“Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, Feb. 1990, 17
New Era Answer:
Your question touches on one of the biggest challenges of mortality. When Lehi spoke about the gift of agency, he also acknowledged “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate” (2 Ne. 2:29).
We all find that “the will of the flesh,” or our physical selves, at times seem to be at war with our spiritual selves.
Does this mean that the body and its urges are inherently evil? No. Our Father in Heaven gave us our bodies, and so they are good. There are wholesome and even holy purposes for the desires inherent in them. But the body must be brought under the control of the mind and spirit.
The physical attraction between men and women, for example, is a legitimate blessing that can strengthen the bonds of marriage. But misused, it can be degraded into lust and exploitation.
Our Father in Heaven, through the Holy Ghost, his prophets, and the scriptures, teaches us how to control and use these desires and emotions for our happiness. Satan, however, wants us to twist and spoil them. In this work he has strong allies in some of the practices and customs of our day.
Unfortunately, Satan often has an ally closer to home—us. When we give in to temptations, our corrupt urges become stronger and harder to resist. Thus we become our own tempters.
It is very inviting to say, “The devil made me do it.” The truth is that the devil doesn’t make us do anything. He tempts us. Then we make a decision. But once we have given in to his tempting, we are more susceptible to it.
Satan would like us to believe that these urges are irresistible. They are not. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). If we choose to live by uncontrolled “urges,” we are living in a state of voluntary surrender to our worst enemy.
On the other hand, please don’t get down on yourself just because you are being tempted. EVERYONE is tempted. Even the great prophet Nephi wrote: “My heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Ne. 4:17–18).
How do we overcome our temptations and sins? First of all, by prayer and repentance. If we go humbly to the Lord and ask for his help, he will strengthen us. In the meanwhile, we should also avoid situations that tend to increase our urges to do what we shouldn’t.
That brings us to the second half of your question. You are right to be concerned about weak desires to do what you should. A strong desire to do right is a potent defense against those urges to do wrong.
Just as Satan tries to persuade us to do wrong, we are also constantly being persuaded to do good. King Benjamin pleaded with his people to yield to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” (see Mosiah 3:19). These “enticings” are with us always if we will only hear them. The problem is that the voice of evil is loud and demanding. The enticings of the Spirit are like a “still, small voice” that we must listen for carefully.
It’s very difficult to understand two voices at the same time. Have you ever tried to talk on the telephone while someone at your elbow was jabbering away at you? As we develop our ability to concentrate on the still, small voice, we automatically begin to tune out the coarser voices that shout for our attention.
When you begin to hear the promptings of the Spirit, obey them! Doing good is one of the very best ways to stop doing evil. Only when we can go on the attack, so to speak, only when we can move the focus from merely resisting evil to actively doing good can we truly enjoy life. But we must begin where we are. Don’t wait for all bad urges to disappear before doing good. Go about serving your fellow men with love, and the joy you receive will strengthen those urges to do good. As they grow stronger, you will automatically be paying less attention to the urges to do evil.
The results of heeding the still, small voice can be truly spectacular. It is recorded in the Book of Mormon that after hearing King Benjamin speak, his people said, “The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent … has wrought a mighty change in us … that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
For that moment at least, they had completely reversed the problem you describe! Their urges to do right were absolute, and their urges to do wrong were extinct.
Few people live life day to day on that plane, but it’s a worthwhile goal. In the meanwhile, study, pray, do all the good you can, listen for the “enticings of the Spirit,” avoid temptation when you can and resist it with your whole soul when it can’t be avoided. Keep in mind the advice of Jacob to “cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Ne. 10:23).
If you choose rightly and back it up with actions, your urges to do wrong will diminish and your desire to do good will increase.
I think the reason some people feel stronger urges to do bad instead of good is because we can plainly see the shallow enjoyment that may come from what we know is wrong. It is so hard for us to comprehend the potential of our future, that our minds just completely disregard things that far ahead in time. The joy we receive from doing good will last forever.
Shelly Davies, 14
Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Everyone is tempted at some point, and usually many times. The stronger your relationship with God and the more involved you are in his work, the harder Satan will try to destroy that relationship. Even the Savior was tempted by Satan in the desert. We can read about this in Matthew 4:1–11. [Matt. 4:1–11] God assures us that we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to resist (see 1 Cor. 10:13). When we resist, in Jesus’ name, Satan will flee. The thing to remember is that we cannot overcome temptation or “urges” on our own. We must pray and trust that God will help us. More scriptures to look towards for guidance in times of temptation are Romans 6:14 [Rom. 6:14] and James 1:12–18. After you have learned to resist “urges,” then you will want to do more of what God wills in your life. It’s all a matter of persistent prayer, faith, and discipline.
