Growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I heard a lot about “the war in heaven,” in other words, Satan refusing to follow God, convincing other children of God to follow him instead, and all of them being tossed out of heaven.
As a child, I was always taught that the reason Satan refused to follow God was because of agency. Satan thought that people shouldn’t be able to make their own choices about things because then they wouldn’t all return to God. So he wanted to make it so that everyone would return to God and be exalted no matter what.
And honestly, as an adult, there are times when that idea doesn’t sound so bad.
Now, before you start picking up stones and calling me a blasphemer, let me explain.
Some days, I feel like I just can’t do anything right. Life is messy, I can’t do everything I want or need to do, and change in my heart comes so slowly. So if I could just skip it all and return to God without trouble, it would at least be convenient.
And when I see people using their agency to actively go against God, I think the same thing. Wouldn’t it just be better if they just did what was right?
These are just momentary frustrations, and the fact is there are problems with Satan’s perspective, obviously, and I’m fully aware of them. And there are also a few things about Satan that, as a child learning about the war in heaven, I didn’t know or understand that completely changed my perspective of his so-called “plan.”
Force Isn’t Love
Has someone ever forced you to do something against your will?
If you’ve experienced a situation like that, you know that love and force don’t go together. You might be pushed to do something that’s good for you, force may be done with the best of intentions, but it still infringes on choice and the resulting feeling or response is rarely love.
I want to clarify that there’s a difference between actual force and pressure from a parent, teacher, or guardian. Force completely removes choice from a person, but when a parent pushes their child to eat broccoli when the child doesn’t want to, the parent is teaching and disciplining. It would only turn into force if the parent physically shoved the broccoli down the child’s throat.
That shoving down the throat kind of force is what Satan wanted to employ. Instead of a benevolent plan to help everyone receive exaltation, Satan thought we’d all be better off as puppets with him pulling the strings. In the end, it wouldn’t matter what we’d have done because we wouldn’t have been in control whatsoever.
We wouldn’t have changed. We wouldn’t have grown. Everything about us would have been dictated, and we’d have had no say in the matter.
I don’t know about you, but to me, this sounds like the plan of a tyrant, not a savior.
God’s plan, on the other hand, allowed us to choose for ourselves, gave us freedom, and offered a true Savior. This plan was never up for debate, the only question was whether or not we would choose to follow it.
The great irony of the situation is that Satan used the agency God offered him in His plan to fight against God’s plan of salvation. And, by fighting against God, Satan actually set God’s plan into action by giving all of us a choice: God’s plan, or the opposing plan.
God’s plan was always going to be implemented. God’s power, perfection, and knowledge made it the only plan that could help all of us become who we wanted to be. And some people choose to not have God in their lives. But it is their choice, and God will not force them to choose otherwise.
God is not passive in His plan; He simply shows great love, respect, and trust in us by letting us decide who we really are. He gives us every opportunity He can to choose to follow Him, and He loves it when we do. But when we don’t, He lets us make that choice. Of course, we are also held responsible for that choice because we weren’t forced to make it.
A lot of people wonder why God allows evil in the world. Why we suffer, need laws, have to sin. Why we have to choose and can’t just be exalted without effort or mistakes.
I like the way Lehi explains it in the Book of Mormon:
13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.2 Nephi 2:13-16
That’s kind of a long chunk of verses for a blog post, but the point is that if we want freedom and choice, we also have to face evil. Without evil in the world, there is no good to choose. Good would be the only option.
And that comes back to force. God will never force us to do His will. It has to be our choice in His plan. This act of love, giving us agency but also giving us a way to return to Him, is God’s mercy at its best. His plan may seem difficult, unfair, or frustrating at times, but if we experienced any other option, we’d find that no other plan fits our needs and growth better than God’s plan does.
The Real Character of Satan
I’m guessing you figured out what kind of person Satan actually is just by the classification of his plan as tyrannical, but let’s dig a little deeper into why he can’t be trusted even a little bit.
This might sound strange, but I’m actually a little fascinated by Satan, in a “know your enemy,” kind of way. The more I learn about him, the less I understand his reasoning. But his character becomes more and more clear.
Satan’s story is a tragic one, but not a pitiable one. He, like us, is a child of God, but he chose (all on his own, without being forced) to rebel against God. And the more he rebelled against God, the further he fell, and he couldn’t dwell with God any longer.
As it says in Moses:
3 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;
4 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 4:3-4
He became the devil because it was the natural consequence of his choices. It’s sad, but the fact is he brought it upon himself.
It wasn’t just Satan’s actions that got him kicked out of heaven and made him miserable forever. It was the state of his heart that really ruined him. He became the “father of lies” because he lied about his intent when he offered to “save” us all.
In a prophecy from Isaiah, it explains exactly who Satan truly is:
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.2 Nephi 24:12-14
All Satan really wants is to be in charge of everything. He thinks he can be greater than God, that he can beat him. And yes, I do mean that in the present tense. The fact that Satan still tempts us and still tries to undermine God proves that he has not given up fighting for the power he craves.
And the end result for him is inevitable, as Isaiah adds,
15 Yet thou [Satan] shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.2 Nephi 24:15
Satan’s plan may have its attractive qualities, but in reality, his plan is full of tyranny and hypocrisy. He doesn’t care about us. He never has. Satan’s plan could never have saved us, not really, and we would have been eternal prisoners if it had been followed.
Our Father in Heaven’s plan truly is perfect. He knows and loves us perfectly. Though His plan challenges us, those same challenges show us that God is aware of us and that He wants to help us become the best people we can be.
Instead of asking why things are so difficult or why evil exists in the world, let’s pause this week and give thanks to our God for giving us the opportunity to become better and to help others do the same.