Sunday, October 9, 2016

Satan Comes First

I attended the temple yesterday, and I was struck with the way God answered Adam's prayer. There they were, Adam and Eve, both full of faith as they built an altar without knowing why, doing exactly what they were supposed to, begging the Lord for some much needed direction, when who should appear? Not God, but Satan, with his impudent claim of lordship over the earth. As usual, he was eager to peddle to them his usual wares: the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.

This sometimes bothers me. Why wasn't God more on the ball? Why didn't he step in right away and answer their prayer first, respond more quickly to their sincere demonstration of faith? Why the slowness to respond? Why the wait?

As I was thinking about this idea, how God answers prayers, I realized there is a kind of pattern in the scriptures. This actually happens again and again. When someone requests knowledge, God usually stands by and lets Satan do his song and dance first. Very often, when a prophet in the scriptures needs direction from God, it is Satan who is first on the scene.

Jesus tempted, by Carl Heinrich Bloch
1. For example, we have Moses. After seeing all of God's creations and being left in a physically weakened and vulnerable state, and full of questions, having "other things to inquire of [God]"; in that state, who should appear but Satan, showing off, trying to look cool, and commanding him to "worship me." (Moses 1)

2. Another prophet, Elijah, retiring to the mountains to seek direction for his ministry and being left alone, was first subjected to the impressive displays of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire (and the Lord wasn't in any of those), and not until afterward did God speak to him with the still small voice, and instructing him how to proceed with his prophetic ministry. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

3. When Jesus Christ began his ministry with a fast for forty days in the wilderness, Satan immediately comes waltzing in to tempt him, trying to win over even the Son of God with vain and selfish offers, cunningly matched and supported with scripture. (Matthew 4:11) Not until afterwards did angels minister to him.

4. And most recently, Joseph Smith, seeking to know which church to join, was first encompassed with the powers of darkness before he persisted in calling out to God for aid, and then he received the First vision, followed by all kinds of angels and messengers which opened up this last dispensation. (JSH 1:15-16)

The pattern in the scriptures seems to be this:  a person seeks further knowledge, Satan eagerly and quite forcefully offers what he's got, pointing out his lordship over the world, his money and carnal pleasure, his endless preaching and theologizing, and then the person has to decide if his goods are what they're looking for. If they aren't, if the worldly logic and philosophies don't satisfy the longing in his soul, and if he persists in seeking messengers from God, then God will step in to teach him eternal truths.

Not just prophets, but all of us deal with tough questions and all of us need personal guidance and answers. I have personally wrestled with some tough questions. I am often frustrated that, even when I am doing all that I am supposed to, praying sincerely and really searching the scriptures, listening to the prophet, attending church, etc., I don't get immediate answers from God. In fact, I often get kind of the opposite. My first attempts to search out answers bring out a barrage of opposition to the faith I have been taught since primary. The moment I start seeking is when I am faced with even more doubts. Suddenly, I am presented with a whole banquet of exciting and stimulating reasons why this church is mistaken, why this claim is unreasonable, or that prophetic teaching is not all that wonderful. There are all kinds, an endless supply it seems, of philosophies of men mingled with scripture that could assuage my struggle. People step in from all sorts of places, from strangers on the internet to very close friends, each calling me over with a solution that offers to take care of my worries.

I often have to ask myself:  am I satisfied with worldly, man-given explanations, or do I long for answers from above? Am I looking for "messengers from Father to teach me?" Too many friends I know have abandoned the gospel, as taught by the Lord's authorized servants--those rather plain, ordinary, unpopular, unexciting men--because they found the world's teachings to be more interesting or desirable.

Over the years, my answers have grown like a sunrise does, starting out dim on the horizon, but growing brighter to illuminate a dusky sky. Judging by my continuing struggle and lingering questions, I would guess for me it is still only the early hours of dawn; just barely light enough to move forward, and there is still such a long way to go. But I can say that I know enough. I know that I am a son of God, and I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, and that this is His church. I did not learn it from "flesh and blood":  from scientific methods, from lively and engaging debates, from video blogs, podcasts, or from good and learned teachers, even parents, church leaders, and friends, all of whom are mortal earthly sources, and therefore unreliable. I have listened to the many voices, weighed them out, studied them, but ultimately, I have received this knowledge and testimony from God by the Holy Ghost.

If anyone is ever troubled or discouraged that seeking guidance from God seems to just bring up more doubts and stirs up more trouble, remember that Satan always comes first. Stick with it. Keep seeking until you get an answer from heaven. Don't settle for worldly explanations. Remember that opposition and testing is part of the plan, and the alternatives need to be attractive enough for it to be a valid test. If you keep exercising faith, holding on to what you know, God's answers will come to you, and you will know it, because it will be like a "well of water springing up into everlasting life" and you will never thirst as you move forward in searching further truth from Heavenly Father.