I remember that when I began to seriously read the scriptures I found God to be really manipulative, among other things. I was turned off by words and phrases like “vengeance,” “justice,” “wrath,” and “persuasion.” In the context of all of these words, persuasion seemed especially dark and formidable. If God was going to try to speak to me and have some sort of hidden agenda, then I didn’t want to hear His argument at all!
But that’s just it: Heavenly Father doesn’t have any hidden agenda. To believe this, it’s important that we understand the differences between persuasion and manipulation and how they work in the context of a loving Heavenly Father.
Understanding Persuasion and Manipulation
My initial misunderstanding stemmed from having a poor idea regarding the nature of God, and of what persuasion is (unfortunately my K-12 English Persuasive writing lessons didn’t help me here 🤦🏼♀️). Assuming you’ve had a similar misunderstanding, let’s get on the same page and define what persuasion and manipulation actually are, and sprinkle it with a little bit of what Heavenly Father is like.
Paraphrasing and synthesizing both the Merriam-Webster and Online Oxford Dictionaries:
- Persuasion is to move someone to a belief, course of action, or position through reasoning.
- Manipulation is to control a person or situation through unfair means, especially to one’s own advantage.
When these two are put side-by-side, it’s easier to see the differences between them. The tricky part comes when we are trying to identify whether we are being manipulated or persuaded. Trying to gain clarity here becomes especially cloudy when we aren’t familiar with the influencer or the situation; when we don’t know the person.
Regarding our interactions with God then, how are we to know whether or not He is manipulating or persuading? Well, we have to try to understand and experience who God really is; we have to learn about His nature. To do this, we’ll need to spend some time getting to know Him. So let’s do that.
Why God Can Persuade, But Can’t Manipulate
First off, let’s state the obvious and then clarify it a little bit. God is perfect—obvious, heard it a million times. But how is He perfect? We use the word “perfect” as a comprehensive term to describe the nature of God because that’s how Jesus refers to Him in the New Testament.
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
We learn from the Greek translation that “perfect” really means “complete”, at least in this context. So Heavenly Father is complete. Completely loving, completely kind, completely pure, completely benevolent, and completely obedient to divine law. One divine law that fits neatly into this context—the context of persuasion and manipulation—is priesthood power.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41 says,
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only be persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentlesness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
Arguing God’s Omnipotence
Some argue that because God is perfect, He is also all-powerful and thus can/will/does make us do His will; in this way, He manipulates. Not only does this argument lack a serious understanding of the nature of God, but D&C 121:41 refutes this idea pretty clearly.
No power can be maintained (i.e. used) by virtue of possession. Just because Heavenly Father is perfectly powerful, does not mean that He can do whatever He wants and, by extension, control you or me. Besides, His benevolence makes manipulation impossible. He loves us too much and His intentions are too pure to even appear as manipulation.
Moreover, Heavenly Father is selfless and respects our agency. He created this world as a place for us to learn and grow through our choices. His plan is to help us to become like Him and receive all that He has (talk about 100% selfless!). To do this, He has given us the ability to choose between good and evil.
Why God Does What He Does
As our Father, He wants us to choose what is right because He wants us to be happy 😇. *SPOILER* Our happiness is all that He desires; He only wants to do good. As such, He has nothing to gain by manipulating us. Heavenly Father will never force us to choose His way, He will only offer it to us and try to persuade us that it’s good for us. If he did force us to choose His way, He would cease to be perfect and thus cease to be God. This is because He would no longer have our best interests at heart, but His own. This (among other reasons) is why God can (and does) persuade, but cannot manipulate.
A Warning About Persuasion
Now, I’d like to clarify something before we go any further because I can hear a distant, peeving voice saying, “but persuasion can be manipulative!” Well little voice, you’re right.
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, persuasion can be used as a tool of manipulation. This is why it is so important to have a personal relationship with God! When we understand who God is and have trust in Him, we can more fully understand why He would never even imagine trying to manipulate us; He simply does not want to. Rather, He would have us act for ourselves and exercise our agency. Satan, on the other hand, would not.
While Heavenly Father will never convince you to do something in an attempt to control you, Satan certainly will. So be aware and be vigilant in understanding which voice you’re hearing and heeding. Remember what Mormon said:
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 evii… is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good…
This is a sure-fire way for us to judge whether or not the argument we are hearing is from God or Satan. But in case you came to this article looking for specifics, let’s look at a few ways in which you can know that God is the one persuading and not Lucifer.
Ways In Which God Persuades
Taking from Isaiah, the Lord has said:
Come now, and let us reason together… though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…
Persuasion from God deals with reason and is concerned about hearing both sides of the argument; manipulation (involving persuasion or not) cares only about its own interests. When I read this scripture, I hear the Lord saying: “Let’s talk about this and figure it out together. I want to understand where you’re coming from.” Heavenly Father wants to hear our questions and concerns and wants to reason with us. And He’s hoping that you’re open to hearing His side, too. Satan, who uses manipulation, only cares about convincing you to do what He wants, regardless of your wants or beliefs.
The Lord also seeks not only to understand us but to teach us. The patient teaching of truth is one form of persuasion. This is because, in the words of brother Cory W. Leonard, “persuasion is at the core of the learning process…it changes the way we perceive and understand reality, influencing our attitudes and creating our vision of the world.”
This sounds a lot like the definition for repentance found in the Bible Dictionary. Persuasion is essential to teaching because it influences us bit by bit and isn’t worried about how long that’s going to take. Remember that Heavenly Father teaches us “line upon line; precept upon precept” and that He will teach you according to your understanding. He wants you to get the gospel but….like…really get it.
Discerning Between Evil Enticements and Good Ones
Lastly, let’s revisit Moroni 7:16. Mormon reminds us that if something is enticing us to do good, to serve God and to believe in Jesus Christ then that thing is from God. So if we are trying to discern whether we are being persuaded by God or manipulated by Satan, we can ask ourselves this: “Will doing this thing be good for me? for the world? for God? Will it bring me or others closer to Jesus Christ?” If the answer is yes, you can “with a perfect knowledge” know that this persuasive voice is God’s.
In the end, it serves as a good assurance to remember that God is Love. As such, He’ll never do anything to harm you or to take advantage of you because love and manipulation can’t coexist. All He wants is your happiness, which He freely offers you through His son, Jesus Christ, but you have to choose Him.