The Book of Mormon has two key points correct about the nature of man: mankind has free will to choose between serving God or rejecting Him, and human beings have an inborn tendency to selfishness, self-indulgence and rebellion against the commands of God. In other words, mankind is beset with a tendency to sin.
The principle is clearly stated in II Nephi 2:27 where the patriarch Lehi is represented as saying:
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh…And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life1 through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.”
We cite this passage to show the teaching of free will. The reference to “the devil” will be considered in the latter part of this article.
In Helaman 14:30-31, Samuel the Lamanite prophet is said to declare to the Nephites what the angel said to him:
“…for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death.”2
The Nephites addressed had received what was considered to be the word of God and had the choice to follow it or rebel.
The idea that humans have free will is basic to the entire Book of Mormon and is an integral assumption of all the warnings, exhortations and admonitions contained in it. In this specific issue, the book is harmonious with the Bible.
The natural bent of human nature
In expanding on the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve, Alma is reported to have said:
“…as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal…therefore, as they [all mankind] had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare [for eternal happiness or torment]” (Alma 42:10; 41:4).
The use of the word “devilish” may seem too strong, but the Bible itself uses very strong language in describing the propensity to rebel against God that dominates human behavior. In describing the human population before the flood we’re told: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5 NIV).The word of the Lord through Jeremiah is equally strong: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9).
And the apostle Paul expresses the anguish of all who would be servants of God without the power of Christ working in them:
“For I know that in me (that is in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do…I see a law in my members…bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:18-25).
While totally wrong on the idea of humans having an immortal soul, to say we are “by nature carnal, sensual, devilish” the Book of Mormon is pretty well correct in depicting this aspect of human nature.
The theme of human sinfulness runs throughout the book.
Alma’s reference is not exceptional in the Book of Mormon, as throughout people are condemned for hardening their own hearts (I Nephi 22:18; Book of Mormon3 3:3), and for “willfully” rebelling against God (3 Nephi 6:18; Book of Mormon 1:16).
In fact the Lamanite prophet Samuel virtually paraphrases a theme that runs prominently throughout scripture. He assumes that if people “do whatsoever your heart desireth” they will be a “wicked and perverse generation” (Hel 13:27,29). The assumption behind his statement is that the natural tendency of man’s heart is toward sin, not righteousness, so if we do what comes natural we will practice iniquity. The same assumption lies behind such Scriptural passages as:
“It shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes…” (Num 15:39).
The premise, of course, is that the way of our own hearts and our own eyes will consistently be in opposition to God’s ways.
“But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” (Psa 81:11-12). The conflict was between what God wanted Israel to do and what they would do “by nature”. Left to their own devices they would not naturally do what was right but what was wrong.
“Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy out of their own hearts…that follow their own spirit…which prophesy out of their own heart…” (Ezek 13:2,3,17). The Lord did not have to say that they prophesied lies. It was enough to say their words were coming from their own hearts to make the point. The assumption is clear that what originates with human thinking is bent towards sin.
Thus, while completely wrong about man being inherently immortal, the Book of Mormon is basically correct when it comes to humans having free will and having a natural bent to iniquity. From our own experience, each of us knows that given our own natural tendencies, we have a very difficult struggle to follow the principles of Christ and we have a continuing need for the forgiveness of sins.
Our situation is bad enough but the Book of Mormon would make it infinitely worse by setting forth a fallen angel devil.
A fallen angel devil
The devil presented in the Book of Mormon is basically the same as that believed in by the majority of Christians. The patriarch Lehi is recorded as saying:
“…I must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven;4 wherefore he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God. And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die…” (2 Nephi 2:17-18).
No attempt is made to explain why Scripture reveals it was an actual serpent which presented the temptation to Eve (Gen 3:1 confirmed by 2Cor 11:3).
The “devil” does not just appear in Eden but plays a very prominent part throughout the Book of Mormon as noted in the second to last book of Ether. The context is a condemnation of nations conspiring against God:
“…it [the conspiracy] is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning” (Ether 8:25).
A god of evil having more influence than the God of truth and grace.
