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May 23rd, 2008
War in Heaven Today
photo credit: j.cliss
Actions have consequences.
This maxim is easily understood by most individuals, especially when their actions have produced negative consequences. With the help of hindsight, we can look back at previous actions and see their consequences—both intended and unintended. But do we keep this principle in mind when pondering future actions?
The war in heaven was a major determining factor in shaping our eternal lives and the path we would follow. Our decision as to whether we would follow Christ or Satan had a simple consequence with everlasting implications. We all know this, but do we understand the impact of this war? The principles we fought over are at the root of ongoing struggles around the world in our own day. Thus, the action we took in response to the war in heaven is one we must continually take if we are to follow God’s path. Then-Elder Benson agreed:
As important as are all other principles of the gospel, it was the freedom issue which determined whether you received a body. To have been on the wrong side of the freedom issue during the war in heaven meant eternal damnation. How, then, can Latter-day Saints expect to be on the wrong side in this life and escape the eternal consequences? The war in heaven is raging on earth today. The issues are the same: Shall men be compelled to do what others claim is for their best welfare or will they heed the counsel of the prophet and preserve their freedom? (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1965)
If the war in heaven is raging on earth today, are we sure we’re fighting for the right side? Are our actions on the side of freedom as they once were when we decided to reject Satan’s plan of force? Or do we instead favor the use of force in select cases to coerce others into doing good? It is imperative that we understand the potential consequences that will result from our current actions in this regard. But with the ongoing and increasing suppression of liberty—including in our own country, once considered the model of freedom—it would seem that there is a disconnect between the choice we once made in heaven, and the choices many of us are currently making and supporting. Pres. Hinckley spoke to this effect when he said:
I cannot understand why so many have betrayed in life the decision they once made when the great war occurred in heaven.
But it is evident that the contest between good and evil, which began with that war, has never ended. It has gone on, and on, and on to the present. (Gordon B. Hinckley, via Quoty)
On another occasion, he said:
That war, so bitter, so intense, has never ceased. It is the war between truth and error, between agency and compulsion, between the followers of Christ and those who have denied Him. His enemies have used every stratagem in that conflict. They’ve indulged in lying and deceit. They’ve employed money and wealth. They’ve tricked the minds of men. They’ve murdered and destroyed and engaged in every kind of evil practice to thwart the work of Christ. (Gordon B. Hinckley, via Quoty)
As important as the decision was in the war in heaven to follow Christ, it is in the past, and we are faced with new and increasingly important decisions whose consequences (seen and unseen) will affect ourselves and numerous others. The “freedom issue” is one that pervades our thoughts and actions—in essence, either we have faith in the individual and allow him to retain and make use of his agency and freedom, or we abandon this trust and seek to use some type and amount of force to coerce him to do the right thing.
What, then, are we to do? How does one ensure he’s on the right side of the battle? President Hinckley likewise addressed this issue:
Brethren, the war goes on. It is as it was in the beginning. There may not be the intensity, and I am grateful for that. But the principles at issue are the same. The victims who fall are as precious as those who have fallen in the past. It is an ongoing battle. We of the priesthood are all part of the army of the Lord. We must be united. An army that is disorganized will not be victorious. It is imperative that we close ranks, that we march together as one. We cannot have division among us and expect victory. We cannot have disloyalty and expect unity. We cannot be unclean and expect the help of the Almighty. (Gordon B. Hinckley, The War We Are Winning)
Be united. March as one. Oppose division. Be loyal. Be clean. While they sound simple, these are no easy tasks. The mere mention of any political issue in Sunday School is enough to raise the room temperature a few degrees. If we can’t unite behind necessary actions and support these enduring principles, what hope have we of unity? It is important, as always, that we seek first to obtain God’s word, and understand the pattern of the freedom issue, and what it means for us today. Only then will we have the ability to truly march as one in defense of the same principles we fought for in heaven.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
13 Responses to “War in Heaven Today”
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I hope more people ponder this post. I have always wondered about forcing democracy and liberty by guns and bombs.
