Calling Evil Good
by H. Wallace Goddard
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20
Satan is the master of inversion. Where God offers Light, Satan provides darkness. God confers joy, peace, and love. Satan dispenses lies, misery, and bitterness. Satan’s latter-day lies stand in contrast not only to heavenly revelation but even to good research on families and human development.
The world suggests that being married is just one rather old-fashioned and unprogressive way of living. Rates of cohabitation are exploding. Divorce is epidemic. Both cohabitation and divorce are offensive to God. “Marriage is ordained of God unto man” (D&C 49:15). The wisdom of God’s commandment is supported by decades of research. Cohabitors who later marry are more likely to divorce (and be violent in the relationship) than those who do not cohabit. Cohabitation is not an effective testing ground for an enduring relationship. The multitude of benefits of marriage for both men and women is sustained by Waite and Gallager’s new book, The Case for Marriage.
Married people live longer, have better health, earn more money and accumulate more wealth, feel more fulfilled in their lives, enjoy more satisfying sexual relationships, and have happier and more successful children than those who remain single, cohabit or get divorced.
Meanwhile the long term damage of divorce on children is underscored by Wallerstein’s longitudinal work reported in her most recent book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. Both Wallerstein’s book and the Waite and Gallager book are enormously unpopular with some progressives in today’s world but both are based on good science. More important, they agree with the timeless truth given by God.
Success in Marriage
Satan has promoted a medical model of marriage: Notice anything that is wrong with your partner, think about it, talk about it, and invite your partner to fix it. It seems so reasonable. Many marriage programs have been based on skillful communication of discontents. But God recommends a very different approach to building relationships: personal repentance and love for our partner. When we cover our own sins, gratify our pride or exercise control over our partner by shifting attention away from our need to repent and to our partner’s faults, the heavens withdraw themselves (See D&C 121: 37).
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [spousehood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile– D&C 121:41-42
The best new research in marriage makes the same point. John Gottman’s remarkable program of research on marriage recommends editing (Some things don’t need to be said!), more positives (Kindness!), and self soothing (Gentleness!). In successful marriages, partners value the relationship over being right (“Repair attempts.”) Gottman has found the pattern of marital conflict to be remarkably predictable. (Satan is not creative.) But happy couples are wonderfully unpredictable. They make the creative use of differences, work to build their relationship, and actively invest in their love.
I cannot find any place in scripture where the Lord commands us to carefully catalogue our partner’s follies. Nor can I find any place where he directs us to fix our partner. He does command charity, that pure love of Christ that transcends any ordinary definition of love. It is not surprising that research is coming to recommend kindness as the essential ingredient of healthy family relationships. The Lord and His servants have always recommended kindness, patience, and love. Joseph F. Smith counseled:
We all have our weaknesses and failings. Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it. Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him. What good does it do? Is not forgiveness better? Is not charity better? Is not love better? Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them? Isn’t that better? . . . Is it not better to drop [faults] and say nothing about them-bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better? (pp.180-81)
Chastity and Fidelity
Satan has portrayed chastity and fidelity as provincial, boring, and even lowbrow. But the Lord delights in chastity. (See Jacob 2:28). He commands it even in today’s sexualized world. What does excellent research find?
Those having the most partnered sex and enjoying it most are the married people. The young single people who flit from partner to partner and seem to be having a sex life that is satisfying beyond most people’s dreams are, it seems, mostly a media creation. In real life, the unheralded, seldom discussed world of married sex is actually the one that satisfies people the most. (Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994)
Hollywood is wrong. The joys of married life have always been superior to the excitement of a swinging lifestyle.
Satan has parents looking for some magical combination of rules, consequences, timeout, and rewards that will teach their children to be good citizens. Heavenly Father provides a simple directive: “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40).
“Light and truth” suggest to the mind love, compassion, heavenly inspiration and the teaching of gospel principles. Decades of research on parenting confirm that nothing matters more than love. Urie Bronfenbrenner said it eloquently:
Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her . . . There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her, and whom he or she loves in return. (Psychology Today, May 1977)
Love also sets the context for moral development. Hoffman (1983) suggests that children develop in their commitment to goodness and concern for others as we love them, set good examples, reason with them, and help them understand how their behavior affects others. That is bringing them up in light and truth.
Relationship with Self
Satan’s greatest coup may be in the area of our relationship with self. Old Scratch insists quite reasonably that “you cannot love anyone until you love yourself.” But the Lord has always recommended the opposite course: “And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake, shall find it in the world to come” (JST Matthew 16:28). Self discovery comes through forgetting self.
Even scholars have been concerned about the modern western emphasis on self. Baumeister has observed a revolution in the way people find meaning in life.
Love and work are regarded by modern Americans as means of cultivating, exploring, and glorifying the self, and if they fail in this they lose their legitimacy. A relationship that stifles the self ought to be broken off; a job that fails to foster self-expression or growth should be changed (pp. 104-5, emphasis in original).
The new emphasis on self has caused a redefinition of morality.
For centuries . . . each individual made his or her major life choices between the conflicting demands of self-interest and morality. . . . Virtue meant conquering the various forms of self-interest, including greed, lust, laziness, and cowardice. . . . Vice, in contrast meant putting the impulses and desires of the self first and acting on them even when such actions ran counter to the community’s needs, wants, and values. The hero exerted and suffered for others, and in the process the hero helped the community. The villain indulged his or her own selfish appetites at the expense of others. . . . [But] in the 20th century . . . morality has become allied with self-interest. It is not simply that people have the right to do what is best for themselves; rather, it has become an almost sacred obligation to do so. The modern message is that what is right and good and valuable to do in life is to focus on yourself, . . . Once it was a virtue to place the best interests of others ahead of your own. Now, instead, there is an increasingly moral imperative to do the opposite (p. 113).
Krauthammer has observed that “the reigning cliche of the day is that in order to love others one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation . . . is a license for unremitting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless” (1993, p.76). Satan must laugh as Americans obsess on self-love and never quite get to loving God or neighbor.
When meeting our own needs becomes the moral standard in all our decisions, marriage suffers, children suffer, communities suffer, eternity suffers. What trend could better fulfill the promised latter day doom:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, (2 Timothy 3:1-2, emphasis added)
God does not provide commandments as an arbitrary test of our willpower. They simply define the path to happiness. That God who created us and gave us Life knows how to bless us. God enjoins marriage, love, service, and unselfishness. Such commandments look like restrictions to the natural man but the spiritual person recognizes them as guides to love, joy, and peace. Truly we can choose misery or we can choose joy.
When we choose to obey Satan he pays us in the currency of his realm: misery. “The devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60). When we obey God, we receive “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom” (Luke 6:38).
God’s way is always better.
Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.
Hoffman, M. L. (1983). Affective and cognitive processes in moral internalization. In E. T. Higgins, D. N. Ruble, & W. W. Hartup (Eds.), Social cognition and social development: A sociocultural perspective (pp. 236-275). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Krauthammer, C. (1993, June 28). Beware the study of turtles. Time.
Michael, R. T., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O. & Kolata, G. (1994). Sex in America: A definitive survey. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co.
Smith, J. F. (1998). Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. S.L.C.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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