I think all of us (at least all of us who have been familiar with sports) at one time or another have heard or participated in a debate of offense vs. defense. We’ve likely even heard the phrase ‘the best offense is a good defense’ or even ‘the best defense is a good offense’. Both of these tend to be supported by those who specialize in one area or the other. For example – a fantastic offense (think of Oregon in years past) would likely feel confident enough in their talents, skills, stamina, and strategy that by the end of the game they (the offense) would have produced more results (a.k.a. points) than their opponents’ offense therefore allowing them to come out victorious in the end (without too much thought about defense – or at least what appeared to be a much less focused emphasis on defense). There are others (think of Alabama in years past, the SEC, or maybe even Provo High School basketball in years past) who subscribe to the opposite school of thought in the sense that they feel confident enough in their defensive strategy, skills, schemes, and stamina that by the end of the game, their defense allowed fewer points than their opponents defense did, also allowing them to come out victorious in the end.
Now, the important part of relating this concept to a spiritual setting is not whether you subscribe to the offensive or to the defensive mindset (as both have very valid points), but whether we can truly and fully understand the concept of an offensive defense and a defensive offense – at the same time. Hold that thought – because before we can understand that concept we need to understand exactly what the traditional differences are between offense and defense.
Offense: There are two main definitions for offense and I think both of them are appropriate in this particular context. The first is: the act of attacking, or a pattern or style of scoring attack, and the second is: something that offends or displeases (or the act of offending or displeasing). The main (traditional) idea is that when we are offensive, we are in the state of attacking, or on the move attempting to dismantle, outsmart, outplay, or be stronger than any defensive attempt made by our opponent. Depending on the type of game you are playing, this might be one play at a time (football), or it might be a sequence of plays off and on (basketball or soccer), a very established set of events (half inning in baseball), or a one-on-one defense/offense showdown such as boxing, tennis, or fencing. The whole point of offense is to force the opponents defense to retreat, give in, or be moved allowing us to gain the goal, or in other words, to force the opponents defense to surrender.
Defense: The best definition for defense in this context is: resistance against attack; or the practice or art of defending against attack. The main (traditional) idea is that while on defense, we are not actively attacking, but straining to prevent an attack from the opponents offense. There are just as many strategies, schemes, and formats for defensive positioning, all with the goal of strengthening the defensive stance against the opposing offense. Similar to the offense described above, there are times when it is performed one play at a time, one sequence at a time, in a series, or in a one-on-one showdown. The whole point of defense is to not allow the opponents offense to gain ground or score, or in other words – to force the opponents offense to fail.
With this understanding, it is important for us to realize that there are some types of competition, especially in individual competition (boxing, fencing, karate, sumo, chess, etc.) where the lines (strategies, functions) between offense and defense are not entirely clear. This may make it increasingly difficult for casual observers (and maybe even seasoned observers) to understand if the individuals are taking a defensive stance or an offensive stance, which is which, and when the transition between the two takes place. They may just see ‘fighting’ or ‘some type of competition in which two people (or teams) are fighting to achieve the same goal’ – which is to win – let’s be clear on that. That does not, I repeat, that does not discount the fact that there are two very different styles and approaches being utilized by each team (offense and defense) at the same time.
Now, back to the initial debate of offense vs. defense and which stance is better – and I think for all of us the answer is easy: it’s both – at once. Especially if we are to ‘liken all things unto ourselves’ and make this a spiritual discussion – we need the best of both worlds. We need a strong defense, and we need a strong offense – and we need them at the same time. We need an offense that is literally relentless, and we need a defense that absolutely refuses to yield. We need an offense that is ‘sharper than a two edged sword’, and we need a defense that can withstand the exceeding fury from Satan himself.
So, how is this to be done? How can our defense also be our offense? And how can our offense also be our defense? The logical answer is to:
- . Arm ourselves with power that is simultaneously offensive and defensive
- . Understand that as participants in the ultimate battle between good and evil being defensive is very offensive to our opponent (Satan).
What kind of power is both offensive and defensive?
Before we think of the type of power, it may help if we recall that the places (very literally places of refuge from the storm) that we commonly refer to and attend in order to rest from the constant storm of evil to bolster our defense are in fact the same places that we attend in order to bolster our offense. For example, our homes are a very real defense against the storm, but they are also the places where we arm ourselves and our children with faith, with testimony, and ‘with the sword of truth and right’ (See Hymn 259). This defense creates a very real power that we can use offensively. The temple is another place that we can go to be literally away from the cares of the world and mend our spiritual defenses. But do not forget that the temple is the one place on earth where we can receive an ‘endowment of power’.
In addition to the places that we go to receive this power, we have tools that can help us receive this power. The scriptures, living prophets, and maybe the best of all – direct and unlimited communication with the source of said power who is willing (eager even), to bestow as much of this power on us as we are able to bear and use. This power (the kind that is both offensive and defensive) is the power of the gospel. This power comes from earnestly seeking, repeatedly asking, and righteously using it. It comes from obedience. It comes from knowledge. It comes from exercising your faith. It comes from fasting and prayer. It comes from sharing it with others. It comes from consistent, diligent, and steady seeking, using, and serving. It comes from God. It comes as a gift made available through priesthood ordinances and temple covenants. It speaks to us and is confirmed to our hearts through the Holy Ghost and it is all made available through the miraculous atonement of our savior Jesus Christ. It is available to everyone and it is the greatest power there is.
