Friday, April 17, 2009

Is Satan a Metaphor in LDS Missionary Work or Is He Real?

To the majority of LDS missionaries Satan is akin to the boogie man. Most think of him as some mythical creature that has some basis in fact but is not really of much consequence in their daily lives. Most think of Jesus as the power of good or love and Satan as the power of evil. Jesus is a historical figure with a basis for belief while Satan is more of a philosophical concept. He is not a driving force or thought for most missionaries who have very little to do with him other than as a metaphorical device of why more people don't embrace conversion to our church and someone they mention when teaching.

Most missionaries go about their daily routine of teaching people about Jesus Christ and mention Satan when they teach about the Plan of Salvation. But for the most part he doesn't plan a major part in their daily lives nor do they encounter him on a mission. Every now and then some missionary has a bad experience or temptation comes along and he or she blames it on Satan. "The Devil made me do it."

The closest most missionaries come is when an investigator falls through and doesn't keep a commitment usually being baptized so the missionary says that Satan got a hold of the investigator since the person didn't keep their commitment. Very rarely does a missionary have some mystical visitation or experience like demonic manifestation.

LDS doctrine teaches that Satan is a real being and that he is here on this earth tempting and trying those who live here. In Gospel Principles we learn:

Because our Heavenly Father chose Jesus Christ to be our Savior, Satan became angry and rebelled. There was war in heaven. Satan and his followers fought against Jesus and his followers.

In this great rebellion, Satan and all the spirits who followed him were sent away from the presence of God and cast down from heaven. One-third of the spirits in heaven were punished for following Satan: they were denied the right to receive mortal bodies.

Because we are here on earth and have mortal bodies, we know that we chose to follow Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Satan and his followers are also on the earth, but as spirits. They have not forgotten who we are, and they are around us daily, tempting us and enticing us to do things that are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. In our premortal life, we chose the right. We must continue to choose the right here on earth. Only by following Jesus can we return to our heavenly home.
On my mission we had an elder who purported to have seen a flying milk carton and witnessed a lady possessed by the devil. He insists that she was a spiritualist and the mission president cast the evil spirit who possessed her out of her. He claimed that one day he and his companion began to notice strange occurrences in the mission apartment like things moving around when no one touched them. One morning they claimed their milk carton flew right off the table. They became so concerned they called for the mission president who came over. The missionaries lived in the basement of the woman. When the mission president talked to her she admitted to being a spiritualist and having seances in her home. As they were talking supposedly an evil spirit possessed her so the mission president banished it. The mission president raised his hand to the square and in the name of Jesus Christ commanded the evil spirit to depart and be bound and never enter again in to the house. To the elder it showed the power of the righteous mission president over the forces of evil and proved Satan's existence. The only one that claimed this story was true was the elder and his companion. Since they were practical jokers no one believed them including other missionaries in our district or zone. They told the story over and over to anyone who would listen. I never could really tell if they were joking but I did notice that the one elder suffered from mild depression so I didn't totally discount his experience. For the most part none of us took them seriously since it was the only manifestation we encountered. Many of us had watched the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits so we looked on such things as more fiction than reality.

Our mission president used Satan as a metaphorical tool in raising our baptismal effectiveness. He told us that if we could break 100 baptisms a month we would break the power of Satan in that part of Canada. We had a special mission-wide conference where a speaker came and spent an hour telling us about Satan and how we could combat his forces. We even fasted and prayed as a mission to overcome Satan's power since some kind cometh not out. It legitimized to us that Satan was more than a mythical being. If our mission president and a special speaker a professor from BYU felt he was a real being it gave credence despite our never really seeing him or any of his followers. The sad thing was that we never broke a hundred coming close with 98 one month. We could have broke one hundred but the mission president didn't feel a couple of people were ready and had some integrity in not baptizing unprepared people.

A short time after this. Our mission president had use conduct an unusual practice as a missionary technique. He had us all dedicate our missionary apartments. We knelt down and in the name of Jesus Christ and through the Holy Priesthood we held we commanded any unclean spirits to depart and be bound and not enter in. We pray that the apartment would be a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell where we could learn and pray about Jesus.

I have never considered myself an impressionable person but I had a very unusual occurrence when we finished. I was overcome by an evil presence. I saw in my mind a being who tried to destroy me. An angel of the Lord delivered me when I cried out for help. The literally battle for my very soul. My companion became concerned and didn't know what to do when he saw me laying prostrate on the couch. He knew something was happening to me but he didn't know what to do. I was afraid I was having some kind of psychotic episode but I really saw a battle over me in my mind for a few minutes. Eventually I was delivered from the evil force who was banished. I received a clear impression that I was spared because one day I might become a great leader in Zion. I reassured my companion that I was going to be fine. He reported my experience to my mission president.

A few weeks later he called me in and I related what happened leaving out the part about my one day being a leader in Zion since I knew he didn't see me in that kind of light. He told me that he believed my experience was real but that Satan didn't bother himself with guys like us since we were small fish but left that for his lieutenants. The funny thing was that I had the unmistakable impression at the time that the being battling for my soul was Satan himself and the angel was Michael, the archangel. I never became a great leader in Zion so maybe the mission president was right.

After that he instituted another practice with part-member families that raised Satan beyond a metaphorical figure to one more real and tangible. He sent us out to every part-member family in our area to bless their homes. We went there and read them John 14:26:

26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Then we informed them we wanted to leave a blessing on their home. It was really a scary thing as we dropped down on our knees and through the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ we commanded any unclean spirit to depart and be bound and not enter again. On a couple of times when I did it I actually saw something leave. The interesting thing was not one member or their non-member spouse said what we were doing was creepy. In fact one man let us teach him and he was baptized. It proved to be an effective missionary icebreaker.

One of my goals as a missionary was to become so righteous that I could defeat Satan and his minions. As the years have rolled by after my mission I don't give him much thought. I certainly don't say I'm going to punch him out like I used to. I don't know if I have been lulled to sleep and need to awaken or if he just isn't something or somebody I'm even interested in. I think my focus is more on living the gospel and focusing on my relationship with Christ.

I have given it a lot of thought over the years of whether or not Satan is a real being or a metaphorical device. I have never engaged in practices like those on my mission again in non-mission life. None of my children have told me stories from their missions about Satan. Mostly today Satan is viewed by missionaries more as a metaphorical tool for conceptualizing the Plan of Salvation. I don't hear Satan stressed much over the pulpit nor does he get a lot of play in the MTC.

I don't know if it is because our children are more righteous and he is being bound by that righteousness or the emphasize is more on the Savior so why bother with him. I do think that he is as real as we make him and also he can be an effective metaphorical device. I know some find this topic kooky but Satan has something to do with missionary work. I think it would be interesting to hear the perspective of others on this matter. To me he is both but I'm not sure mine is a common experience as some think it delusional to relate a battle over your soul.

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