I never imagined that I would write very much about Satan. I grew up in a somewhat secular Jewish household and I had no conception of a devil.  My mother was a very spiritual woman, but she didn’t believe that God demanded that we obey specific commandments. One of her favorite sayings was “God does not have an IBM computer” meaning that God did not closely monitor our actions and compliance with his commandments. My father was an agnostic or an atheist depending on how cynical he felt on a given day. Perhaps my only exposure to Satan was on the show South Park where he is depicted as misunderstood and at least partially well-intentioned.

When I was a teenager, I first began to learn about Christianity, and I began to also experience the reality that we have an adversary who will do anything in his power to keep us away from faith in Jesus Christ. At the same time, I became a big fan of heavy metal music and got involved in a subculture that frequently views the devil as a tragic or even heroic figure. Later as an Atheist, I came to view Satan as an oppressive myth that religious people invented to instill fear in children.

 Yet as I gained a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I also quickly came to understand that Satan was very real and that he was fiercely opposed to my baptism and membership in Christ’s Church. I have seen his tactics at work as he has tried to make me doubt my spiritual experiences and walk away from my covenants. And over the years I have seen many people that I dearly love fall for Satan’s deceptions and depart from their faith.

The truth is that talking about Satan isn’t going to win you a lot of popularity points. If most people think about Satan they envision him as a red devil with horns and a pitchfork. It is much more acceptable to talk about God and his plan and his love. And of course we should talk of Christ and preach of Christ and prophesy of Christ. But knowledge of Satan is absolutely crucial if we are going to survive his increasingly bold assault and discern his increasingly devious strategies. 

Why is it worth our efforts to study the origin, character, and tactics of the adversary? I believe there are at least eight reasons.

1)    Understanding his motives – Satan wants us to be miserable

One of the most important reasons that we should study Satan is so that we can fully understand his motivation. As Elder Holland explained, “Satan, or Lucifer, or the father of lies—call him what you will—is real, the very personification of evil. His motives are in every case malicious, and he convulses at the appearance of redeeming light, at the very thought of truth.” (Holland, We Are All Enlisted, 2011). There is nothing good or pure or ennobling about Satan and his deceptions. He is not an antihero. He does not have redeeming qualities or traits. Instead, “All day, every day, his only intent and sole purpose are to make the sons and daughters of God miserable like unto himself.” (Bednar, Watchful unto Prayer Continually, 2019). As we learn about Satan, we can have confidence that anything that comes from him will not lead us to happiness.

2)    As we come to know the Devil’s tactics we can better see the sharp contrast between him and our Heavenly Father/Jesus Christ

Satan is “the archenemy of God, of man, and of righteousness.” (Romney, The Great Deceiver) As we learn about him, the contrast with our Father in Heaven and our Savior become all the more stark.  As Elder Ballard explained, “If Heavenly Father’s ‘work and… glory’ is ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men and women,’ Lucifer’s ‘work’ is to bring to pass the misery and endless woe of God’s children.” (Ballard, The True, Pure, and Simple Gospel of Jesus Christ, 2019) In contrast to Satan’s selfish malevolence and misanthropy, the pure love of Christ shines through even more brightly. For instance, when we learn about the ways that Satan wants to subvert our human agency in order to achieve his goals, it becomes all the more inspiring how God is able to fully respect and incorporate our agency into his design.

The Book of Mormon speaks of the need for an “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11) and how we cannot fully appreciate righteousness and happiness without also knowing of punishment and misery. Satan stands as cautionary figure that helps us to better understand the full and complete consequences of sin without having to experience them ourselves.

Because Satan comes as a false Savior urging us to “worship me” (Moses 1:12), understanding his counterfeits and deceptions can better help us appreciate the selfless sacrifice of our atoning savior who gave even his own life so that we might be redeemed. We may better appreciate that we are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)

3)    Satan does not want us to know about him

Elder Marrion G. Romney declared that “Latter-day Saints know that there is a God. With like certainty, they know that Satan lives.” (Romney, The Great Deceiver) (emphasis added) . We often talk about our faith in God, but rarely about our faith in Satan. Testifying of the existence of Satan isn’t a topic that comes up very often during fast and testimony meetings, for instance (though perhaps it should).

Satan knows that people who know about him can be better prepared to combat him. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Book of Mormon reveals that one of Satan’s most subtle and beguiling tactics is to persuade us that he does not exist:

22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth thI doem 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.