Of course, in the case of Iraq, we are not “giving” them liberty and democracy as many Bush supporters think we are. But even if we were giving them liberty and democracy, forcing them to do so is mimicking Satan’s plan he used in the War in Heaven.
I don’t know if your post was trying to get us to analyze our foreign affairs through the lens of the War in Heaven or if you intended to just have us look at our own lives in our own families and communities.
But I always grab the opportunity to get my jab in on our current wars we are illegally waging.
You know where I stand on this, Connor. This contradicts scripture, and also the corrective counsel of modern apostles. The idea was perpetuated in the church that Satan wants to force us to do good. Dallin Oaks, Bruce McConkie, and others have corrected this misunderstanding and distinguished the words agency and freedom, teaching us to value both but to never confuse them.
At a BYU devotional just a few years ago, Oaks said:
I know you have prophetic support for your position… but when newer apostles clarify previous doctrine, it’s foolish to cling to the old. Especially when the old just doesn’t make sense… agency isn’t the freedom to act without consequence, because agency needs consequences to be agency. Satan has never wanted us to do good… he consistently invites us to do evil by coercing others (coercive government), but his intent in doing this is not to get us to be good, but to be bad.
Besides that, I agree fully with the point of the post.
This contradicts scripture, and also the corrective counsel of modern apostles. The idea was perpetuated in the church that Satan wants to force us to do good. Dallin Oaks, Bruce McConkie, and others have corrected this misunderstanding and distinguished the words agency and freedom, teaching us to value both but to never confuse them.
Thanks again for reinforcing them; I think that I still conflate the two at times. However, it would help to clarify that when I allude to wanting to “force others to do good”, I think that the alleged good rendered is a farce. The ultimate act might seem good to people at the time (much like Satan’s claim that universal salvation would be a good thing), but its actual implementation is anything but. I think his harmonizes nicely with other evils masquerading as good. Take socialism, for example. I think it’s quite easy to argue that the welfare dole does more harm than good, although champions of socialist policies claim that the effects are beneficial. In truth, they’re not, because they suppress freedom.
Thanks Connor! I like your clarification. Satan wants us to do evil… participating in coercion via government is evil… and the best way for Satan to get us to participate in coercion is to make it look good. So from a limited perspective, Satan wants us to do good, but only if we’ve been fooled into believing that evil is good.
So Satan likes to trick you into thinking that good is evil, and evil is good. That would mean that when you get a personal revelation that something’s good, it could be actually good (in which case you should do it), or it could be Satan telling you it’s good (and you shouldn’t). How can you tell the difference? What if Satan is pulling the ol’ reverse psychology and making you think it’s bad so you won’t do it, but it’s actually good? When something’s difficult, are you facing opposition from Satan and you should keep going, or is it the Lord giving you a signal that you should stop?
This has been Metaphysical Brain-Teaser of the Day. Good luck.
How can you tell the difference?
Jesus gave us the answer to that one.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Thank you for your response, Connor. I’m afraid it only complicates things for you, however. Does this mean that if something has positive consequences, it’s good? Even very bad decisions can have some positive outcomes.
I think this is a serious question. You’re trying to work out the intentions of unseen beings by interpreting feelings and events, but apparently both God and Satan can put ideas into your mind. There’s a lot of room for error there, but you seem very confident that your judgments can’t be wrong, and this seems like a dodgy method of making decisions.
BTW, from the verses you’ve quoted, it sounds like you’re becoming an ethical consequentialist. If so, welcome.
The question you asked, Daniel, was how to distinguish the Lord’s voice from that of the devil, not what makes an action good or bad.
The Lord said,
This is how to recognize the Spirit – by its fruits. What does it invite us to do? Does it invite us to be better?
