I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a bit of time lately thinking about one of the big imponderables in Mormon theology: the acts of the Adversary in the Garden. If we believe that the plan was laid out in the grand, heavenly council, then the Adversary had to have known that he was playing into God’s plan. Why would he do this, especially if the motivation that we always ascribe to him is to frustrate God’s plan? Let’s look at what we know.
Satan’s plan in his own words
The only canonized description of Satan’s plan isn’t actually all that descriptive. Let’s look it over:
1 AND I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. (Moses 4:1)
Initially we have an identification of “that Satan” as being from “the beginning.” The relative pronoun and the definite article in these two phrases is somewhat baffling and rather evocative (perhaps we should examine this more at a later time). Let us look at what Satan actually says:
Behold – An interjection in the scriptures. Often used to introduce a new topic. (I’d give examples, but there are over 700 instances and I don’t have time to go through them all)
Here am I – a traditional response to a superior or a loved one; it indicates a willingness to do whatever will be asked of the responder. Here it is combined with the request: send me. This combination is also found in Isaiah 6:8 (2nd Nephi 16:8) and Abraham 3:27. The latter reference is particular helpful as it indicates that this phrase, always used in response to some request was used in a like manner here. God asks, “Whom shall I send?” and the one like the Son of Man and another both respond, “Here am I, send me.”
I will be thy son – This is interesting, in particular in reference to the similar scene in Abraham (with its interesting phrasing regarding Christ’s identity). It indicates the perceived possibility of changing places with Christ.
I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost – Here is the crux of the Adversary’s plan. I don’t know about all of you, but when I heard My Turn on Earth as a child, I always got confused as to which of the voices was Satan and which was Christ. Satan’s plan just sounded better. Why? Because everyone got saved. There were no empty places at the table; no child was left behind. We’ll come back to that in a bit.
surely I will do it…give me thine honor – Have you noticed how often the first person independent pronoun is being used in this speech? You get I, I, I, I, and me. I may be being unfair in this (after all, the Adversary was presenting his own plan), but it is being deliberately contrasted with Christ response in the next verse. You will not, for instance, that Christ’s initial response (“Here am I, send me”), found in Abraham 3:27, is left out of this version. That hardly seems an accident.
So, Satan’s plan is that all the children of men will be redeemed and, in order to do it, he needs the “honor” of God (whatever that might mean). It doesn’t at this point sound terribly sinister. Certainly it is rebellious and presumptuous, but sufficient to cast someone out of heaven? It seems unlikely.
Satan’s plan in God’s words
2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; (Moses 4:2-3)
These two verses are interesting on a number of levels. First of all, as I mentioned previously, Satan is being deliberately contrasted with the Beloved Son here. The One chosen from the beginning is all deference here (and, really, always). His speech doesn’t even directly address himself, instead focusing on the Father. He requests that God’s will be done and that the “glory” remain God’s. Note that this puts glory in a synonymous position to “honor” in Satan’s request. We still don’t know what they mean, but they seem to refer to the same thing.Christ’s emphasis on “thy” will seems to indicate more than just his personal humility. It may also show that the will of that Satan is not in accordance with the Father’s will. Actually, it seems a stretch to read it that way, but it is the way we generally read it. Christ’s passive remark regarding the decision-making is understood as an active endorsement of God’s plan. So, there is that.
In verse three, we get God’s version of Satan’s plan. In this verse, God describes Satan’s proposal of an alternate plan as a rebellion. Further he says that Satan sought to destroy the agency of man (notably, a gift from God) and that Satan sought God’s power for himself. I would suggest that “power” in this instance is a synonym to “honor” and “glory” in the previous two verses. That is certainly how we read it. It probably remains indefinable, but power seems to be a more tangible concept than the other two words (especially as it is more commonly used today than the other two). As I said, we remain ignorant of the nature and extent of the power, but it appears that some aspect of it is necessary to give or to revoke agency among men.
Satan’s plan, as far as we can understand it
So, it appears that Satan’s plan was to “destroy the agency of man” and, by so doing, redeem all men. How would this work? First of all, Satan appears to believe that human agency is secondary or unnecessary to redemption (I realize that this raises questions regarding redemption. I want to set that aside for now (as it is the topic of another post), so let’s take the Bible Dictionary definition as the starting point: “The word is of constant use in N.T. in speaking of the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ and our deliverance from sin. He redeemed us with his blood”. In other words, it is the means whereby the effects of sin are removed from us). Now, if Satan is concerned with the redemption of man then we have to ask what people would be redeemed from in his plan? Well, in his description of his plan, he states that “not one soul will be lost.” So it appears that humanity must be redeemed from being “lost”. There are probably many possible meanings for lost here. I would suggest that the most natural understanding of lost may be a state wherein one cannot (or will not) return to the Father (thereby becoming “lost” to Him forever). For example, according to Jacob, mortality itself prevents us from becoming like God. If Satan was presenting a plan wherein people got bodies, then it would seem that we needed to be redeemed from the physical separation from God that this would necessarily entail. This scenario seems to fit his own and God’s own description of events.
Satan presented a plan wherein God’s children got mortal bodies, creating a physical separation with God. However, he seems to have assumed that by taking upon himself the power of God, he would be able to prevent a spiritual separation with God as well. Here, it seems, is where the denial of agency becomes important. We generally understand Satan’s denial of agency as having the following effects: denied agency, we would have been perfectly obedient (the mind-control theory) or we would simply not be accountable for our actions (the “the devil made me do it” theory). In the first, the emphasis is on outward acts of obedience being compelled by some presumably “hard-wired” aspect of our mind. In the second, how we act is considered immaterial, because we are not ultimately in control of any of our actions. Where you think the plan went is dependent on your opinion regarding Satan’s penchant for debauchery prior to any of our mortal existences. I would tend to think that the plan was presented with more of an emphasis on the first than the second (assuming, of course, that I have the plan right). In this it is appealing: we would be allowed “limited” agency so we could take responsibility for the good acts that we self-generated; but we would be protected from falling by an internal regulatory device that prevented us from generating sinful acts. Thus, we all do good, think good, and act good from the beginning and nobody ever falls. We then die and are resurrected because we will all be sinless like Christ and, therefore, deserving. Our salvation is, in this case, an act of perfect justice: those who have done only good, will have good done for them. An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.