I recently came across a treasure at the bookstore. A massive coffee-table (in deference to the Word of Wisdom: Postum-table) treatment of the major stories of the Bible. It contains photographs, historical background, maps and other great information. Fortunately, it was not priced by the pound, so I could afford it.
While flipping through it in the store, I came across a small comment addressing the words “Satan” and “Devil.” The editors noted that both terms are derived from words that mean “adversary” or “accuser.” That brought me to a halt.
As an attorney, I’ve always paid particular attention to the legal analogies used by the Savior in teaching the gospel. He and others refer to His role as a mediator, someone who bridges the gap between God and His children, who have become adversaries as a result of disobedience. In my experience, a mediator is a third-party neutral, a person who represents the interests of neither party, but is there to restore peace where there was conflict. His effectiveness lies in his ability to stand outside the dispute, never taking sides.
Other times, the scriptures focus on Christ’s role as judge in the great and final judgment that will determine the direction, or lack thereof, of our eternal progression. You do not need a law degree to understand what a judge does. He hears the case against you, and decides (or supervises a jury as they decide) whether you are guilty or innocent. If you are guilty (and in the case of sin, who isn’t?), he pronounces the judgment against you. Like the mediator, the best judge is impartial, applying law to the facts and announcing the result. He is there not to help you, but to measure you.
But there is a third courtroom analogy used to describe the Savior. He uses it Himself in a revelation to Joseph Smith in which he declares: “Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father.” (D&C 29:5). The apostle John used the same example when he wrote that if we have sinned, we have “an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1).
The role of the advocate is one I understand quite well, because I take it up on a daily basis. Your advocate is more than a cheerleader or a representative. An advocate takes up your position and argues it as his own. He takes up your cause, pleads your case, and seeks to sway the hearts and minds of the judge and jury on your behalf. In a criminal case, he is all that stands between you and punishment, and he is sworn to do so, even if he has doubts of your innocence.
It is a powerful image, made more powerful when we consider that Satan’s very title includes the role of “accuser.” Many Christian faiths put a heavy focus on the “just” or “angry” God who looks upon our sins, proclaims our guilt, and casts us into a fiery pit for eternity if we fail to do His will. He often sounds much more like an in-law than our own father.
I think this image of God mixes up the players. Our accuser in the final judgment will be Satan, our adversary. He will point to the moments in our lives in which he successfully steered us into dangerous and forbidden paths and joyfully decry our failings. He will contend that our deeds have made us his.
Once his case is made, then our Advocate arises. He “appear[s] in the presence of God for us.” (Heb. 9:24). If we have given our best, and still fallen short, He still will argue our case. However, the winning argument will have nothing to do with our own behavior, because the truth is that, after all, we did fail. We did not live up to the standard set by Christ himself. Instead, He will point to the wounds in His hands, feet and side, and will plead that–for His sake–we be forgiven. By His sufferings, he has justly claimed us, and he will claim His right to bring us home.
His will be the most compelling case, in fact the only argument. that can be made on our behalf.
And it will carry the day.