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Hiding the Darkness

07 September 2015

A few days ago, I came across this verse in the Book of Mormon, prophesying about the Restoration:

"And [Joseph] obtained a promise of the Lord... that the Messiah should be made manifest unto [his descendants] in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom" 
-- 2 Nephi 3:5

I've been thinking about that phrase, "hidden darkness" for a while. It's kind of quaint, isn't it? Usually we think of things being hidden in darkness, or the darkness hiding things (like the corner of the dresser on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, ouch!). But in this case, Nephi is saying that the darkness itself is hidden. How can that be? How can someone hide darkness? What could you hide it with?

After pondering for a while, I've come up with 5 tactics that Satan utilizes to hide spiritual darkness in our lives:

1. Prevent us from ever seeing light

My wife is about halfway through her pregnancy with our son right now. According to the doctors, at this point, our child is starting to dimly sense (through eyelids that are still fused shut) the occasional faint glow of light that penetrates his world. A few weeks ago, before his retinas had begun to seriously develop, it would have been impossible to discern darkness, for he knew no light.

Satan would love for us to never see that first spiritual light. If our minds and hearts are so consistently buried in darkness, we will never realize that the darkness exists at all. It is hidden to us.

2. Dim our light gradually

I have to wonder what mothers are thinking when they tell their kids to be home by sunset. Do they imagine that kids come with some built-in light-reading alarm clock? One that will ring at the appropriate time and say, "Ambient light levels are now at 23%. Time to go home!" 

I know that when my brothers and I would receive such a curfew before we went to the park to play, we would be invariably be so engrossed in our bikes and our soccer balls that we would never notice the sluggish dimming of the sky or the slow appearance of the stars above us. The change from day to night was so gradual and imperceptible that our eyes automatically adjusted without us thinking about it.

Satan likewise loves to slowly dim the lights around us. By extinguishing one candle of faith at a time, we often miss the change. And as we start giving each week 99% of what we gave the week before, we find ourselves sliding so slowly that we never even notice we've moved.

3. Target our blind spots

Check out this graphic. If you close your left eye, focus your right eye on the X, and move in slowly towards your screen, there will come a point where the dot on the right suddenly disappears:
Close left eye and look at cross, what happens to dot?
This is due to two things. First, you have a blind spot in your eye so that the dot is hidden from view. Now, as a software developer, I would expect that if my computer for some reason was missing part of the information, it would let me know about it (maybe an error that says "image not available"). But instead of delineating between which parts of your vision you can trust, and which parts are masked by blind spots, your brain just sort of makes stuff up. Seriously. It fills in that spot with whatever happens to be around it (in this case, solid white), and calls it good enough. While this more or less works 99% of the time, it can also hide important things from our view (like that car merging in behind you) and give us a false sense of security.

Spiritual blind spots work the same way. When one aspect of our spiritual lives seems to be going well, we are eager to assume other facets of our eternal growth must be going equally well. We fill in the blanks of what we don't see with what we want to see. And too often when that blind spot is pointed out by those who can see more clearly than we can, we scoff it off or ignore it. As Nephi put it, we "hearken not unto the counsel of God, for [we] set it aside, supposing [we] know of [our]selves" (2 Nephi 9:28).

4. Distract us from the darkness

This tactic is much more innocent-looking. In the ever-connected internet age with its instant messaging and push notifications, there are so many channels available for Satan to reach us. And I'm not talking about blatantly evil things-- I'm talking about the innocent but unimportant attention-grabbers that keep us from focusing on our spiritual experiences.

For example, how many of us this afternoon sat through a wonderful Sunday School class or Fast and Testimony meeting? And then we got into the car and pulled out our phones? Within a few minutes, that beautiful spirit of revelation that we were enjoying was gone. Not brutally kicked out by immoral thoughts or obscenity-- just quickly replaced by the trivial and mundane. 

Just think, we could have basked in that light for a while, enjoyed the silence, and pondered on the lessons we had learned. But instead we instinctively opened the Facebook app, checked the news, or even started scrambling to set up our home teaching appointments. I'm the one to talk, of course. I'm set up to where I don't even have to pull out my phone to get distracted. My smartwatch pulls up any notifications on my wrist automatically, making distraction ever more accessible.

These things aren't bad in and of themselves, but as Elder Foster told us, "a distraction doesn’t have to be evil to be effective." If Satan can keep us running around like a caffeinated squirrel, we will never take the time to look at the dark spots that may be hiding in plain sight.

Randall L Ridd warned of this tactic just a few months ago in his awesome devotional, "Living with Purpose: The Importance of 'Real Intent'":

If we are focused on the things of the world, we can miss a whole spiritual world that is all around us. We may not be able to recognize the spiritual promptings that the Holy Ghost is anxious to give us to direct our lives and to bless others... The best way to avoid distractions is to have our focus firmly set on our purpose and be anxiously engaged in a good cause. Be careful of your focus.

If you haven't seen his talk yet, go watch it now (especially the part where he shows the video of the basketball players). 

5. The "Emperor's New Clothes" tactic

"The Emperor's New Clothes," a famous parable by Hans Christian Anderson, tells a story of an emperor who is swindled into paying for a robe of a magical material that supposedly can only be seen by those who are worthy and intelligent. When he and his ministers see the empty loom and are told it is the completed robe, each one pretends he can see it for fear that it would become known that he is unworthy or stupid.

As the king marches nude in a parade through his kingdom, each subject cheers and pretends to be able to see his robe, flattering the king in his attire for fear their stupidity would become apparent to their neighbors. Finally, a small child cries out that the emperor is naked, and the town comes to their senses.

Satan seems to be favoring this tactic right now. He gets the idea into the minds of those around us that the darkness isn't actually darkness at all-- that it's actually light. Or that there is no light or darkness-- just gray. And only the smart people can see this while anyone who thinks that it's darkness is actually lacking in some horrible way:

Wo 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! ...Who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! 
-- Isaiah 5:20, 23

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. 
-- 2 Nephi 28:22

Unfortunately Anderson's tale ends on a much happier note than it would in real life. In today's society, that boy would immediately be shouted down as an intolerant bigot: "You are just too behind the times to understand the king's fashion! He identifies as a clothes-wearer, and you should respect that! How would you like it if we stopped respecting your preference of attire? Stop being so hateful! He is the king; you must respect the rule of law!"

First, we may stop speaking up as vocally because we fear the masses, silenced into quiet disagreement. Then, perhaps to protect our reputation, our popularity, or our self-esteem, we may even start pretending that the darkness doesn't exist just like everyone else. Over time, like Korihor of old, we may gradually allow the allure of the smooth, easygoing message and its wild success among the people to convince us that they were right the whole time. The darkness was never there after all.

Fortunately, God has given us revelation, scripture, living prophets, the gift of the Holy Ghost, families, and a wonderful Church to act as personal spotlights in our spiritual lives, point out the darkness. If we are diligent, if we pay attention, and are humble enough to receive their counsel, Satan cannot hide the darkness from us. With these bright lights guiding our path, everything is bright.

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