And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none--and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.--2 Nephi 28.22
Satan is a tricky guy (who may or may not be attractive and have a girlfriend…can anyone explain to me the Mormon obsession with questions like these?). He’s got a whole bag of tricks. To some, as Nephi taught, he tells them there’s no hell and that gets them to misapply knowledge. Nephi also claimed he lures others away into carnal security. They then become flabby spiritually and are lead “carefully down to hell”. Nephi’s discourse goes into other ways and means by which man can sin. We can get angry at the truth of God and thus rage against it. We may become self-satisfied and say we have enough (theological certitude). Or we can put our trust in man. Lastly, according to Nephi, we can be born into the wrong lineage (though what Nephi means by Gentiles and what LDS mean by Gentiles is different. Does that make his weird closing statement any better, though?)
My purpose here isn’t to recount all the manners of the devil’s deceit that Nephi listed. It’s to point out another one that I couldn’t find in the scriptures. It’s not because I think I’m particularly unique. Rather, I think most people who are entrusted with sacred books (excluding some of the men of Omni) aren’t so easily beset with sin as I am. Therefore, the whole idea may be foreign to them. It’s this: And to others, he telleth to commit a sin, and saith they will escape a greater sin thereby.
I won’t go into the details here (is it a p.t. if it’s still current?), but I fell into this pattern this week. I convinced myself (probably with the help of a certain disembodied spirit brother) that if I did x, it would keep me from doing y, which in turn would mean I’d not sink to z. Logically it makes sense. I understand my sinful nature and know that I’ll mostly not be able to avoid iniquity. So, why burst into flames by jumping to z? Instead, I can just do x, which probably doesn’t even require confession. Just a matter of contrition and some forsaking (and yes, I understand that this mocks the expiation and that contrition planned in advanced probably lack conviction and that thinking this probably makes x appear a bit too much like the older understanding of denying the Holy Ghost.) Unfortunately what is logical and consistent is not always true. Also, sadly, I don’t really understand my sinful nature. Instead of x acting as a steam valve, it set off a starter pistol. So I found myself the next day looking for x+1, which approaches, but does not reach, y (I considered a limit statement here, but I’m not that nerdy.) Fortunately, I pulled out of my tailspin before toppling over the cliff into a torment of disappointment (Mormon hell).
Suffice it to say, this tactic of Satan is convincing to me. It’s convincing but it’s false. I think it’s so convincing because it allows me to both sin and resist temptation. I’m having my guilt and beating it too. Like my description of testimony bingo to a fellow ward member last Sunday, I can be both righteous and wicked. Satan wants to set up a division in my nature so I’m not a unitary being fighting a good fight, but a natural man and an adopted saint. Unfortunately for all involved, he usually prevails, and if he manages to fully split my soul, he’ll win for sure. Brigham Young taught, “we know enough to damn us. And when we know enough for that, we know enough to save us, if our knowledge is improved upon.” I guess I know enough to damn me. I’m just not convinced that improving on that knowledge is worth the effort.
(Odd note: LDS Collectors Library lists the scriptures in this order: Book of Mormon, D&C, PoGP, New Testament, Old Testament, JST-New Testament, JST-Old Testament. Hmm…exposing their own bias, perhaps?)