll ask a few questions now. Which spirit do the following fall under: hypnosis? kinesiology? crystal healing? sleepwalking, with a change of weight and eyes closed? anti-gravity? UFO’s? OBE (out of body experiences)/ astral projection? modern-day monsters or creatures (of any sort)? crystal balls? dowsing rods? energy healing? pyramid power? yoga? prayer (by non-LDS)? miracles for non-LDS? miracles by non-LDS? miracles in the name of God, by non-LDS?
Maybe the better question is, are any of the above the tool of , or under, the same spirit–ALWAYS? Or is it that these things (at least some of them) are neither intrinsically good or bad, but its goodness or badness is to be found in the way someone believes in it and uses it?
LDS scriptures seem to say that it’s easy to distinguish between the spirit of God and the spirit of the devil. Yet, LDS believe in the “differences of administration” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:15), the “diversities of operations” (D-C 46:16) and the spirit of discernment (D-C 46:27).
(15 And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men. 16 And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal… 27 And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.)
So if it’s so easy to distinguish, why these gifts? I believe that part of the reason is not just to distinguish the good from the bad, but to distinguish them both from the spirit of man, and the degrees and mixtures between them–especially when we as humans try to judge them through our own filters of belief, understanding, and experience.
I do not claim these gifts in any special way; in fact, I feel I would like to use them a lot more than I am able to. However, here are a few examples of what I’ve experienced that show the importance of these things, to me:
*one day I was sitting in a church-school cafeteria when a boy suddenly jumped up with this look of pain and surprise on his face. Clutching his stomach area with both hands, he screamed out loud what sounded like “he stabbed me!” Something was definitely going on here. The boy sitting next to him–who didn’t have the best reputation–scooted away and had a scary look on his face. Goosebumps shot up my arms. I looked for the blood coming from the boy’s stomach. I didn’t see any. A few seconds later the authorities took over, and I was late for class. Later, I found out that the the boy sitting next to him hadn’t done anything, and was more freaked out than I had been! What had happened? The guy hadn’t taken his medication.
*Another time I was in stake conference. Right after the closing prayer, a man jumped up and quickly walked towards the back, yelling, “Bro. _, I’m going to kill you!” more than once–there was no doubt about what he had said. Obviously the spirit of the devil!, right? Either take him outside and beat him, or cast that devil out! Well, some men took him outside all right, but got his medicine from his wife and gave him some. He was fine.
*Another time I watched men go into a trance and chew glass and rip coconuts apart with their teeth. Though they believe they are possessed, what seemed scary seemed to be just men in a trance, and perhaps a little showmanship for tourists. Was it even real glass? Were the coconuts specially prepared? I don’t know. I didn’t feel really comfortable about it, but I didn’t really feel anything evil about it, even after praying.
*Another time a girl was extremely depressed and slightly suicidal–unfortunately, nothing unusual for her. She saw a cockroach and wanted to kill it. “I’m worthless, just like that cockroach! Just kill it!” I felt something just a very little differently now, like she had passed into a little worse state of mind (not frequent, but not the first time, either). I prayed for help, and this time, unlike most other times before, I learned that she was possessed by an evil spirit. I cast the spirit out of her, and immediately, suddenly, she was in a very different state of mind, seemingly forgetting anything that had just happened and wanting to go straight to sleep.
*Another time a guy in a truck gave me a hug. He had been sharing his experiences about his very recent and much-missed ex-fiancee; I had been praying, and in the context of everything that happened, I knew that this had no sexual meaning or such–it was a hug of support and understanding of men of Christ trying to do good.
*I didn’t see that much wrong with Dungeons and Dragons. My sister and mom came home from a talk one night and said the visiting speaker said it was an evil game. Well, that was strange, as I hadn’t seen, heard, or felt anything really evil about it. Nevertheless, I prayed about it, and that night I had a dream that a huge demon threw a spear of evil that pierced my heart. I awoke, and decided that whether I had felt anything evil about it or not, or whether the game was evil or not, for whatever reason, to me the answer was to not have to do with it.
