Updated on January 10, 2022
Doug Tales 48: What Joseph Smith Said and Did, Part Two
The prophet Joseph Smith said he encountered spiritual darkness before he saw God in his First Vision. Everyone who wants to receive the Second Comforter in this life will be required to also conquer the corresponding spiritual evil.
Doug Mendenhall shares Joseph Smith’s teachings on the reality of the darkness and evil around us, and also the purposes of such temptations and challenges, in Conquering Spiritual Evil, Volume One (2012), on pages 31-35:
It would be well for anyone interested in spiritual realms to first read and understand the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as recorded from those who attended meetings where instruction occurred in addition to scripture and revelation he received from the Lord. We can begin with informational sources including History of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith’s edited compilation of talks and writings as found in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and other sources including The Words of Joseph Smith, which is a compilation of first-hand accounts from journals and papers of those attending Joseph’s instructive discourses.
Conquering Spiritual Evil is not meant to be an exhaustive course of instruction or a spiritual guide to the unseen world, but many of Joseph’s teachings, scriptural references and personal experiences are used to assist in explaining what might be happening on the other side of the veil as well as providing some useful tools in navigating these hidden truths.
I am going to put forth a hypothesis about how the spiritual side of things might be set up. This is not the doctrine of any church, especially the church I belong to. They are just some ideas that have been floating around in my head that I am going to bring forth. Feel free to dismiss them or take a long look at them. It they don’t fit into your paradigm just forget about them or put them on the shelf. If they help make things easier to understand then the Lord has blessed us both.
As stated previously, Joseph said, “There are three independent principles—the spirit of God, the spirit of man, and the spirit of the devil. All men have power to resist the devil. They who have tabernacles have power over those who have not.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 74)
It seems as though the spirit of man is in the middle of what is going on spiritually between God and the devil—on one side of him is the spirit of God and on the other is the spirit of the devil. The Lord said, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. . . it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.” (2 Nephi 2:11, 15)
“And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.” (D&C 29:39)
We have been taught that going spiritually towards God are three Kingdoms, the Telestial, the Terrestrial, and the Celestial. (See D&C 88; 1 Corinthians 15:40-41) If everything really has its opposite, then does it stretch the imagination to see there might be three kingdoms of the Satan in the opposite direction? Why is it that when a person receives the blessing of the Second Comforter that he also experiences the opposite? Once again, opposition is required in all things.
Denver Snuffer points this out quite plainly in his book The Second Comforter, Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil: “Nephi is an example of this process, of facing the downside before receiving the upside. The path to heaven passes through hell. Joseph didn’t see the Father and the Son until after first being attacked by Satan (Joseph Smith-History 1:15.) Moses didn’t receive an audience with God without also being subjected to Satan’s temptations and efforts to mislead him. (Moses 1:12-22.) Christ didn’t receive angels to minister to Him before His ministry began until after ‘the tempter came to him.’ (Matthew 4:3-11.) And Joseph and Sidney were not shown the vision of the Celestial Glory (D&C 76:50-70) until after they beheld the sons of perdition and their punishment (D&C 76:43-49).
“It is not just that you reach upward. There is a bracket to these things, and it requires what is below, in addition to what is above. This is the necessary balance. Lehi taught: ‘For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.’ (2 Nephi 2:11) You can’t get to heaven without passing through hell. You can’t develop the required faith without the necessary opposition. You must choose between the apparent failure of faith, and the desire to persist. Facing the end, you must retain hope. This is good for your soul, even though it may be painful to endure. You must face the physical dilemmas and difficulties of life while viewing them in their true spiritual setting. You must rend the veil.” (pp. 79-80).
In March of 1839 Joseph Smith was in Liberty jail. When he heard of the persecution and travails the Saints were experiencing, he questioned the Lord, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?…O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us. Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs. Remember thy suffering saints, O our God…” (D&C 121:1-2, 4-6)
Joseph is told by the Lord that these afflictions “shall be but a small moment.” Then in Section 122 the Lord goes on to mention all kinds of what we would call awful things that could happen to Joseph and ends with, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:7-8)
This lesson must have really impressed Joseph because he wrote an epistle to the Church from Liberty jail during this same time dated March 25, 1839. In it he taught, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart! None but fools will trifle with the souls of men.” (History of the Church 3:295; see also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137).
Br. Snuffer uses the above passage from Joseph in his book Eighteen Verses (on pages 300-301): “This is the process by which men and women come to know God. They move in both directions at once. As their minds expand upward, they must deal with the struggles and opposition associated with gaining insight into God’s will. This is the great difference between scholarly knowledge and Divine insight. In the one, it is possible to obtain a lifetime’s study without ever encountering the opposition of evil. But in the other, as you encounter God, you will have to suffer from demonic opposition. Devils don’t bother you at the library. They do, however, on the way to the Temple.
“A Savior who would not save Himself is best understood by gifted people whose gifts cannot relieve them of their own sufferings. He is seen most clearly by the ones who hold authority; receive honor and respect, but who are powerless to reclaim their health and vigor. The irony of heavenly success is coupled with earthly disappointments and sorrows is the theme from the Book of Job to the modern revelations in Liberty Prison. How can one be both blessed and chosen, and cursed and spit upon? It is ironic. Yet it is the way of the Savior.
“The ‘Suffering Servant’ passage of Isaiah 53 is not just a description of the Savior. It is also a description of those who follow Him. All who would be part of His kingdom must understand what it means to be men and women of sorrow and acquainted with grief. They must know what it means to have others turn their faces from them, in judgment and dismissal. For without receiving a part of His sufferings in this life, we cannot expect to have a part with Him in the eternities. He asks us to: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ (Matthew 11:29)”