If people not believing in him brings the Devil and his followers delight, then there is great cause for him to rejoice in our day. Survey data shows that in fact many Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even active and otherwise fully believing members of the Church, do not in fact believe in Satan

Polling by Barna Research Group from January 2000 to June 2001 showed that only 59 percent of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints surveyed believed Satan is a real being who can influence people’s lives. Of course this was far greater than average. In that survey only 27 percent of Americans believed in the existence of an actual Satan.[1] Nevertheless, more than 40% of self-identified members did not believe in Satan.

I am not aware of any other survey which looks at this question in the context of Church members. And the data on other Americans is quite mixed. A 2009 Barna survey of self-identified Christians shows similar results with 59% agreeing fully or somewhat with the statement that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”[2]

But a 2007 Gallup Poll found that 70% of Americans believe in Satan.[3] And a 2013 YouGov Survey from 2013 has 57% say they “personally believe in the existence of the Devil

There may be some evidence that overall belief in Satan in on the rise while ironically belief in God is on the decline. The most recent Barna survey from 2020 found that 56% believe “Satan is a real spiritual being and influences people’s lives, which is more than believe that God is a real and influential being[4]

But even if that is the case, this rise is not uniform. In fact, millennials have dramatically rejected traditional beliefs including the belief in Satan. Hence, Bana found that only 46% of Millenials believed in Satan which was 13 percent less than the rest of the population.[5]

Regardless of the specific polling data, it is evidence that Satan has had remarkable success in drawing doubt on his existence among professing Christians and even professing Latter-day Saints.

4)    Satan is subtle, crafty, and relentless. We need to be armed to defeat him

The first biblical description of Satan in the Garden of Eden is that he is “subtle.” He has similarly in our day been described as “crafty and cunning.” (Rasband, Build a Fortress of Spirituality and Protection, April 2019). He is also relentless and continually strives to lead us astray “more or less forever” so long as he thinks “he [can] see any weakening of [our] resolve or any chink in [our] armor.” (Elder Holland, Cast Not Therefore Away Your Confidence). He “is always on the lookout” for our weaknesses. (Soares, Confide in God Unwaveringly, 2017). Because“[t]he adversary never stops attacking” we similarly “can never stop preparing!” (Pres. Nelson Embrace the Future with Faith 2020). As Elder L. Tom Perry warned “None of us should ever underestimate how driven Satan is to succeed.” (Perry, Obedience to the Law is Liberty, 2013). If we do not continually guard against Satan’s attacks and fortify our weaknesses, we will be vulnerable to his attacks.

5)    Satan’s attacks are intensifying

Our prophetic leaders have foreseen and warned us that in our day Satan is increasingly become more emboldened. As President Nelson starkly declared, “During these perilous times of which the Apostle Paul prophesied, Satan is no longer even trying to hide his attacks on God’s plan. Emboldened evil abounds.” (Pres. Nelson, Let God Prevail 2020) President Eyring similarly explained that “All of us live in a world where Satan’s war against truth and against our personal happiness is becoming more intense.” Satan is “attacking sisters [and presumably brothers as well] at earlier ages.” (Eyring, Daughters in the Covenant, 2014).

It has never been easier to encounter Satan’s soul crushing and destructive snares. With the increased availability of temptation at any time, we face temptations that “our fathers and grandfathers never faced.” (Hales, Stand Strong in Holy Places, 2013). As Elder Boyd. K. Packer memorably explained by analogy to Lehi’s dream, today because of the ubiquity of media, we today “are living in that great and spacious building.” (Lehi’s Dream and You, Jan. 16, 2007)

In light of the world we live in, it is more important than ever to be aware of the ways that Satan attempts to ensnare us.

6)    If we understand Satan, will not be surprised when trials and temptations come our way

When we do not properly understand the existence and role of the adversary, then we are likely to be struggle when unexpected spiritual trials come our way. We will be taken by surprise when we face unexpected obstacles along our covenant path.

I learned this truth when I served as a missionary in the Russian Novosibirsk Mission. In my first area we taught a wonderful young woman named Yuliana. She was drawn to the Church because one of her best friends was a member. And she quickly had spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon and the Church that helped confirm for her that she wanted to be baptized. But on the date scheduled for her baptism, Yuliana vanished. She reached back out to us a few weeks later and told us about the sudden opposition and persecution that she had experienced. She struggled to understand why she would have such experiences when she was preparing for baptism. But she agreed to meet with us again.

