The scriptures are rife with war metaphors and depictions of battles, so much so that when we read “put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:11, KJV), we may get overly excited. We may imagine ourselves answering a call to arms as a knight riding up, sword and armor immaculately shining, “clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” ready to deal out judgment in holy battle (D&C 5:14). In our eagerness; however, we may not think thoroughly enough about the identity of the actual enemy of God.
We know that Satan is the enemy, yet our struggle against him is more focused on his influence than on a chest thumping, arms outstretched, “come at me bro” type of direct encounter. Our battle is not against “flesh and blood” either, like our neighbor, but against “spiritual wickedness in high places,” especially those mountains of pride built up in us (see Ephesians 6:12, KJV). It is the “natural man” inside us that could be the real “enemy of God” we need to fight (Mosiah 3:19, BofM).
Admittedly, this is an uncomfortable idea, one which we may “never had
supposed” (Moses 1:10, PofGP). Ironically, this uncomfortable idea was likely brought to us by the Comforter or the Holy Ghost. We have known the Comforter as the instrument of God’s “tender mercies”, but the Spirit could be called the Discomforter, because He is often prompting us to do things that are uncomfortable, like “be thou humble” (D&C 110:12).
As an integral part of the “whole” armor of God, the “sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17, KVJ) is often compared to “a two edged sword”. This comparison does not just emphasize the sharpness of the Spirit or its facility for slicing outward in multiple directions, but also the idea that one of those edges is to cut towards the wielder; to “prick [our own] hearts with the word” (Jarom 1:12, BofM). We may need a little snipping here and there to our pride, in order to bring us down to the right size. Otherwise, the call to arms could come, and our own armor might not fit, because we have become too “puffed up in the vain things of the world” (Alma 5:37, BofM).
We will need a spiritual diet to shed our excess pounds of pride. A diet where we “deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:32, BofM) and “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3, BofM). We must also “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:17, BofM) “lay[ing] aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1, KJV), so we can “run, and not be weary” “…of well-doing” (Isaiah 40:31 and 2 Thessalonians 3:13, KJV). Our concerted efforts will enable us to go back to a time “when [we were] little in [our own] sight” (1 Samuel 15:17. KJV). Slim enough to fit in God’s armor and little enough for the Lord to “lead [us] by the hand, and give [us] answer to [our] prayers” (D&C 112:10).
As we approach the Almighty in mighty prayer, we will encounter his overwhelming and unfailing love. A love that, perhaps contrary to our expectations, we will often experience through chastisement and rebuke, for He has said, “whom I love I also chasten” (D&C 95:1). Enduring with humility the experience of repeatedly seeing our shortcomings allows God’s grace to “make weak things become strong unto [us]” (Ether 12:27, BofM). The ceaseless struggle against the worst in us builds us into a better us. Our defeat of the enemy inside us will make us a better friend to everyone. Like muscles that are broken down to become stronger, our faith is exercised and strengthened through trial. After all, we wouldn’t need an “anchor” for our faith, if we were merely meant to sail in smooth seas (see Ether 12:4, BofM).
The crucible of our sufferings reveals the integrity of our metal affording us the opportunity to refine compromises we have made against truth and recast our character. We demonstrate this newly recast character during our afflictions to set it*, to finalize “His image in [our] countenance” (Alma 5:14, BofM). Our trials, at times, will take us to our breaking point, where God’s atoning grace can multiply our last efforts to do what was previously impossible for us. We will see in His refining fire that although we are nothing before Him, we are everything to Him, and we can do anything with Him. We will see that God’s “marvelous work and a wonder” is us (Isaiah 29:13, KJV); we will see it not only because we have experienced His love for us personally, but we will also see His wonder in others. Our sufferings, when endured with faith, will create more compassion in us for the rest of humanity. We will be more suited to suit up in His armor and answer the call to extend our arms out in mercy.
The purpose of the refiner’s fire is to create in us the capacity to ignite a “hope for a better world” (Ether 12:4, BofM) in the heart’s of others. We will cease to merely consume, but begin to produce “the pleasing word of God” (Jacob 2:8, BofM), so we can enrich the lives of the “poor in spirit” and feed those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:3 and 6, KJV). We can speak a symphony of sympathy for those with secret sadnesses, while the word “healeth the wounded soul” (Jacob 2:8, BofM).
In the end, vanquishing the enemy within us frees up additional space for caring about and caring for others. God’s call to arms is to arm us with His love, so we, like Him, can “[go] about doing good” (Acts 10:38, KJV).
I am grateful to my friend Katherine for her editing suggestions and my friend Jason for the epic picture, which is of him. -Nathan
*This principle was taught to me by a home teacher based on the teachings of Elder Scott, “Faith and character are intimately related. Faith in the power of obedience to the commandments of God will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is intended to be used.” Elder Richard G. Scott, “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Ensign (November 2010) https://www.lds.org/ensign/2010/11/the-transforming-power-of-faith-and-character?lang=eng&_r=1.
KJV=King James Version of the Bible;
BofM=Book of Mormon;
D&C=Doctrine and Covenants; and
PofGP=Pearl of Great Price.