Cliff Walking


Taken from a devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University on July 10, 1984.
Tempted to peer over the edge, we think we’re bold or curious. It may be too late when we find there’s only darkness far below.

Some time ago I saw an imposing photograph. It was a picture of a mountain climber in a spectacular Alpine setting. There were rugged mountains in every direction, rising thousands of feet above the valleys. In this particular photograph the climber was standing at the edge of a very high, and I might add, very sheer cliff. As I viewed this picture, it had an emotional impact on me. I do not like heights. Anything over ten feet makes my head swim. Yet this particular hiker could withstand thousands of feet, his toes nearly over the edge of the cliff. I am certain that the climber I describe had a great sense of excitement, poised as he was, at the edge of his world. I am just as certain that his thrill was accompanied by an acute sense of the potential danger of his circumstances—staring death, so to speak, in the face.

There are two ways in which society might protect cliff walkers from the peril of their chosen path: either by placing a fence at the top or providing an ambulance down below—the first to prevent a fall, the second to assuage the effects thereof.

Obviously the fence is the better solution. But the trouble with fences is that the thrill of the experience, at least for the more daring, is unquestionably lost.

You have perceived by now that there is an analogy between the cliff and the temptations of this life. Like the view from the cliff, which draws the hiker ever nearer to the edge, Satan’s evil fables entice us ever nearer the brink of his carefully prepared abyss.

When one mentions Satan, many of us might subconsciously say, “Oh yes, him again. That wayward spiritual brother of mine—but nothing that I can’t handle!”

But Satan is not just a bothersome and evil spirit. He is the one who disrupted our home on high, when in a bold and evil move he sought to wrest the power and glory for this earth, taking it unto himself. Having yielded to his own unmitigated evilness, he not only wanted the praise and adulation of the rest of us, he wanted the power of God!

When his evil plan was rejected he brought the bitterness of hell into our celestial home. The ensuing conflict has been referred to in the scriptures as a war: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels” (Rev. 12:7)—not an argument, not a skirmish, but a war, suggesting an all-out conflict of momentous proportions. You and I were to be the pawns, as far as Satan was concerned, in his great conquest. He promised us eternal life, guaranteed—a real no cut contract. That should have placated us! But our happiness was not his goal. We were to be his stepping stones to the throne.

You and I were not about to cooperate in his evil scheme. Our brother Michael, standing at the side of Jehovah, led us in the cause that eventually led to one-third of our spiritual brothers and sisters being expelled from the presence of God. We all know the story, but we fail so often to comprehend the bitterness and the hatred of those that were lost. Having been cast away from the presence of God and Jehovah, unable to ever return to their heavenly home, Lucifer and his horde have turned their hate upon humanity. Being unable to obtain a body, they have vowed to destroy you and me. Satan’s goal is thus shared by his “angels.” There is no compromise, no proposed point of truce. There is only the persistent, unrelenting drive born of intense hate, hate as deep and as abiding as is the contrasting love of Christ, for Satan desires “that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:27). He is the chief antagonist of every righteous cause.

Having been born in Hawaii, I enjoy reading the history of those islands and their people. One of the things that I find most intriguing about the ancient Hawaiian men and their form of battle was the method used in training for spear warfare.

The Hawaiian warriors used, among other weapons, a long spear made from very hard wood. They did not have metal from which to make tips, but otherwise they were about the size and weight of the javelin used in modern track-and-field events. As preparatory exercises for war, the men would engage in sham battles. Now while a sham battle was, as the name implies, a mock combat, it could become training of a very deadly sort. After dividing the warriors into two groups, arrayed on opposite sides of an open meadow, the sham battle began with each group hurling their spears at each other. The object of the game was not just to keep from getting killed, but rather, after having hurled one’s spear at the “enemy,” to catch the incoming spears bare-handed and throw them back as well. For, you see, once you had thrown your spear you were unarmed. You rearmed yourself by catching those coming toward you.

You can well imagine the scene that such a melee would produce. King Kamehameha was observed in one such battle to catch three spears in his right hand, fend off a fourth with the spear in his left hand and dodge a fifth, all in one continuous motion.

I bring up the Hawaiian sham battle because it is helpful in drawing parallels with our fight against Satan. But there are some differences—important differences. The sham battle was a game of sorts. You might get severely injured or even killed, but that was merely the odds of the game, not the intent.