As I prayed to know what we should teach her, I felt strongly that she needed to be taught about Satan and his role in opposition. We had a powerful lesson, one of the most memorable of my whole mission, where we spoke about Satan’s opposition in the context of the plan of salvation and Lehi’s dream. After this lesson, Yuliana could contextualize and understand the opposition that she continued to face. And she had the faith and perspective to move forward towards baptism. Knowing that opposition will come our way and that such opposition will be particularly crafted to target our spiritual foundations will help us to be prepared and resilient

7)    Understanding the nature of our adversary helps us to better appreciate the stakes

Prophets and Apostles have repeatedly taught that we are in the midst on an ongoing war for the souls of mankind. “This is a life-and-death contest we are in.” (Holland, We Are All Enlisted, 2011). We are enlisted soldiers in the army of Christ fighting against a relentless foe.

If we understand this, then we will not see commandments or sacrificing our time in  service as grievous or burdensome. We will not see the warnings of the watchmen on the tower as overkill. We will not begrudge correction and discipline from God and his servants.

On the other hand, if we see religion more like a leisurely country club or pleasure cruise for self-improvement, then we will interpret these things very differently. We will be quick to criticize anything that limits our self-actualization and pleasure. We will not understand the magnitude of the situation.

This is one reason that the Lord’s Prophets, Seers, and Revelators remind us that “[w]e are at war” and that we will have to fight in this “battle of … eternal significant and everlasting consequence.” (Holland, We Are All Enlisted/ Holland Cast Not Therefore Away Your Confidence)

8)    If we understand Satan we will have confidence that we can defeat him

Satan is fearsome and relentless foe. But ultimately, “[a]s crafty and cunning as he is, he will not win.” (Rasband, Build a Fortress of Spirituality and Protection, April 2019). If we know this, “we need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan’s power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat.” (Faust, Great Imitator).

As we learn of Satan, we also come to know that we have already defeated Satan once. In the premortal world, we fought and defeated him because of our “loyalty,” “love,” and “support[] for our Father in Heaven. (Lawrence, The War Goes On, 2017 Ensign). We overcame Satan “by the word of [our] testimony. (Corbitt, You Can Gather Israel, 2021).  We were “valiant, obedient, and pure” because of our unyielding faith in Jesus Christ. (Scott, For Peace at Home, 2013).

Satan lacks a body and is therefore unable to exercise control over us unless we let him. Satan can do much to tempt us and try us. But he cannot ultimately take away our agency or our spiritual blessings.

As Elder Richard G. Scott explained: 

The devil will not triumph. Even now he must operate within the bounds set by the Lord. He cannot take away any blessing that has been earned. He cannot alter character that has been woven from righteous decisions. He has no power to destroy the eternal bonds forged in a holy temple between a husband, wife, and children. He cannot quench true faith. He cannot take away your testimony. Yes, these things can be lost by succumbing to his temptations. But he has no power in and of himself to destroy them. (Scott, The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, 2010)

A Word of Caution

With these Eight overarching purposes in mind, a word of caution nevertheless remains in order. As Elder James E. Faust warned. “It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned:” (Faust, Great Imitator). C.S. Lewis pithily explained in his preface to the Screwtape Letters that “[t]here are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall into about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”” (Screwtape Letters, Preface)  

Despite the danger of going to the opposite extreme and becoming fascinated or even obsessed with Satan and his plans, I like Elder Faust, “am persuaded that if we are to ‘conquer Satan, and … escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:5), we must understand and recognize the situation as it is.” (Faust, Great Imitator). We must come to understand our adversary. I pray that we will all be better able to “recognize the situation as it is” and come away the conqueror.

Notes: 

[1] https://www.deseret.com/2001/7/14/19596178/u-s-survey-compares-lds-non-lds-beliefs

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exist/

[3] https://news.gallup.com/poll/27877/americans-more-likely-believe-god-than-devil-heaven-more-than-hell.aspx

[4] https://www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CRC-AWVI-2020-Release-03_Perceptions-of-God.pdf

[5] Believe that Satan is real and influential 46% 59% 13 points – https://www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/George-Barna-Millennial-Report-2021-FINAL-Web.pdf