Friday, April 6, 2012

13. Evil Spirits Can Repent

My thinking about evil spirits changed dramatically after I developed the gift of discerning of spirits. Knowing that evil spirits have consciences and agency causes me to want to help them when they are receptive. I was thinking about all the “fire and brimstone” scriptures about evil spirits being eternally damned. Many scriptures speak of three negative judgments for the wicked:
Endless torment see 2 Nephi 9: 19, 26; 2 Nephi 28: 23; Jacob 6: 10; Mosiah 3: 25; Mosiah 28: 3; Moroni 8: 21.
Eternal damnation see Mark 3: 29; D&C 29: 44.
Eternal or endless punishment see D&C 76: 44; Matthew 25: 46; Jacob ; Alma 42: 16.

Then I discovered that these terms do not mean what I initially assumed. The Doctrine and Covenants chapter 19 clarifies that the terms “endless” and “eternal” in the above scriptures are another name for God, rather than meaning “without end.” This is such an important clarification! Verse 7 teaches that these dramatic terms like “eternal damnation” are used in scripture to work upon our hearts (persuade us) to repent. Verse 4 also teaches us to repent to cease suffering. The entire passage indicates that God’s torment for our sins is temporary if we will repent.
4 And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.
6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.
D&C 19:4, 6–12

An LDS apostle confirms the principle that eternal punishment can be temporary:
During this hundred years many other great truths not known before, have been declared to the people, and one of the greatest is that to hell there is an exit as well as an entrance. Hell is no place to which a vindictive judge sends prisoners to suffer and to be punished principally for his glory; but it is a place prepared for the teaching, the disciplining of those who failed to learn here upon the earth what they should have learned. True, we read of everlasting punishment, unending suffering, eternal damnation. That is a direful expression; but in his mercy the Lord has made plain what those words mean. “Eternal punishment,” he says, is God’s punishment, for he is eternal; and that condition or state or possibility will ever exist for the sinner who deserves and really needs such condemnation; but this does not mean that the individual sufferer or sinner is to be eternally and everlastingly made to endure and suffer. No man will be kept in hell longer than is necessary to bring him to a fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him into a better state. The Lord has not abated in the least what he has said in earlier dispensations concerning the operation of his law and his gospel, but he has made clear unto us his goodness and mercy through it all, for it is his glory and his work to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.   
Elder James E. Talmage, Conference Report, April 1930, Third Day—Morning Meeting.

So the big question is whether God’s mercy applies to all His children, or only to those who came to Earth to receive a body. Is torment for evil spirits truly endless? I learned from personal experience that evil spirits have consciences and agency (see Chapter 12), so they must be capable of repenting and thus are able to avoid eternal damnation. I know this because of the gift of discerning of spirits, which has allowed me to lovingly persuade millions of evil spirits to accept Jesus Christ and repent of their sins.

Nevertheless, by affirming that evil spirits can repent, I do not wish to imply that all of them will. Nor do I wish to imply that evil spirits are not subject to any punishment for following Satan in the premortal life. These caveats are discussed in the next chapter.