Since discernment is telling good from evil, we need to know what "good" and "evil" actually are.
You see, we have a twisted view when it comes to evil ― picturing blood and horror and poltergeist movies and children of the corn and gluten-free cookies. Sure, Satan finds these things useful in a grotesque and juvenile way.
But the greatest evil, remember, is beautiful and pleasing. Thus we see the devil's trick: getting us to imagine "evil" as if it were an STD ― something puss-filled, pox-marked, poor-smelling, putrid-looking, and poisonous.
Isn't this the way the devil gets us to feel good about ourselves? "Look at me; I'm not perfect, sure, but at least I'm chlamydia free!" (forgetting Christ taught that harlots shall enter into the kingdom of heaven before gonorrhea-free Pharisees).
Babylon has no wish to sour our stomachs; to the contrary, she wants to whet our appetites. This is why all the great sins are gilt with gold; they shimmer like silver and repose upon scarlet cushions in the image of respectability.
The best way to deceive the "very elect" is to remodel the Church into a great and spacious temple, making its members feel at home in comfortable chapels that serve as prisons ― warehoused in religions that draw us away from the pure gospel of Christ by preaching the boxes of moralistic living ― trapping disciples in the snare of impotent hierarchies that justify inequality and pride, manifesting a form of godliness without the power thereof ― all the while the devil gets us to admire evil by casting it in the image of godliness, teaching us it resembles heaven when in fact it mirrors hell (the scriptures call this bait-and-switch by a name: "abomination").
So the challenge for us today is figuring out what evil genuinely is.
Fortunately, we are armed with the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).
"Hello Evil, My Old Friend" In Part 3, we saw that "good" is anything that comes by the gift and power of Christ.
One way to view evil is the opposite ― anything that does not come by the gift and power of Christ.
But is that correct?
When Mormon discussed discernment, he gave us three signs to identify evil by, which include anything that persuades us to:
(1) believe not in Christ (2) to deny Christ (3) to serve not God
If we applied Mormon's three-pronged test to the Church, do we find any doctrines, practices or policies that are "evil"?
"Surely not, Tim!" someone objects. "How could the Church possibly deny Christ? I mean, He's in its name!"
Ask yourself: What does it mean to "deny Christ"? Well, isn't the simplest way to deny Christ, to reject what comes by the gift and power of God?
I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God . . . .
I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many.
Which gifts of God have we returned to Saks Fifth Avenue for store credit? What power of God have we exchanged for a mess of money?
As they say, denial is a river in Egypt.
Martin, Martin, Martin
Something I like about this Telestial Kingdom is that here (yes, here) we each have a portion of the light of Christ and we all experience a measure of His glory (although not His fullness).
I point this out to say, you are here by the gift and through the power of God.
Let it sink in. I would go further: you are the gift of God (just as we call the Son the Gift God gave the world, so too are we lower-case "gifts"). Many of God's purposes are accomplished by Him showing forth His power in us.
So I am not going to call anyone evil. I will, however, call them wicked on occasion.
Let me explain. Take Martin Harris (of "deer Jesus" fame). Now, I don't consider Martin a bad man. Of all the characters in early Church history, I think Martin is probably the most relatable.
Martin Harris was a man of many contradictions: he financed the printing of the Book of Mormon and yet is partly to blame for losing 116 pages of it; he was an ardent supporter of Joseph Smith but failed to gather to Missouri with him (Martin said from Kirtland, "I didn't leave the Church; the Church left me"). He was one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon but he required some extra help getting there.
Anyway, I find a lot to love in Martin Harris. Yet the Lord called him a "wicked man" in 1828 (see, D&C 3:12).
Whoa. Why did the Lord call a good man like Martin Harris "wicked?"
The Lord told Martin Harris he was wicked because he
depended upon his own judgment and boasted in his own wisdom.
That's all it takes. But then, not long after, the Lord elaborated on Martin's "wickedness."
And for this cause I said that he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift.
In other words, anyone that seeks to "take away" or "destroy" the gifts that God has liberally given to His children is "wicked."
But I want to make it clear: people aren't evil (they're wicked).
Spirits, though, are a different story. There are evil spirits. Satan is called "the evil one" (D&C 93:37).
And while we're on the topic, deeds (a.k.a. "works") can be evil (John 3:19).
I find it helpful to assume every person I meet on earth has some light in them, having kept their first estate and chosen Christ; so they can't be considered "evil" (even if their works are).
An Evil Lie
Where does evil come from? Philosophers have debated the "problem of evil" for centuries. Evil often occurs in consequence of us being deceived. And being deceived is usually a result of our believing (or living) a lie.
1. God can't lie (Ether 3:12).
2. By contrast, the devil is called a liar (D&C 93:25).
3. Christ's word is only truth (D&C 84:45).
4. By contrast, the devil bears false witness and is a false spirit (D&C 50:2).
5. The Lord is filled with pure, perfect love (Moroni 7:47).
6. By contrast, the devil seeks the "misery of all mankind" (2 Nephi 2:2).
From these propositions, we can conclude that evil is something that does not abide in God's truth, but believes in a lie. And when we make choices (often unwittingly) based upon a lie, it makes us miserable.
On the other hand, "good" is everything that abides in God's truth, leading us to believe in Him. Our faith is shaped by this truth, giving life to the Spirit of Christ in our walk with God, which brings joy.
Look carefully at this statement:
I will impart unto you of my Spirit which shall
(1) enlighten your mind, and
(2) fill your soul with joy.
Umm, joy? Really? Then why am I sad so much? Sure, joy is a fruit of the spirit (and I have inhaled it at times). But mortality, in my experience, contains more suffering than joy. Why?
I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which
(3) leadeth to do good--
(4) yea, to do justly,
(5) to walk humbly,
(6) to judge righteously;
and this is my Spirit. And by this shall ye know all things whatsoever ye desire of me.
(D&C 11:13, 12, 14)
"All things?" What happens when we apply this test to our Church meetings and doctrines?
- Are our minds "enlightened" during Sunday School and General Conference?
- Are Church leaders "just" in their dealings with the media, members, and SEC?
- Do our leaders display discernment and the ability to "judge righteously" in issuing callings? In the content of their talks? In their handling of child sexual abuse cases?