The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is focused on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and His teachings. This is how it should be. One topic on which we should not dwell long is the topic of Satan, also known as Lucifer, the son of the morning. However, it is important to know who he is, how he came to be and how he works in our lives. Perhaps it is best to start at the beginning— the very beginning, before we even came to earth, when we all lived in heaven as spirit sons and daughters of Heavenly Father.
Satan and Heavenly Father’s Plan for His Children
When we were there, Heavenly Father gather us together for a great family council. During this great meeting, Heavenly Father outlined His plan for His spirit children—which is often called the plan of salvation. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained:
Our understanding of life begins with a council in heaven. There the spirit children of God were taught his eternal plan for their destiny. We had progressed as far as we could without a physical body and an experience in mortality. To realize a fulness of joy, we had to prove our willingness to keep the commandments of God in a circumstance where we had no memory of what preceded our mortal birth.
In the course of mortality, we would become subject to death, and we would be soiled by sin. To reclaim us from death and sin, our Heavenly Father’s plan provided us a Savior, whose atonement would redeem all from death and pay the price necessary for all to be cleansed from sin on the conditions He prescribed (see 2 Nephi 9:19–24).
Our ability to choose isn’t just part of God’s plan for His children, it is the plan. Will we choose the path that leads back to our Heavenly Father, or will we not? We would be separated from God while we lived on earth, and there was a chance that not everyone would make it back into His presence. Both must have been sobering concepts for Heavenly Father’s spirit children to grasp. These are the concerns upon which Lucifer preyed when he spoke up. We frequently hear that Satan then presented a plan. But, Elder Richard G. Scott taught:
… Lucifer … proposed a modification of the requirements. So convincing was his argument that one-third of the Father’s spirit children followed Satan and were cast out.
Thus, Lucifer didn’t present a plan, he just wanted to modify Heavenly Father’s. What was this proposal? Lucifer promised “to redeem all mankind, that not one soul shall be lost,” and in return, he wanted the honor and glory for himself. (See Moses 4:1.) In doing so, he “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3).
Just how did Lucifer plan to do this? Brent L. Top, dean of religious education at Brigham Young University, said:
Just how he proposed to save every soul is not explained but it apparently allowed either no opportunity for sin or, if sin did occur, no condemnation for sin.
In short, according to Top, Satan’s plan was a “false offer of salvation without individual responsibility.” We often think of this in terms of brute force, but it was most likely a more subtle form of destruction of agency, as described above. By destroying agency, we don’t choose on our own to return to Heavenly Father but are forced—in other words, given no other options.
But this was contrary to God’s plan. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught,
The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 357).
The majority of the spirits in heaven—which includes all the people who have ever lived, those of us who are living now and those who will live on the earth— chose to follow Heavenly Father’s plan because we knew it was the only way that we could return to His presence and live with Him forever. Only by proving ourselves through our righteous choices—and through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ—could we qualify ourselves to return to live with God forever.
What is Agency and Why is it Important?
Agency is the ability to choose for ourselves—and it is a gift that God gave to man. This is the power that Satan sought to destroy for his own benefit. Elder Robert D. Hales explained:
… Agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and “to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon.” Agency is to act with accountability and responsibility for our actions. Our agency is essential to the plan of salvation. … Our agency—our ability to choose and act for ourselves—was an essential element of this plan. Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress. Yet with agency we could make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again. For this reason a Savior would be provided to suffer for our sins and redeem us if we would repent.
This sounds simple, and it is. The root of agency is choice—and it requires certain criteria. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said,
Four great principles must be in force if there is to be agency: 1. Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed; 2. Opposites must exist—good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong—that is, there must be an opposition, one force pulling … the other. 3. A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who are to enjoy the agency, that is, they must know the difference between the opposites; and 4. An unfettered power of choice must prevail. (Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, Inc., 1966 ed., p. 26.)
In the absence of just one of these criteria, there is not true freedom of choice. And without true freedom of choice, there can be no progression on our journey to become like our Heavenly Father. And that is the goal. The scriptures teach that God said,
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)
Satan’s Plan—Eliminating Choices or Removing Consequences?
One way that Satan could destroy the agency of mankind was by eliminating choices—or opposites. If there are no opposites, there are no choices. 2 Nephi 2: 15-16 illustrates this:
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after [God] 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.
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.
Interestingly, even as Lucifer was trying to alter Heavenly Father’s plan, he was taking part in it by offering a choice—an opposition to the things of God. His attempt illustrates an eternal concept: our power of choice is so fundamental, we would have had to choose to allow Satan to destroy our agency. And, sadly, a third of the hosts of heaven used their agency to lose it by choosing to follow Lucifer out of heaven.
The other plausible theory for Satan’s strategy is to remove the consequences of our choices—meaning that any choice will be fine. Mormon scholar Terryl Givens explains:
The Luciferian proposal may very well have hinged on the promise that regardless of human choices in a mortal probation, salvation would be assured. Humans wouldn’t be forced to make the right choices. Any choices they made would suffice. Which is the same thing as saying, no choice that they made would have mattered. And if choice doesn’t matter, then moral agency is an empty cliché. That would offer a plausible scenario by which he sought to destroy the agency of man, in a strategy as tempting then as it is now. Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you repose in paradise.
