I love it when I come across a gospel teaching that makes me think of something in a completely new way. One day I was researching one of my favorite topics – the words of the prophets on freedom and our duty to protect it – and I came across a teaching from Ezra Taft Benson that gave me significant pause. He was discussing the fact that Satan uses tactics to try and keep us distracted from the important task of standing for freedom. This is what he said:
He [Satan] does this through diverse means including the use of perverse reasoning. For example, he will argue, “There is no need to get involved in the fight for freedom – all you need to do is live the gospel.” (BYU devotional, 10/25/66)
I had never before considered that Satan would actually use living the gospel as a means to achieve his wicked ends. What a paradox!
This teaching of President Benson reminded me of Isaiah’s words: “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
We all know Satan is an expert at making wickedness appealing, accepted, and even promoted in our society. In these tumultuous last days, we have endless examples of that. But, he doesn’t stop there. He can also take that which is good – like living the gospel – and twist it so that it can have negative consequences. In President Benson’s example, Satan tells us to focus on living the gospel and never worry about protecting our freedom. The problem is that we can only fully live the gospel in an atmosphere of freedom. If we don’t spend time protecting our freedom, it will die a slow death from our apathy, and with it will die our religious liberty. The adversary is cunning, indeed!
I started to wonder in what other areas Satan might use this tactic of calling good evil or putting light for darkness. The most prominent example in our current society is how people with religious convictions are treated. Standing for God’s law will now earn you the label of old-fashioned, bigot, or hater. Light is portrayed as darkness. The sweetness of being a disciple of Christ now leaves a bitter taste among those who favor moral relativism.
As another example, the adversary can use the great tactic of over-scheduling to keep us distracted from what truly matters in life. It is always wonderful to have hobbies and to participate in wholesome activities that build talent and character, but we have been warned against participating in these things at the expense of gospel learning and study and quality
family time. In the October 2007 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave this counsel:
The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons,
team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children.
Later in that talk he makes this clear statement: “Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death.” Keeping our families too busy (albeit with good things) and our priorities off-balance is certainly being used to weaken the spiritual foundation of our homes.
For a final example, I want to examine love itself. Paul teaches us that the greatest trait we can develop is charity, the pure love of Christ. When asked to define the greatest commandment, the Savior himself said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Given these teachings, how can Satan possibly take love and twist it into something negative?
Loving others is never wrong, but what we do in the name of love can become a problem. Increasingly in the world around us we find loving others being equated with never judging. It is true that we can never make a final judgement on a person’s worthiness or standing before Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. However, there are different types of judging. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland makes this clear:
[T]here is sometimes a chance for a misunderstanding, especially among young people who may think we are not supposed to judge anything, that we are never to make a value assessment of any kind. We have to help each other with that because the Savior makes it clear that in some situations we have to judge, we are under obligation to judge—as when He said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” That sounds like a judgment to me. The alternative is to surrender to the moral relativism of a deconstructionist, postmodern world which, pushed far enough, posits that ultimately nothing is eternally true or especially sacred and, therefore, no one position on any given issue matters more than any other. And that simply is not true. (CES Devotional, 9/9/12)
There seems to be confusion on this most delicate issue. Some take the idea that we are to love everyone regardless of their actions and turn that into accepting and even advocating for a policy or lifestyle that is contrary to the commandments of God. Elder Lynn G. Robbins had this to say about such actions: “Trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments.” (October 2014 General Conference)
What is the proper balance between standing for truth versus being tolerant of the choices made by others with their precious agency? That is a very difficult question; fortunately, prophets and apostles have addressed this issue extensively. I encourage all to read a CES Devotional given by Dallin H. Oaks on 9/11/11 entitled “Truth and Tolerance.” He makes this excellent illustration:
[T]olerance for behavior is like a two-sided coin. Tolerance, or respect, is on one side of the coin, but truth is always on the other. You cannot possess or use the coin of tolerance without being conscious of both sides. Our Savior applied this principle. When He faced the woman taken in adultery, Jesus spoke the comforting words of tolerance: “Neither do I condemn thee.” Then, as He sent her away, He spoke the commanding words of truth: “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). We should all be edified and strengthened by this example of speaking both tolerance and truth: kindness in the communication, but firmness in the truth.
If we aren’t careful, it may be easy to cross the line from loving others and not condemning them to promoting policies or lifestyles that don’t align with the gospel. Elder Oaks also said, “At the extreme level, evil acts that used to be localized and covered up like a boil are now legalized and paraded like a banner.” What a perfect description of the times in which we live! The more wickedness becomes mainstream in society, the more accepted it will become and the more berated gospel believers will be. It is never easy to stand for truth and righteousness, especially if you also seek the approval of the world.
We have been given the glorious gift of coming to Earth in the last days. Our Father in Heaven trusts us to be valiant disciples of Jesus Christ and to prepare the world for His Second Coming. As Father Lehi taught, we face opposition in all things. The closer we get to the coming of Christ, the harder Satan will work to lead souls away from him. Some he can trap with blatant sin, but others require a more cunning plan to lull them away. I have been grateful for the chance to ponder Isaiah 5:20 and think about the tactics of the adversary so that I may watch for and guard against them in myself and in my family.
Author Stephanie Gifford lives in southeast Idaho with her wonderful husband, Jared, and their beautiful daughter. She has a passion for learning about God’s hand in American history and how it ties to the restoration of the Gospel. Stephanie enjoys horses, baseball, reading, and spending time with family.