Does this mean that if something has positive consequences, it’s good? Even very bad decisions can have some positive outcomes.
I don’t think that “fruit” limits itself solely to the end result. Surely there are positive side effects even from bad actions (for example, I met my wife as a result of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, a man with whom I disagree on numerous issues.) Instead, I think that “fruit” refers to the byproduct (or “outgrowth”) of an action. Planting a seed which yields fruit is both a process and a result. Thus, I think “fruit” can refer not only to the final product, but also to the method(s) used to obtain it.
You’re trying to work out the intentions of unseen beings by interpreting feelings and events, but apparently both God and Satan can put ideas into your mind.
And thus we see the importance of prophets as well as personal inspiration and discernment. I realize that this is an area where we’ll fundamentally disagree, since you’re an atheist, but I do believe that we’ve been given aides to understand the supernatural and discern the influences we each feel. Yes, God and Satan can both attempt to influence me (as opposition is necessary in all things), but their ideas are only “put” into my mind if I entertain and allow them. Again, by analyzing the fruits (and methods used in the process), it’s quite possible to determine the source of any involved inspiration.
BTW, from the verses you’ve quoted, it sounds like you’re becoming an ethical consequentialist.
As I understand consequentialism and deontology (via Wikipedia), I see room for both. Certain actions are right or wrong because our Creator has said so, whereas some actions are right or wrong because of their outcome. When God commanded Nephi to slay Laban, for example, the action was right because God had ordered it, whereas a third-party observer (and consequentialist) might myopically look at the immediate (and seen) result and conclude that it was wrong. When an action yields both good and bad fruit (in the same example, Nephi killed a man (bad) but was able to obtain the records he was told to procure and thus preserve God’s word for his new society and all of his descendants (good)), it takes more than logical analysis to determine what is right and wrong.
I’ll agree that some actions are not immediately and easily discernible (e.g. Nephi’s slaying of Laban), but in those times when consequentialism leads to doubt (about a good, God-fearing man doing something so seemingly atrocious), revelation steps in to instruct us (from a deontology stance) that God justified the action because He mandated it.
Thankfully, most actions are not as morally perplexing as Nephi’s was…
Sounds like you’re going for rule-based consequentialism. I like that approach, too. I think it resolves one of the major shortcomings of ‘pure’ consequentialism: we can’t always see the consequences of our actions beforehand. So a consequentialist can only say in hindsight, yeah, that was bad. Whereas if you infer some rules from a number of cases, your predictive power grows a bit.
I still don’t see how this resolves the issue, though, since you’re still claiming that the rules come from supernatural beings, the existence of which no one has ever demonstrated. I wish you’d accept that the rules come from traditions and a set of ethical intuitions that we’ve evolved as humans (which seems to me the most likely scenario). But, as you say, we’re coming from two very different sets of assumptions.
Granted, we are to be united. But each of us is an individual entity. Each has an individual set of beliefs, of ideas, of interpretations of a shared set of revelations (i.e. Doctrine and Covenants) or experiences (i.e. high gas prices, 9-11, invasion of Iraq, etc.). How does unity square with individuality?
How does unity square with individuality?
Well, the Lord has told us:
In the margin for that verse, I have the following excerpt written from this talk given by Elder John K. Carmack
We all know Moses 1:39 that tells us what God’s work is, but in D&C 11:20 we learn our work:
If we all have the same work (following God’s laws), then clearly we should be united in that task. We speak of the Godhead as being one in purpose, and I think that our individualistic unity should be the same.
“Or do we instead favor the use of force in select cases to coerce others into doing good?”
Wasn’t it Joseph Smith who said that the “ends do not justify the means” in the context of this exact same question?
That would defeat the purpose of free agency, forcing anyone to do the right thing, is wrong, and you can see why – look at most governments – they’ve all been guilty for trying to force one people or another to do what they think is right. Look America, we’re trying to force our democracy (what we think is right) on a foreign people.