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Dear Gramps,
Do spirits have tangible forms that we as mortals can feel and see? Do our spirits look the same after we die as in the flesh? I understand that we can test to see if they are evil as they will try to shake our hands but true messengers will not. So it seems that one group has not a detectable form but another does. Can Satan physically harm us as mortal beings? I have read that Oliver Cowdrey wrestled with evil spirits? How can they have physical strength if they have no body?
James, from Mesa, AZ
Dear James,
Spirits indeed have tangible forms, for spirit is a form of matter—

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter (Doctrine & Covenants 131:7-8).

The spirits that inhabits our mortal bodies were, of course, full-grown adult spirits when they entered our bodies, and when we die they will emerge in essentially the same form as they entered our bodies at birth. Our physical appearance as mortals is patterned after the appearance of the spirit, such that if we were to see the spirit of a person that we knew in the flesh who had died, we would recognize who it was.
The fact that a righteous unembodied spirit will not try to shake hands with you and an evil spirit will, does not imply any difference in the spiritual make-up of the two, but only in the deceiving nature of the one. A righteous spirit will not respond to such a request, but an evil spirit will. However, when he tries to shake hands with you, you will feel nothing because you cannot feel spiritual material. We learn the following from D&C 124:4-8—

When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you. If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand. If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear–Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message. If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.

Satan can certainly impose physical harm, but I can give you no information on how he would do so other than to inspire wicked people to act in his behalf. However, he undoubtedly also has other means at his disposal, as reported by Joseph Smith during the experience of his first vision in the spring of 1820. He reported—

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction–not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being–(Joseph Smith-History 1:15-16).


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