“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1995, 61
Jack Marshall, instructor at the Salt Lake City University Institute of Religion.
The scriptures make clear that the adversary cannot know our thoughts. “Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart” (D&C 6:16). The scriptures also make clear, however, that Satan can influence our thoughts and actions by putting ideas into our minds and hearts.
Following the feast of the Passover, for example, the devil “put into the heart of Judas Iscariot … to betray [Jesus]” (John 13:2). During the translation of the Book of Mormon, Satan “put it into [the] hearts” of wicked men to destroy the work of the Restoration (D&C 10:10–12). And in our day, “turmoil and contentions in the world” are due to the fact that some “leaders of nations” get “their inspiration from Satan” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 2:156).
President Ezra Taft Benson said we must keep our spiritual channels clear, lest we confuse inspiration with what he called “promptings from the devil” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 76). He likened our minds to a stage on which righteous and wicked thoughts constantly compete for audience.
“From one side of the wings the Lord, who loves us, is trying to put on the stage of our minds that which will bless us. From the other side of the wings the devil, who hates us, is trying to put on the stage of our minds that which will curse us.
“We are the stage managers; we are the ones who decide which thought will occupy the stage. … We are the ones who must decide whose thought will prevail. … We will be what we think about—what we consistently allow to occupy the stage of our minds” (ibid., p. 382).
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said Satan “ties strings to the mind and body so that he can manipulate one like a puppet” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 11). Likewise, Bishop Victor L. Brown, former Presiding Bishop, warned us that “if Satan could but capture our minds, he would have won the battle and the war” (Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 104).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that those with bodies have power over those, including Satan, without bodies. “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him,” he said (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181).
Satan may have power to entice us to sin, but we can limit his ability to influence us if we learn to control and dismiss unworthy thoughts, and if we avoid that which might influence us to think unworthy thoughts. Church members, therefore, are counseled to avoid “movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd” and “magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic. … The mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1986, p. 45).
Our daily thoughts become part of our mental inventory. Because thoughts are subject to recall, they can influence our behavior depending on whether we give them place in our hearts. It is only through our words and actions that Satan can know whether he has been successful in his efforts to convey wicked thoughts (see Francis M. Gibbons, Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 79).
In warning his people of the diverse ways “whereby [they] may commit sin,” King Benjamin said, “If ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, … ye must perish” (Mosiah 4:29–30; emphasis added).
Because we are what we think about (see Prov. 23:7), we must “let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly.” Then, the Lord promises, “shall [our] confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the … Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness” (D&C 121:45–46).