*Interesting, because years later, many of my family told me about how great “The Lord of the Rings” series was. I watched it, but had uneasy feelings about parts of it. However cool or well done it might have been, or whatever good might have been mixed in, to me, it was clearly not all good.
*Watching TV and movies, as a whole, shows this a lot. I have watched R movies that were beneficial, and watched PG movies and TV shows that were clearly harmful. In these days of propaganda and an ever-increasing struggle for our minds, hearts, and souls, we need help to distinguish the spirits even more.
*Another time in an interview, all the answers were better than perfect; yet, I could feel that something was clearly wrong. I spoke four times about one matter, but was consistently brushed off. Yet, less than five minutes after our interview, it was witnessed by more than one that this person had a *major* problem with the topic I had just asked about four times.
*I had a mission companion who, while hypnotized, could run around the apartment in a trance with eyes closed, yet still “see”. (No, don’t ask!)
It is also wise to consider that there are other things to consider:
*while something might be true, we might not know about the person presenting it.
*inspiration and insight might come to different people in different ways, according to their own understanding, and at different times in their lives when they are at different spiritual orientations, beliefs, and personal righteousness.
*a person might believe the power comes from one source, when in fact, it comes from another. This might be done knowingly or unknowingly. What makes it more confusing, is that though the source and purpose may differ completely, the outward form—what an unknowing detached observer would see/ sense—might be identical. For example, one reference to magic in the Bible refers to a black magic ritual of a priest of God using holy water to test a person’s guilt—nope! The two don’t go together.
*a person might discover/ learn/ reveal certain truths, yet mix them with other things, especially religious ideas, that are false. For example, ayurvedic medicine has many truths, yet LDS are clear that some of the teachings of the religion and culture are not correct.
*there can be differences in purposes. For example, a “magician” may be someone who is really good in trickery, in order to entertain and enlighten; or it may be a main tool used by someone to form a cult and instill false beliefs in others.
*there can be differences in manifestations. A person might be a magician based on: trickery and deceit of the senses and brain; or they might be based on actual powers outside themselves, be it from God (though of course a ChristianTM or LDS wouldn’t consider this person a magician, per se), the devil, or man (natural laws). What about pharaoh’s magicians? I believe that they obviously were more than mere charlatans. They obviously weren’t working under the spirit of God, yet were they necessarily drawing all their powers straight from the devil to do their work, and were completely helpless without him? I don’t think so.
While this spirit of man is not intrinsically evil, there is/ can be danger in dealing with natural laws. Electricity isn’t evil, but touch it wrong, and you’re dead. That applies to the knowledgeable and skilled electrician, the innocent and naïve child, and everyone. So the danger in some cases is not because of the devil and his powers, but of natural laws that we cross, be it knowingly or unknowingly–though to the unknowing, it might seem to be of the devil. Similar to how remote tribes might believe a camera or an airplane is of the devil, it is no stretch of the imagination that an adult who was a total stranger to electricity, whose child got shocked and died, might consider electricity to be evil and of the devil, and find evidence for that.
I am convinced that much of what many ChristiansTM and LDS consider to be occult or of the devil in all ways, are originally of the spirit of man. In support of my belief that these natural laws are neither good nor bad, but truths that exist, I will draw on a few things that follow.
What does one make of these occurrences in the Book of Mormon?:
*Nephi and his brothers draw lots (1 Nephi 3:11)–though with Laman and Lemuel at the head, it’s not saying much.
*Nephi and Alma talk about out of body experiences (OBE’s), or at least state their possibilities (1 Nephi 11:1, 15:1; Alma 29:16).
*Lamoni’s wife has a Pentecostal experience–she falls to the floor in a trance, then jumps up, cries out praises to Jesus, clasps her hands, then speaks in tongues (Alma 19:13, 29-30).
Now, for both ChristiansTM and LDS, there are many references in the Bible that seem to implicate that people of God used magic—especially as interpreted by modern-day pagans. In my opinion, that is not the case—there is little evidence for it in some of the cited cases. I consider it to mainly be interpretation problems, based on lack of information and understanding that much of this article discusses. (Perhaps I will critique them later.) On the other hand, there are references in the Bible that imply that all cases of certain procedures or thinking are of the devil. I also don’t believe that that is always the case, based also upon lack of information and lack of understanding that much of this article discusses. (Perhaps I will explain more later.) I believe that in the circumstances they were given and understood, they fit.
