There is a Native American legend that goes something like this:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil--he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego."
He continued, "The other is good--he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you--and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed." (Cherokee Legend)
I think this legend puts things so clearly, I could almost stop right here, but I want to delve a little deeper. Every person who is born on earth existed as a spirit being before birth. We lived with our Heavenly Father and knew and accepted His plan. Now we are on earth with bodies of flesh and blood, we cannot remember our life before birth, and we are asked to live by faith rather than sight. And within each of us we have the ability to choose good or evil.
Life Before Birth
In the Old Testement, the Lord told Jeremiah:
"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5 KJV)It wasn't only prophets that the Lord knew before birth, it was each and every one of us. This doctrine has been lost to many religions, but was common knowledge to many in Biblical times. Take, for example, the question posed by Christ's disciples:
If there was an option of the man's sins causing his blindness, when would that sin have occurred for him to be born blind? God has many reasons for allowing us to experience trials, sicknesses, and problems, but although He is omnipotent, and has known the end since the beginning, He will not punish us for sins we have not yet committed.Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." (John 9:2-3 KJV)
Another testimony is apparent in the wording of this verse:
"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7 KJV)Our spirit was with God before: that is how it is able to return.
There are many other scriptures that support the idea of a premortal spirit life (not reincarnation). We lived with our Heavenly Father and He knew us each individually then as He does now. If you find this concept hard to swallow, I challenge you to make it a matter of prayer. Although most of us don't remember it, God was there. He can help you understand this better than I can.
We cannot remember what it was like to be in the presence of God. To make things harder, we have to choose while being subjected to opposition. Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we are weak and prone to temptation.
The Apostle Paul taught:
"For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3 KJV)The prophet Abinadi similarly said:
"For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil." (Mosiah 16:3)With our natures being carnal, sensual, and devilish, it seems that Satan has an easy job. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die! You only live once, so you may as well live it up, right? James E. Talmage said it this way:
“The present is an age of pleasure-seeking, and men are losing their sanity in the mad rush for sensations that do but excite and disappoint. In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion, falsely labeled, ‘Happiness.’ In this soul-destroying craft he is without peer; he has had centuries of experience and practice, and by his skill he controls the market. He has learned the tricks of the trade, and knows well how to catch the eye and arouse the desire of his customers. He puts up the stuff in bright-colored packages, tied with tinsel string and tassel; and crowds flock to his bargain counters, hustling and crushing one another in their frenzy to buy.
As we search for happiness and meaning in life, it is easy to become distracted by all of these options that look so effective, appealing, and easy. We all sin. We all fall short. Since no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God, we are all doomed because of the Fall of Adam and Eve. EXCEPT for one thing. We have a Heavenly Father that loved us so much, He prepared a way to return.“Follow one of the purchasers as he goes off gloatingly with his gaudy packet, and watch him as he opens it. What finds he inside the gilded wrapping? He had expected fragrant happiness, but uncovers only an inferior brand of pleasure, the stench of which is nauseating” (Improvement Era, 17 [no. 2]: pp. 172–73).
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
Worth of Souls
Now I want to focus on how we all have the seeds of good inside of us. Every person is important to God. Look at the conversation Abraham has with the Lord concerning Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). These cities were full of wickedness and ripe for destruction. Abraham pleads that the Lord will not destroy it if there are any righteous people therein, and the Lord consents:
"And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes."He continues pleading with the Lord, and the Lord is willing to spare large cities for only a few people:
"Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake."For the sake of a few righteous, the Lord was willing to spare these cities. He sees the potential for good in people and knows that they can repent and be cleansed from sin. If there was no good in any of us, and no hope for salvation, this life would be utterly pointless. All of us sin, all of us make mistakes, but we all have the light of Christ to guide us. When we follow the Light of Christ, which influences our conscience, we come closer to God.
I like how Paul words it:
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (Corinthians 4:6 KJV)We all have good in us and have the agency to choose good or evil. Choosing evil may give us temporary pleasure, but as we realize that our choices have eternal consequences, we will find it easier to choose good and turn away from evil. It is easy to say "no" when you have a bigger "yes" burning inside of you.
Winning the Battle
So, we are all fallen, sinful, less than the dust of the earth. But God loves us and values us; and through His Son, there is a way to be forgiven and cleansed from sin. But how can we win the battle against sin and evil and our "natural" tendencies? We have to decide which wolf to feed.
King Benjamin taught:
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19)Understanding this concept helps explain why fasting and meditation can be so effective. As we put off the natural man, we are sacrificing something we want now for something better. We are overcoming the flesh and strengthening our spirit and divine nature. We need to let go of our "favorite sins" and submit to God.
Trusting in ourselves and the world is also referred to as trusting in the flesh:
"Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." (Jeremiah 17:5)We need faith. We need to be careful where we put our trust and realize that God is in control. God loves ALL of His children. He loves you and He loves me. We can be forgiven when we turn to Him. We need to trust Him and believe that He really does know what is best. It is not enough to have faith to be healed or to have trials removed, we need to trust Him enough even to have the faith not to be healed. God can remove all of our trials. He has power to heal all sicknesses. But in His infinite wisdom, He sometimes chooses not to because He may have a bigger plan in store for us.
As we learn to trust the Lord, we can put off our evil tendencies. We can feed the light and starve the darkness. While some people can think of a single instance when they gained their faith, growing in and strengthening in faith is a process for me. Every choice we make between good and evil either puts us closer to Christ or distances us from Him.
Moroni gives sound council on discerning between good and evil:
"For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Because of our dual nature, we will be asked to choose between good and evil throughout our life. Because Satan is so experienced, he will give different temptations to each person. But because of the grace of Christ, we can have power to overcome temptation little by little. As we put our trust in the Lord and stop leaning on our own understanding, He will guide and direct our path and we will see that He has a much grander plan than we ever could have come up with.And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged." (Moroni 7:16-18)
Who Are We? Part 1 - Little Children Are Alive In Christ
Who Are We? Part 3 - Our Potentia