Judging Between Good and Evil
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night (Moroni 7:12-15).
Should I be worried because sometimes I find it much harder to discern between good and evil than to tell daylight from dark night? The issue became particularly urgent on Sunday, when my youngest decided he would like his big sister to do a tarot reading for him before he left to complete his missionary training in the Provo MTC. They had been sharing insights, him from the scriptures and her from tarot, and he had felt the goodness of the insights she shared. He’d then returned to his personal scripture study while pondering on that experience and had opened his scriptures to Moroni 7, which assured him that every good thing comes from God. So he felt that it would be appropriate to ask her for a reading, as he was curious and this would be meaningful to her.
I had previously communicated that I was okay with my eldest pursuing her personal spiritual practice while visiting for Christmas, but I was not okay with her doing tarot readings for anyone else in my home. That wasn’t a simple decision for me; I see tarot as a highly suspect source of inspiration, even though I concur with most of the messaging my daughter receives from it. This is partly because of a personal story told to me by a woman who had turned away from the occult. She told me that tarot had been a big part of her practice until the devil appeared in her kitchen while she was working on a tarot spread. Frightened, she buried the cards in her yard until someone appeared on her doorstep, telling her they needed help via a tarot reading and had travelled a great distance to find her as they were told she was the only one who could help them. This happened repeatedly until the Holy Ghost touched her heart in a Baptist meeting; she found herself weeping uncontrollably, comprehended that the occult arts were not of God and went home and burned her cards and occult books. All my children have heard that story and tarot cards were not permitted in my home…until maintaining that position would have meant making my own daughter unwelcome. I need her to be welcome, to belong and to be able to contribute. I also need my home to be a place of safety. And so I communicated a boundary that seems principled to me. Permitting my ex-LDS daughter to share her thoughts and worship in my home according to the dictates of her conscience while not permitting tarot readings for others was my best effort to offer belonging and safety.
Now, my missionary son was asking me to change my position, while my youngest daughter was freaking out that this conversation was even happening. I suggested to my youngest daughter (whose vociferous objections pretty much matched what was going on in my own heart) that the voice we needed to be able to hear on this was the Holy Spirit’s, and that became more difficult when other voices were speaking loudly. Then I went aside and counselled with my missionary. He shared with me his interpretation of Section 38.6.12 of the General Handbook, which he felt did not prohibit a tarot reading because his sister's tarot practice was focused on light, not darkness and the messages she was getting from it seemed consistent with gospel truths. Then we talked about deception, especially my personal sense of needing to recognize my vulnerability to it, and the practice of checking in with our priesthood leaders as an aid to avoiding being led astray. He decided that he would only get a reading if his stake president okayed it. His stake president did not. Crisis averted. All of this brings me back to the difficulty I experience trying to discern good things from evil things. Specifically, I can’t quite put tarot into either category. If it’s of God, why are we warned against it (which is how I still interpret section 38.6.12 of the Handbook, especially in light of the story above)? And if it’s of the devil, how has it brought forth good in the life of my daughter? How did the woman in the account above use it to help people who travelled long distances to get a tarot reading from her? A bitter fountain can not bring forth good water, (Moroni 7:11) so is tarot a good fountain or is the good that has come from it like a Trojan Horse, covering up a deeper evil? Just asking these questions is outside of my comfort zone. But I think I may have left my comfort zone forever some years ago, when I learned that anchoring in dogma is a sterile substitute for a living relationship with an approachable, loving, eager-to-draw-me-closer God. So I now feel the need to ask and seek, trusting that the Holy Spirit will clarify what I need to know now, and clarify more when I’m ready to understand better.
I feel like one of my sources of confusion is that I‘ve been misunderstanding what the passage above means by “fountain.” I think there are layers of meaning. At one level, it’s a reference to our hearts, our motives and intentions. When Cain offered sacrifice to God in obedience to Satan, his intention was not to worship God. I’m guessing he was trying to pick a fight with the Lord, to create a cause for taking offence. So his sacrifice was not acceptable, and would not have been acceptable even if he had offered an unblemished lamb. An insincere heart is a bitter fountain that taints our outwardly good deeds. Meanwhile, an honest heart is a good fountain that sweetens our outwardly awkward and stumbling efforts to serve God and others.
At a deeper level, the fountains are a reference to the sources of all good and all evil, that is to Jesus Christ and to Satan. Everything which is good comes from God. I believe that the corollary is also true: everything that comes from God is good. That’s pretty much everything, since God is the creator of the Earth and everything in it.
If so, it follows that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was good. So was its forbidden fruit. Eve perceived that just before she partook (Moses 4:12). What she did not yet perceive, I think, was that it was not timely. God is neither arbitrary nor capricious. He does not give us restrictions for the fun of exerting control over us, but for our benefit. I believe that He designs to offer us everything good, in its season: "to please the eye and to gladden the heart... for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul" (D&C 59:18-19). If there are good things from which he currently asks us to abstain, eventually they will be given to us by His hand, when we are ready to treasure them and put them to loving use. And meanwhile, every abstention He asks of us has a wise purpose.
By contrast, Satan has nothing good to give. His domain is misery, shame, fear, apathy, enmity and rage. And those things are hard to sell as stand-alone products. So he gilds them with the good that comes from God. And he especially loves to offer us that which isn’t timely, the appealing things from which God is currently asking us to abstain. Then, when we partake of the forbidden fruit and perceive that it is good for food, he hits us with a double whammy: he suggests that God was withholding that good thing from us in bad faith, and he shames us, saying God is going to reject us and we need to hide. Once he has us in the grip of shame, misery, fear, enmity, rage and apathy become easier sells.
If he doesn’t succeed in getting us to partake of a particular forbidden fruit, he tries to sell us a sense of disgust and superiority towards those who did. He invites us to participate in shaming them and stirs us up to anger and enmity. Once again, we become easier prey to the rest of his product line.
So, when Mormon warns me against judging “that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil” he is inviting me to be mindful of my motives, to discern Satan‘s disguises, and to eschew fear, condemnation and disgust in favour of faith, hope and charity. He is also inviting me to be unthreatened by the existence of goodness that doesn't come directly from God. Reacting to such things with fear, disgust and shaming is just promoting Satan's agenda. Far better to remember that nothing good that Satan peddles belongs to him. Every good bit is pilfered from the storehouse of treasures our Father holds in reserve for us, even though it can't help being tainted to some degree by his touch. The impurities are his, but all the goodness is God's.
When I watch loved ones partake of fruit that is forbidden, and I am tempted by fear, I find great comfort in a passage from Moses’s account of the Fall: “[Satan] sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world” (Moses 4:6). In Eden, Satan thought he could unravel God’s plan of salvation, but wound up forwarding it. That means that I can trust God’s plan and providence in my life and the lives of my loved ones. I can appreciate and focus on the good that my loved ones access through means from which I currently choose to abstain. We can connect over goodness instead of cooperating with Satan’s agenda to divide us and introduce enmity. Then, he has a harder time selling the rest of his products, while I am trusting Jesus Christ to lead me and my loved ones toward more goodness.