Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Satan’s power

Posted by Robert C. on January 21, 2008

I’d like to solicit readers here to help me in responding to the following question that a reader wrote in:

I’ve understood that satan has no power over us unless we allow or enable him. How then did he have such power over Joseph as to ‘bind his tongue?’

Here is a selection of scriptures I looked up that talk about Satan’s power. It seems that most of them, when talking about Satan not having power over us, say that Satan will “have no power upon the hearts of the children of men.” Does that mean that, in this fallen world, no matter how righteous we are, that only our hearts are shielded from Satan’s power?

Interestlingly, in Job 1:12, God gives “the Satan” only limited power that does not include touching Job. How, then, is it that Job is later afflicted with diseases? Is there a later alteration of this prohibition (I simply can’t remember…), or is the kind of bodily afflictions that Job suffers not included in this prohibition? Is there any reason to think that these kind of diseases are like Joseph’s inability to speak?

Well, as you can see I don’t really have any good answers to the question per se. However, I will add that in thinking about this, it’s strikes me as interesting that God gives the power to speak the tongue of angels, whereas being struck dumb is a recurring sign associated with either Satan (as with Joseph Smith) or with unfaithfulness. Although, suprisingly, dumbness is also exhibited by the Savior, “led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth” (Acts 8:32). Idols often characterized as dumb, so I think this dumbness exhibited by Christ is surprising—what’s going on??

I’m inclined to try to think about dumbness in terms of the double-nature of judgment that is damning for the wicked and vindication for the righteous. We can be dumb with amazement and wonder which is a kind of worshipful submission (even if it is not a voluntary dumbness)—as I think we see displayed by Christ—and yet with the sinner or fool who speaks haughtily, silence is forced upon them in a rather different way, as a kind of humiliation whose intensity is measured by the height from which they are humbled, in contrast to the kind of lowness already attained by those who humble themselves. To me, this approach suggests that in order to answer the question of Satan’s power over us, we also need to think more carefully about the relationship between God and Satan. In the story of Job, Satan’s entrance seems to be in a divine council setting. In fact, Gerald Janzen argues that Satan is more of a job title, a role that is played by someone who is part of the divine counsel (see some summary thoughts and the reference here). Lehi’s famous sermon on the necessity of opposition in 2 Nephi 2 also seems to suggest an important kind of relation between Satan’s role and God’s role in our salvation. For example, might we not think of “Satan’s power” over Joseph’s tongue as loosely analogous to Abraham’s trial with Isaac? In both cases, there is a testing, proving, or trying moment that is part of God’s plan. Christ too, on the cross, experiences the withdrawal of the Father’s spirit. In what sense, then, might this experience be accurately described as Satan having a kind of power over Christ in his final moments on the cross?

Much to think about….

6 Responses to “Satan’s power”

  1. Katie said

    Thank you Robert!
    It came to me that maybe, the Father ‘allowed’ Satan this moment of control over Joseph (the same as with Job & righteous others that have been seemingly afflicted by him) because it was vital to Joseph’s understanding of the reality & power of Satan thus arming him in awareness against the same. It also afforded the Father the opportunity to show Joseph that His power was greater. It would stand to reason that in such cases as this important visitation to Joseph, the general rules may be altered to suit Father’s purposes – else why wouldn’t Satan be doing this sort of thing more often? Then again – maybe he does & we just don’t hear about it!?
    I spoke with our Sunday school teacher also & he suggested that Satan does indeed have great power (as we know) & actually can have a physical effect on us but with limitations.
    Still pondering……..

  2. Howard said

    Joseph experienced a piercing of the veil which exposed him to the other side as a mortal, an experience few of us will have.

    Still, Satan’s power was limited by calling upon God to deliver him out of the power of this enemy.

  3. NathanG said

    Intriquing question. Thanks for the references, and I like your question about the hearts. Job 2 details the second discussion between God and Satan where Satan is given power to afflict Job’s body (verse 6).
    Katie, I think the contrast of power was indeed an important lesson for Joseph.

    So a couple questions:

    Is the initial statement true? “I’ve understood that satan has no power over us unless we allow or enable him.” Is this what the scriptures are really teaching, or is it a thought that has been propogated throughout Mormondom without a solid doctrinal basis? If you look at verses related to the “flaxen cords” or “chains of hell”, you might say yes the statment is ture, but if you simply consider limitations on temptations you might say no.

    Was Joseph’s experience more along the lines of being bound by the chains of hell or more like an overwhelming temptation (but God was faithful and provided a means for escape)?

    Can Satan’s temptations have physical manifestations? Do we bring all of those on ourselves (addictions, sexual sins, laziness, etc.)

    Is the default state for people entering this world to be free of the influence of Satan, but by their choice Satan can have influence over them? Or is the default that Satan’s influence is over us from the beginning, but we can achieve the power (through Christ) to bind Satan?

    Could it be that keeping with the law of opposition (if we even talk about that correctly) that since Joseph was seeking something righteous that resulted in a physical manifestation of the Father and the Son that Satan was also able to oppose Joseph by a physical manifestation?

    These are some thoghts I started muddling through. I don’t really have any set answers for any of my questions. Last little thought. Our model of righteousness is Christ. Satan did not have power over him (only to bruise his heel), but what does the condescension of God mean? If he descended below all things, how does the extent of the temptations Christ experienced (not simply what’s recorded early in the gospels) compare to anything I will ever experience?

  4. Joe Spencer said

    Robert, I like these thoughts. I’ll mention also my RS/MP lesson #1 post on the First Vision, where I deal with these questions in a similar and yet somewhat different manner: https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2008/01/03/rsmp-lesson-1-the-first-vision-joseph-smith-manual/

  5. Katie said

    Thank you Howard – yes – certainly Joseph’s exposure could have weakened him & thus made him more susceptible & yes – he was provided a means of escape – I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around that & line it up with my question. It’s much clearer now.

    Thank you Nathan – in your notes, the below pasted comments from you have cleared my fog:

    – is the default that Satan’s influence is over us from the beginning, but we can achieve the power (through Christ) to bind Satan?
    – (this one especially)- “Satan did not have power over him (only to bruise his heel)”

    and your comment “a thought that has been propogated throughout Mormondom without a solid doctrinal basis” – this is likely the problem. I’ve been trying to recall where I got this ‘information’ or better said – idea.
    I’m going to look at Joe Spencer’s lesson now to seek any further enlightenment but I think I have my understanding straight now.
    Thank you all for your help!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. luis said

    Maybe just all been scared and not influenced by satanas, or maybe in this time he haven´t the knowledge for not allow the influence of devil, knowledge acquired only by the member of the church, especially for the priesthood.
    my humble thouht

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