Being defensive is very offensive and being offensive is very defensive.
As we steadily and diligently acquire this power and as we understand the defensive use of this power is very offensive to our opponent and the offensive use of this power creates a great defense for us. In fact, the more we use this power, the previously clear lines between offense and defense become less and less distinguishable – and we are simply ‘watching with all perseverance’ (see Eph. 6:18). The goal is to get to this point (watching), where there is not a series, or play of offense followed by a series or play of defense. We want to get to the point where our offense is on full attack mode at the same time that our defense is operating in 4th and goal mode where we cannot give an inch.
This process can become so developed within us that our opponent will be confused as to which state they are in or should be in to combat us. They will think they are in the midst of an offensive attack only to realize (when it’s much too late) that they have been misled all along the way by our offensive defense. A perfect example of this is in Alma 52 where the majority of the Lamanite army is pursuing a portion of the Nephite army (led by Teancum), and during this pursuit (since the Lamanites saw the Nephites start to flee) they ‘took courage and pursued them with vigor’ and ‘supposed by their numbers to overpower Teancum’ (vs 23-24). At this point, the Lamanites (in their minds) are clearly playing offense, meanwhile, another portion of the Nephite army (led by Moroni) took possession of the Lamanite controlled city of Mulek (also playing offense) without much resistance and yet another portion of the Nephite army (led by Lehi) is waiting to meet the Lamanites near the city Bountiful. When the Lamanites meet Lehi (who had met with Teancum) and his army the Lamanites ‘fled in much confusion’ likely because they thought they were on the offensive side only to discover that the Nephites were much better at offense in this battle and they had not planned on a defensively offensive approach. So, the Lamanites attempt to flee back to their base (the city of Mulek) and outrun Lehi only to run into Moroni and the portion of his army fresh from their overtaking the city (which no doubt the Lamanites realized immediately) finding themselves in an extremely defenseless position (surrounded by offensive Nephites). This battle ends bad for the Lamanites, and there are key phrases (which lead to further understanding) in verses 33 and 34. “And it came to pass that Jacob, being their leader (of the Lamanites), having an unconquerable spirit he led the Lamanites forth to battle with exceeding fury against Moroni…Jacob was determined to slay them and cut his way through to the city of Mulek (back on offense). But behold, Moroni and his men were more powerful; therefore they did not give way”. The Nephite army was definitely offensive (trapping, cornering, taking the city of Mulek), but at the same time, they were extremely defensive to the Lamanite fury that ‘they did not give way’. This duplicity of strength (offense and defense simultaneously) was so effective that the Lamanites ‘being much confused, knew not whither to go or to strike’ (vs. 36). This is effectively defending and offending the opponent until they are defeated.
Moroni and his captains knew how to fight. They knew how to play offense and defense, and they knew how to play them at the same time. They knew how to acquire power and use it. They learned this so well in fact, that if we (all of us here and now) ‘had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men’ (Alma 48:17). This is amazing. But before we deflate ourselves with the thought that ‘nobody could be as awesome as Moroni’, let’s remember that the very next verse gives us hope since he (Moroni) ‘was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God…and ‘Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni…” (Alma 48:18-19). It can be done. It must be done. We can do it. We must do it. We can arm ourselves with such power that we can continually play defense by ‘not giving way’ and continually play offense ‘by gaining power’ and cause our opponents to ‘flee in much confusion’.
As Sheri Dew put it, ‘it seems clear that the only way to fight the fire and brimstone of hell prepared for Lucifer and those who follow him is through the fire and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the fire of testimony’ (See her book ‘God Wants a Powerful People’ – pg. 80). I can think of some pretty impressive firepower rooted in faith. The fire of a burning, unwavering, unshakeable testimony of Jesus Christ, his prophet of the restoration Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon. The fire of obedience and love for truth and right. The fire of the spirit as it literally burns in our hearts. The fire that we can call on to defend and protect our souls. The fire of the gospel as it strengthens us, quickens our understanding, expands our visions, and motivates us to become like Christ himself. This is the great offensive and defensive power.
Let us become great, immovable rocks planted firmly on the shore, with foundations in and on and through Jesus Christ and his gospel truths. Let us withstand (defensively) the constant barrage of waves as they roll in from Satan and his followers with their malicious intent to weaken and destroy our homes and our families and our identities and potential. Let us ‘not give way’ and refuse to yield. While we are constantly withstanding these waves, let us move together (offensively) to limit his reach and his impact. Let us offensively defend the shore becoming more and more powerful by moving further and further out to sea while behind us, the trail of our faith and power is creating a more ‘firm foundation’ of rock for us and others to stand on. Let this continue slowly but surely until at last the small puddle of what used to his great sea of evil is surrounded on all sides by ‘mountains of the Lord’ firmly rooted in Jesus Christ, radiating his pure light, love and truth. Let this be Satan’s last view as the walls close in. Family after family linked together in love, the unit he attacked so fervently to destroy, becoming at last the most powerful weapon of all, causing him to ‘weep and to wail, and gnash his teeth’ in one final attempt at glorious darkness only to be extinguished by the piercing and pure light of Christ.