Pauline Manthorne, 18
Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada
The Lord planned for this earth life to be a challenge. We live in a world filled with a “mist of darkness” where it seems that people are pointing fingers at us from a “great and spacious building” (see 1 Ne. 8:23, 26). The devil tempts us, and sometimes friends don’t help us resist evil, either. Sometimes we fear man more than God.
It is so important to anticipate problems and situations before they happen. Seeking counsel from parents and teachers, studying the scriptures, and praying to a loving Heavenly Father will all help us when we find it hard to do what is right.
This life is a little like a weight room, where we are challenged to become fit for the Lord’s kingdom. The Lord has promised us that if we will resist evil and work at it, weak things will become strong unto us (see Ether 12:27). It is difficult, but the reward is worth it.
Casey Weber, 12; Jennifer Keller, 12; Sarah Lee, 12; Amber Duke, 12; Kristen McMullin, 12
(Course 12, Las Vegas 37th Ward, Las Vegas, Nevada)
Your urges to do what is wrong hare a lot to do with the kind of friends you are around and also the self-discipline to listen to the Holy Ghost when a challenge faces you. The Holy Ghost will tell us the right choice. We have the option of listening to or ignoring the prompting. It’s our decision.
Lorie Carnie, 15
Because Satan has such a great influence on the world today, it is often hard to do what is right. I know whenever I do something wrong I either get in trouble or I have a guilty conscience. I have found keeping the commandments, reading the scriptures, and attending Church meetings make it easier to choose the right. It also helps to act the way you would if Jesus were standing there with you. I think that if you try this you will find it easier to say no to the evil influences we all face. Try it; it works for me.
Kristin Vance, 15
If all things in this life were easy, then do you think we would really be tested? I have found that I learn more in doing something difficult than I ever would in doing something simple. Although it seems easier to give in to your strong urges to do what is wrong, in the long run you will be happier if you “choose the right.”
I think that the reason we have such strong urges to do what is wrong is because it seems like the easier way to go. The adversary makes it seem that way. But I promise you that it is easier to choose the right. Whenever I’m faced with a situation like this I try to think: “What would Jesus want me to do?” And remember to pray always!
Sheila Petersen, 17
Spanish Fork, Utah
A major reason for this problem can be explained in one word: Satan! He influences us to do what’s wrong and tries to keep us from doing what’s right. His influence is so strong that it can be really tough to do what we know we should. That’s why our Father in Heaven has given us the gift of the Holy Ghost. He helps us to realize what’s right and wrong.
Use the Holy Ghost to help you when you are undecided about what you should do. If you do this, you will be able to have strong desires to do what you should and weak desires to do what you shouldn’t. Don’t let Satan overcome you. Overcome Satan.
Jennifer Hartman, 14
I think it’s probably because of the amount of fun, dare, and excitement we think we see in things we shouldn’t do. But really, whenever we do these things we find that it wasn’t worth it.
David Gurklies, 13
Comox, British Columbia, Canada
Sometimes I have the same problem. Satan’s works are very strong. He will do anything and everything to get us in his grasp. Try praying every morning for strength to overcome the temptations of the world. Something that helps me is reading 1 Corinthians 10:13. [1 Cor. 1:13] This verse is about temptations and enduring them.
As for your weak urges to do good, you can make it a goal to be more in tune with the Spirit, and keep striving for this. Soon you will find it easier to do the right thing.
Shelly Gibbs, 14
Everybody wants to be “popular,” and sometimes it seems that if you do what’s wrong you’ll get popular. But if you keep doing what’s right you’ll gain respect, and that is more important.
James Curneal, 14
South Jordan, Utah
Maybe you feel you’re being pressured too much to do the right things. You may have a strong curiosity about things that aren’t right, and your need to feel independent makes the wrong things even more attractive.
Ask yourself: “Do I really want the consequences of these unrighteous urges? Would I benefit from them? Or do I just want control of my choices?” Don’t dwell on wrongful urges. Exercise independence by being involved in activities that take you away from weaknesses. Remind yourself that you want to be like Christ.
Tiare Tahauri, 15