The view of the devil presented in the Book of Mormon is really quite remarkable. His influence and power is such that he is far more successful and dominate with mankind than is God. And as we note in the following quotes, at the end of human history, the kingdom of the devil is much greater than the kingdom of God.
The devil is presented as the enemy of God who fights against God continually and is never contained or destroyed by God:
“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 7:12; Alma 5:40).
As the enemy of God, the devil is said to have great pleasure in the sins of mankind and their ensuing punishment. “For the devil laugheth, and his angels5 rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my [the Nephite] people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen” (3 Nephi 9:2).
It is said that everyone who does not repent and become a servant of God is under the total domination of the devil:
“Remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore, he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God” (Mosiah 16:5).
Considering that the vast majority of mankind walk in the imagination of their own carnal natures, the Book of Mormon scenario has the devil with far more influence than does God.
In his role of encouraging iniquity, the devil is said to have extraordinary powers. Consider the following:
1 Nephi 12:17 “the devil blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.”
II Nephi 4:27 “And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptation, that the evil one have placed in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?” Think of the implications of those words. Scripture says “every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14). That’s bad enough, but at least, with God’s help, we can identify our own lusts and seek to counteract them. But the Book of Mormon, as in the above quote, would give the devil actual access to our thinking process. 3 Nephi says: “Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride…” (3 Nephi 6:15). The devil6 is given the ability to actually put thoughts into the minds of mankind.
And hear the words of Ether: “…and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people…” (Eth. 15:19). Helaman discourses extensively on this power of the devil: “those secret covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton7 from the records…but behold, they were put in the heart of Gadianton by that same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit…and also it is that same being who put it into the hearts8 of the people to build a tower sufficiently high that they might get to heaven…And behold, it is he who is the author of all sin…as he can get hold upon the hearts of the children of men.” (Helaman 6:26-30).
Further the devil is said to appear in the guise of an angel: Korihor excuses his false prophecies because “the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me…” (Alma 30:53). What chance does a human being have if such a superhuman immortal being existed having such extraordinary power and having freedom of action as an unrestrained enemy of God?
Kingdom of devil vs. kingdom of God
The end of human kind is concisely summarized in Alma 41:3-4:
“And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order…raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil”.
This is presented as the final end of the human race. Since all have an immortal soul, they will be assigned for ever to one kingdom or the other — God’s or the devil’s — and one condition or the other — happiness or torment and misery.
Note that no one actually dies. This cannot be over-emphasized. The righteous live forever in happiness and the rejected are assigned eternal life in torment and misery. And since the history of mankind has been one of rebellion against God, the kingdom of the devil with its unending torment is going to far more populous than the Kingdom of God. This ghastly concept is the trap of believing that the soul is immortal.
Why doesn’t God destroy the devil? According to the theology of the Book of Mormon, He can’t, because the devil is an immortal being. Why doesn’t He change the character of the devil to good instead of evil? According to the theology of the Book of Mormon, He can’t, because that would be a violation of His justice that all receive according to their works.
What a perverted religion is concocted by the human mind. We can be everlastingly thankful for the revelation of truth God has provided in the holy Scriptures.
Don Styles (Ann Arbor, MI)
Next, Lord willing, teachings which are Scriptural.
1. As noted in the third article in this series, the Book of Mormon clearly teaches every person has an immortal soul. Thus everybody has “eternal life” in the sense that they live forever. However, in the Book of Mormon “eternal life” is used as a synonym for eternal happiness and “death” is a synonym for eternal torment in hell.
2. See preceding footnote.
3. One of the books within the Book of Mormon is called “The Book of Mormon”. This goes along with the other 14 books which make up the complete Book of Mormon.
4. This is in direct contradiction to the Lord’s prayer which appeals “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Christ clearly teaches that obedience to God, not rebellion against Him, is what prevails in heaven.
5. The Book of Mormon does not explain the origin of the ‘‘angels” or of the devil.
6. Satan, “the devil” and “the evil one” are used interchangeably throughout the Book of Mormon (cf. Index in 2003 edition).
7. A wicked leader followed by Nephites and Lamanites.
8. Which totally ignores Gen 11:6 which declares building the tower of Babal was what “they have imagined to do”. The idea originated in the mind of mankind, not in the mind of a supernatural fallen angel.