For example, President Kimball accepted that face cards were evil and not to be used by LDS; yet, he and his wife spent many happy evenings playing majong. To a Chinese LDS, that is backwards! But for the culture and the time, his message was correct (and the principles behind that message still hold). (I must add: there might also be something to that teaching that has to do with symbology and power of the playing cards…)
Early in this dispensation, some people used seer stones. (My current opinion is that as there is a difference between a Prophet and a prophet, I also believe that there is a difference between a Seer and a seer, and that as God would like all to be prophets, perhaps he would like all to be seers, too.)
Now, let’s get a little up-close and personal for modern-day LDS.
1. Have you ever carried or possessed a rabbit’s foot?
2. Have you ever followed routines or rituals to prepare you for a sports game?
3. Do you follow a routine or ritual that “wouldn’t make any sense” when you go to bat in baseball, when you stand at the foul line and take a free throw, before you make a call, before you go on a date?
4. Have you ever worn a shirt, necklace, etc. to an important date, business meeting, test or exam, etc. because it brings you “good luck”?
5. Have you ever gone out of your way to avoid or felt uncomfortable about breaking a mirror, walking under a ladder, sitting in seat #13, seeing a black cat cross your path, etc.?
6. Have you ever read your horoscope, and especially, gotten guidance from it?
7. Do you say, “Bless you!” when someone sneezes?
8. Do you have any heavy metal music in your collection?
9. Do you have a Harry Potter book in your house?
10. And, of course, do you have a Book of Mormon?
Then by some of the standards of some others, you are dealing with the occult.
In addition to many of the considerations above, I have found a few rules or principles helpful to consider when judging whether something is good or bad:
1. How much is the idea based on religious principles or ideas?
2. Does the idea contradict/ conflict with gospel principles/ truths in whole?
3. Does the idea contradict/ conflict with gospel principles/ truths in part?
4. Does the idea ever supersede gospel principles/ truths for the person using it?
5. Does the idea lead to good or bad in general?
6. Does the idea lead to good or bad in a specific case?
The Book of Mormon says:
2 Nephi 21:2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
2 Nephi 21:3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.
Ether 4:12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good…
Moroni 7:12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
Moroni 7:13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Moroni 7:14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
Moroni 7:15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
Moroni 7:16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
Moroni 7:17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Moroni 7:18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
Moroni 7:19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
Just as many Christians and others lose out on many gospel truths (especially the saving ones) by judging based on incorrect perspectives, many LDS likewise lose out on many natural truths that would be helpful for their temporal betterment and salvation by judging based on incorrect perspectives.
I know that some things are wrong not because they are always and completely wrong, but for other reasons, such as we personally are not right/ ready for them, it’s not the proper time (for us or the world or the church), there are prerequisites, etc.; this includes laws of man. (And interestingly enough, this also applies to things of the spirit of God.)
My belief is that as time passes, we will learn more and more, and more “miracles” will occur that will draw people to all kinds of different directions. In fact, I will be bold and anathema and say that I believe that almost every good result of facets of the gospel can—if we were to know how—be achieved by similar results by obedience to the spirit of man/ natural law—ways outside the Church; at least, enough to fool man. So in all this, it is very important to remember, so that we don’t get caught up in a less-than-best, miss-the-mark way, that nothing can nor will ever replace the Atonement of Jesus Christ and his gospel, nor his Church/ kingdom.
Perhaps it is for this reason—the ease that some people have of getting caught up in things that start out innocently and end up destroying, or maybe much better to say, replacing their faith and testimonies—that many ChristiansTM and LDS leaders and members are leery of the spirit of man, and rightfully so. I always encourage reason and experience, and especially the Spirit and personal revelation, when making decisions in these areas.
My hope and wish is that instead of using our cultural perspectives (including LDS cultural perspectives) to judge something, we rely on gospel truths and principles to judge, especially the most important part of judging–having the Spirit/ Holy Ghost to judge right.