On the other hand, the spears of the adversary are not thrown with any thought that they may be harmlessly caught or skillfully dodged. Satan is not engaged in a sham battle wherein he expects his efforts to be easily sidestepped. He carefully plans, with his great wealth of knowledge, the formation of each battle, having little interest in evenly and fairly dispersed combatants. His cunning and perverse plans are intended to home in his fiery darts with swift accuracy, separating us, as Nephi warned, from the iron rod (see 1 Ne. 15:24). You and I may think the War in Heaven is over, but as far as Satan is concerned that was merely the initial battle. He continues with a hate-driven vengeance that you and I, filled with the light of Christ, cannot even begin to envision. He has devised schemes without number to gain men’s souls.

Overcoming the perverse enticings of Satan is an essential part of our progression and advancement. It is a very personal battle that we wage with Satan. No one can fight it for us. We can, however, strengthen and buoy each other up. That is the purpose of families and friends. It is also one reason for the programs of the Church.

Now, returning to the cliff-walking attitude I referred to earlier. As you and I thread our way through life’s paths, we become confronted with Satan’s detours, those opportunities to peer over the cliff. Being curious or bold or foolhardy, or however we so choose to characterize our attempts to come perilously close to the edge without falling, we often see just how far we can get from the iron rod, maybe just barely keeping contact with the tip of a finger. Then if one of Satan’s darts strikes too near the target, we slip over the edge with hardly a murmur. It was thrilling though, while it lasted, teetering there on the brink, knowing we were so close to peril but confident, oh so confident, that we had things in control.

Satan doesn’t care what he uses to get us—liquor, tobacco, drugs, desires for unearned wealth, dishonesty, lust. He’ll use whatever is at hand.

I recall a young couple who were having difficulty behaving themselves when alone on a date. They became concerned with their actions and worried that they might become increasingly involved to the point that they would lose all that they held dear. After talking things over, they decided they needed to begin each date with a prayer. That was a good plan, but their dates continued to end up with just the two of them in some secluded spot and walking on the edge of the cliff, as it were. They repeatedly fell into the same behavior for which they had prayed for strength to overcome. Peril-filled petting had greater attraction than did the calm plans made in the less secluded light of day. It was obvious that if they were going to stop flirting with danger, they would have to take steps to change their pattern of being alone. Yet it seems to be so human how, having once walked to the edge of the cliff, they returned so readily.

The story had a satisfactory ending. The girl finally realized they lacked the determination or discipline to modify their behavior, so she terminated their dating altogether and thus did not slip further into the abyss of immorality.

It really doesn’t matter what the temptation. In ten years as a bishop and high councilor, I have participated in several Church courts. I can testify to you that no one whose membership was on trial had stayed comfortably back from the edge of the cliff. Their fences, if indeed they had ever built them, were in a state of disrepair. With weakened safeguards and a mind full of fantasy, they danced to Satan’s tune until they stumbled over the edge.

We are here, you and I, to be tried, tested, and proven worthy to reenter our Father in Heaven’s kingdom. We are here, as was Christ, to overcome temptation and claim our crowns on high. While we may have forgotten all, we are not abandoned. We have the guidance of scriptures, the counsel of living prophets and other inspired leaders, and, for those baptized under the hands of the priesthood of God, the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The words of Paul to the Ephesians provide eloquent advice for you and me. Said he:

“Put on the whole armour of God, … that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

“And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:11, 13–18).

I believe that one of Satan’s greatest tools is to get you and me to become content to take the average road—to lie a little, to cheat a little, to take a little advantage because it’s the sort of thing that seems so common. By this we are led, as Nephi said, “carefully down to hell” (2 Ne. 28:21).

My young brothers and sisters, I testify to you that Satan is very, very real. I have both felt and witnessed his great power, and it is a frightening thing. It is my further testimony that Christ lives and that he provides each of us the necessary knowledge to recognize sin and error.

I pray that I can have the wisdom to continue. I pray that my children can prepare their fences, and I pray that each of you can recognize those avenues which Satan is stalking in his search for your souls and that you can likewise prepare adequate defenses.

Jesus Christ is the source of our strength. You and I need that strength if we are to turn away from evil and return to our Father in Heaven.

[illustration] Illustrated by Rob Colvin