Two weeks ago Elder Quentin L. Cook delivered a devotional address at BYU entitled “A Banquet of Consequences—The Cumulative Result of All Choices.”The text is unfortunately not yet available, but Elder Cook posted a summary on his Facebook page. He looked at three examples of how Satan attempts to persuade us that good is evil and evil is good. He spoke of the word of wisdom, the family and parenthood, and of financial matters. He recently shared on Facebook what is in my mind the most memorable portion of the talk. Elder Cook spoke of an experience he had at the Holocaust Museum (in Jerusalem) with Elder Holland:
“I had a sobering experience in Jerusalem last October. We visited the Children’s Memorial Museum, which is part of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Elder Holland and I, together with two American Jewish leaders, laid a remembrance wreath. As you move through the Children’s Memorial, the first names of the children and their age at death are announced one after another with a background of music that portrays this terrible atrocity. It is believed that over one million Jewish children were killed during the Holocaust.
As I experienced the museum, I was overcome with emotion and completely devastated. Standing outside to regain my composure, I reflected on the horror of the experience and suddenly realized that in the United States alone there are as many abortions every two years as the number of Jewish children killed in the Holocaust during the Second World War.
Now, as a lawyer, I am cognizant that the motives and intent are entirely different. Further, this is a problem that will probably not be solved by personal condemnation or judgmental accusations. With respect to the number and spacing of children, the health of the mother must be considered, and the decision should be made prayerfully by husbands and wives. Such decisions should never be judged by outsiders. Some faithful individuals are not able to have children or have the opportunity to marry. They will receive every blessing in heaven.
Nevertheless, Lucifer has supported abortion and convinced many people in a horrific paradigm shift that children represent lost opportunity and misery, instead of joy and happiness. Bringing children into the world is a sacred part of our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness.
We are so numbed and intimidated by the immensity of the practice of abortion that many of us have pushed it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness. Clearly the adversary is attacking the value of children on many levels. We must be at the forefront of changing hearts and minds on the importance of children.”
Elder Cook’s remarks on abortion are pointed and sobering. I am not going to add much to his remarks on the substance of the abortion debate. I want to take a step back and talk about what we can learn about Satan’s tactics from this example and I hope that this discussion will be thought provoking regardless of your feelings about Elder Cook’s particular example.
Satan triumphs when good is called evil and evil good. He loves to redefine eternal truth. And he tricks many into believing that doing evil is justified in furtherance of some other social good. However, even those who are not persuaded to redefine morality may still fall under Satan’s sway in a more subtle and pernicious fashion.
When we see widespread acceptance of an immoral belief or practice, we can become “numbed and intimidated” so that we push it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness.” Satan wins when people who understand eternal moral truths are silent or become indifferent. When we begin to assume that evil is inevitable and not worth combating, Satan triumphs. Silence in the face of wickedness is not a virtue. Complacency in the face of vice is deeply tragic. We must valiantly fight against evil and never become complacent.
Yet I was also grateful that Elder Cook spent a considerable amount of time emphasizing that the solution to the problem of abortion is NOT “personal condemnation or judgmental accusations” – a theme elaborated upon in the full talk. Such methods are deeply counter-productive. I believe that Satan is as pleased with vitriolic overreaction as he is with indifference. It seems to me that people of deep faith and moral convictions are most susceptible to these overreactions because of how passionately we can feel about certain moral topics. We must never forget that our goal is “changing hearts and minds.” Anything that undercuts that purpose furthers Satan’s plan.
Another takeaway for me is that methods matter. Satan proposed a plan in the divine council to solve the problem of sin and human frailty. But because his plan was based on coercion and compulsion it was rightfully rejected. Method matters just as much as the substantive outcome. Speaking with friends of my generation, I am deeply concerned that many do not stop to think about method before proposing solutions to problems. Often, but not always, this means support for the biggest and most coercive government solution. Our zeal for change must be tempered with a realistic assessment of human nature, divine law, and the consideration of other virtues such as liberty and freedom.
Satan is a master manipulator. He is behind the current state of affairs where vast numbers of people in the great and spacious building call evil good and good evil and mock those who seek the tree of life. But he is also pleased with those who are indifferent towards the pursuit of the tree. And, although this is not depicted in Lehi’s dream, he would also be satisfied with someone who has reached the tree but spends all his time railing against the wickedness of the building rather than partaking of the fruit. We must seek the proper balance between being zealous for righteous causes and tempering our approach with charity, the divine love of Christ.