If you are a thinking, rational person, actually making choices, you are also in constant conflict with something. We recognize, as LDS, that there is a constant battle with the adversary, a constant battle over our souls between good and evil. We see these as choices and are challenged constantly on what exactly is the right choice to make. But we also seem to be inundated by competing desires and they are not always the adversary.
We know from Paul and from Alma that we are two parts – the body and the spirit. The two together are our souls. We pre-exist as spirits, with innocent and naive excitement that “I got this.” Then we obtain our mortal bodies and realize “what the hades was I thinking?!” We are hit constantly by temptation outside ourselves, we are constantly besieged by a world that the adversary controls – one that he has sworn to reign with blood and horror to defeat the plan of our Heavenly Father. We are oppressed by the world.
We die and we are again spirits, sitting in the spirit world thinking “what the hades was that?!” We will sit and ponder our lives knowing that we will eventually have to answer for everything. Who we are now is who we will be for eternity. We do not lose our personalities, our proclivities, or our excuses. We will be the same people, but with greater understanding. Some of us will work on finding excuses and loop holes to justify our behavior, hence the need for judges. Some of us will drop our heads and say “I made my choices, I accept the consequences, thy will be mine, Lord.” and will receive a righteous judgement.
Our spirits will be rejoined with our perfected, resurrected bodies, and we will be eternal, immortal souls again, thanks to Christ giving us His eternal gift.
We know these things to be true. But why are we inundated now?
Because we forget that there is another part that we do not take into account, one that I have only recently realized: we aren’t two parts alone, we are also three parts.
Mosiah 3:19 says:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
We have always heard this scripture as implying that the natural man must be inherently evil, but that directly conflicts with our belief that we are born inherently good and become corrupt (otherwise why be children) through our exposure to evil.
I realized this must be wrong. It isn’t the natural man that is an enemy to God, it is the natural mind that is. We are spirits, are physical bodies, but we are also minds. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan discusses how the natural state of man is a state of anarchy and self-interest. This is the basis for social contract theory. Jeremy Bentham brought us the ethical theory of utilitarianism, which is based entirely on seeking pleasure. Human kind, left to its own devices are selfish, self interested, and prone to violence and always seeking its own pleasure – the natural mind.
For me, this resolved a constant struggle with understanding how the adversary influences me. He can only influence me outwardly, by people that have chosen to follow his prompting. So how do I constantly struggle within my own mind with the constant temptations, the constant desires, appetites, and hungers I have. It isn’t satan at all, it is my natural mind.
The natural mind is a second influence, but within ourselves. Why do we feel inundated with temptation and hardship? Because we have the battle of the adversary constantly outside of us, creating environments and opportunities that appeal to the natural mind inside of us, which seeks self-interest and pleasure.
In a nut shell, you are inundated and overwhelmed because you are fighting a battle which is stacked two to one. The natural mind and the adversary are both fighting against the Spirit of God.
We are not flawed because we struggle, we are ninjas fighting a constant battle where our desire to serve God is conflicted with two opposing forces. Anyone, any team, fighting two to one for any length of time is going to slip, is going to fail at times. But we can flip the odds, which is why are asked to align our will with God’s. Aligning our will with God’s, submitting to His will as a little child would, is not giving up control or losing the battle, it is converting the only warrior that can change – our minds.
It is by pursuing and calibrating our minds to the Spirit and submitting to the promptings we receive – regardless of how crazy it may seem, is how we eventually become two against the adversary. It takes work. The natural mind likes to wander, is distracted, is lead down subtle paths, and we find our minds out of calibration again.
The battle against the adversary is real. We don’t often understand the battle for our minds. Realizing this has given me a new appreciation for the subtle commandments and conditions within the scriptures. It also has given me a new appreciation for the power of submitting to the Will of God. Through this, we are given the greatest tool to battle the adversary.