The scriptures also support this point:
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 (2 Nephi 2:13).
Interestingly, what this scripture teaches is that not only was Lucifer’s proposal implausible, it would have defeated the very purposes for the existence of both man and God.
Why Did So Many Follow Satan?
Regardless of the stratagem Lucifer used to lure away a third of the hosts of heaven, their actions show a lack of faith. President Spencer W. Kimball taught,
Agency suggests something very important—trust. Trust on the part of all. Now, just as God trusted us with all he had created here on earth, we must trust his knowledge and love each other. God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, as are his purposes.
Those who chose to rebel against God’s plan lacked trust—possibly in themselves and their ability to make correct choices, and certainly in God’s plan for us. Of this conflict in heaven, Elder Hales said:
Each of Heavenly Father’s children had the opportunity to exercise the agency Heavenly Father had given him or her. We chose to have faith in the Savior Jesus Christ—to come unto Him, follow Him, and accept the plan Heavenly Father presented for our sakes. But a third of Heavenly Father’s children did not have faith to follow the Savior and chose to follow Lucifer, or Satan, instead.
But the devil’s efforts did not end there. Elder L. Tom Perry said,
Satan, however, was not done. His backup plan—the plan he has been executing since the time of Adam and Eve—was to tempt men and women, essentially to prove we are undeserving of the God-given gift of agency. Satan has many reasons for doing what he does. Perhaps the most powerful is the motive of revenge, but he also wants to make men and women miserable like he is miserable.
Could Satan Really Force Us to Choose the Right?
Lucifer is the great dragon (Revelations 12) and the great deceiver. But can he really deceive and lead us away by forcing us against our will? No. President James E. Faust said,
Who has not heard and felt the enticings of the devil? His voice often sounds so reasonable and his message so easy to justify. It is an enticing, intriguing voice with dulcet tones. It is neither hard nor discordant. No one would listen to Satan’s voice if it sounded harsh or mean. If the devil’s voice were unpleasant, it would not entice people to listen to it.
Shakespeare wrote, “The prince of darkness is a gentleman” (King Lear, act 3, sc. 4, line 143), and “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, act 1, sc. 3, line 95). As the great deceiver, Lucifer has marvelous powers of deception. …
In addition to his great powers of persuasion, Lucifer was in a position of power and influence. The scriptures teach:
… An angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son. And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning (Doctrine & Covenants 76:25-26).
Lucifer was in a position of trust and authority—and thus we can see how this could have led some to be deceived by his proposal. Elder Oaks said of Satan’s proposal, “Without the power of choice, we would have been mere robots or puppets in his hands.”
And that is how Satan would have forced us—by eliminating the power of choice. We would have been compelled to follow him because there would be no alternatives. But, as President Faust said:
We have heard comedians and others justify or explain their misdeeds by saying, “The devil made me do it.” I do not really think the devil can make us do anything. Certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him.
The Devil’s Modus Operandi Today
We can also gain deeper insight into what Satan’s strategy might have been in the premortal world by looking at how he works on earth today. And although it’s interesting to think about how Satan proposed to take away our agency, it is important to understand how he actively pursues this agenda today. President Faust taught:
Some of Satan’s most appealing lines are “Everyone does it”; “If it doesn’t hurt anybody else, it’s all right”; “If you feel all right about it, it’s OK”; or “It’s the ‘in’ thing to do.” These subtle entreaties make Satan the great imitator, the master deceiver, the arch counterfeiter, and the great forger. …
The First Presidency described Satan: “He is working under such perfect disguise that many do not recognize either him or his methods. There is no crime he would not commit, no debauchery he would not set up, no plague he would not send, no heart he would not break, no life he would not take, no soul he would not destroy. He comes as a thief in the night; he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing” (Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 6:179).
Satan is the world’s master in the use of flattery, and he knows the great power of speech (see Jacob 7:4). He has always been one of the great forces of the world.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:
Lucifer is a clever and cunning intelligence. One of the main methods he uses against us is his ability to lie and deceive to convince us that evil is good and good is evil.
One of the ways he tries to ensnare us is with addictions. Elder Ballard explained:
He uses addiction to steal away agency. According to the dictionary, addiction of any kind means to surrender to something, thus relinquishing agency and becoming dependent on some life-destroying substance or behavior.
Researchers tell us there is a mechanism in our brain called the pleasure center. When activated by certain drugs or behaviors, it overpowers the part of our brain that governs our willpower, judgment, logic, and morality. This leads the addict to abandon what he or she knows is right. And when that happens, the hook is set and Lucifer takes control.
But we need not fear. President Faust taught:
I believe Satan’s ever-expanding efforts are some proof of the truthfulness of this work. In the future the opposition will be both more subtle and more open. It will be masked in greater sophistication and cunning, but it will also be more blatant. We will need greater spirituality to perceive all of the forms of evil and greater strength to resist it. But the disappointments and setbacks to the work of God will be temporary, for the work will go forward.
… 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.