Taken for Granted
One of the things we assume in life, like we assume we will be able to take our next breath, is our ability to choose from moment to moment what we will do. When someone takes that ability away from us we feel an innate sense of injustice, like we have been robbed of something that is rightfully ours to have. It is in the ability to make choices that all power lies. And you can quote me on that.
Origin of choice
The single greatest cause of sorrow to God is our abuse of our own ability to make choices, yet he himself was willing to defend our right to make choices even though doing so costs him dearly. Our right to choose for ourselves is a sacred privilege.
In the grand council in heaven, before we came to earth, when our Father presented to us his plan for our progression and happiness, Christ was appointed to carry out God’s plan. But Christ had opposition in that council. Lucifer, also one of God’s sons, spoke up and said that if we all accepted God’s plan then many of us would be lost to Him because of our poor choices in mortality. If God would be willing to step down from his throne as head of the family, Lucifer would guarantee that not one soul would be lost, that all of God’s children would be returned to him. The price, however, would be the loss of our agency, our ability to choose for ourselves, and because he would shoulder the burden of saving every last soul himself, God would have to be willing to step aside and let Lucifer have all the glory.
When our Father went ahead and appointed Christ to carry out God’s original plan, Lucifer and his supporters rebelled, and there was war. Michael, one of the most valiant of all God’s children (who later became Adam) lead the fight, and Lucifer and his followers were cast down from heaven to earth and became Satan and his angels. God lost a third part of his entire family over that decision to make sure we never lost our ability to choose for ourselves.
Why is our agency so important?
Remember what God’s goal is for us; in Moses 1:39 he tells Moses that his work and his glory lies in bringing to pass our immortality and eternal life. Eternal life is God’s life, the kind of life He lives. In other words, all that he does is so his children can grow up to be like him and have what he has and do what he does. That is his soul purpose and reason for all that he does; it is all for us. We have his absolute love and devotion, all of his attention. The governance of the whole universe is with the sole purpose of bringing to pass the exaltation of his children. Now that is divine love.
Is it any wonder that God the Father and Jesus Christ were willing to make whatever sacrifices were needed to ensure that we all have the ability to choose for ourselves, even if that meant allowing a third part of God’s children to use that very power of moral agency to achieve their own destruction? They rejected their Father’s plan for their own exaltation. This very plan allowed the other two-thirds the ability to move on to earth to prove themselves worthy of returning to God one day. God will never interfere with our agency, but neither will He shield us from the consequences of our own actions. That is part of the maturing process that is mortality.
The prophet Lehi in the Book of Mormon, as he lay dying, taught his son Jacob the importance of opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2: 5-30). In order for us to learn to mature and grow to be like God, God set up as an eternal law, an opposition in all things. It is mandatory for everything to have its opposite, good and evil, light and dark, happiness and misery, health and sickness. Think about it, without everything having its opposite available to be chosen we would never be able to learn all the lessons associated with choice, and living with consequences. These are basic lessons of maturity. These are lessons we spend decades trying to teach to our children, for without the mastery of being able to make wise choices, the result is always sorrow. True happiness can only come from the wise selection of the right choices. This principle of choice and the ability to make them is what the whole war in heaven was fought over.
Bringing it down to earth
Now mentally follow this same battle of principle that was fought in heaven down to the present day, and you will see that the fight is still going on. God tells us that when we obey his commandments, His laws of happiness, we will find happiness. In opposition to those laws, Satan tells us that if we choose things other than God’s commandments that we will be really happy, we will have thrills, excitement, joy! But what starts as a high of some kind always leads to addiction of some sort. Addiction by its very nature robs us of the ability to choose for ourselves. Addiction by its very nature is slavery, exactly what Satan wanted for us in the first place. But now Satan has the added pleasure of not only getting us over into his camp, but he can destroy our chances for happiness through God’s plan at the same time. For Satan it is a double win, he has his revenge on us for not following him, and he has his revenge on God for rejecting him in heaven and consigning him to endless misery for the attempted takeover in heaven.
I know this is redundant, but I think it needs to be restated. Just as Satan’s plan, in its very nature brings slavery of some sort into every aspect of it, so God’s commandments to us brings freedom of choice and freedom from sorrow in every aspect of His plan. Now remember, that earth was meant to be a proving ground, this is the place where our agency is taken out for a spin and we are put to the test every day of our lives to see who we will ultimately choose to follow, God or Satan. There is no other choice, following our own desires and whims is a vote for Satan’s plan (Matthew 12:30). That option is part of Satan’s design and is a false notion. Earth life was designed as a perfect balance between good and evil, leaving us, initially, in the center between the two, free to choose or be enticed by the one or the other. There is no third choice.
Our first thought is, “Well why don’t I remember all of this? Why can’t I remember what happened in the premortal life?” Good question. If we kept our memory then we would not be able to make a choice that really revealed to us the true desires of our hearts. If a police officer is driving right next to you, what happens to your tendency to speed? The same thing would happen if we had a complete awareness of our relationship with God. That knowledge would affect our ability to make a real choice between good and evil. This veil of forgetfulness is the only way for God to allow us to make our choices, unencumbered by any memory of Him.
In doing this, He knows that some of us will choose poorly, that some of us will be won over to Satan. He knows that we will stumble and fall. That is why Christ was set apart and ordained to be our Savior. His mission was to perform a sacred ordinance (I call it that, but I don’t have a scriptural reference that also refers to it as an ordinance) called the Atonement. The atonement is a payment on a grand scale, where someone who is without sin or penalty, pays for the sins or shoulders the penalties of someone else. This allows him to set his own terms for the payment of their penalties for the laws they broke. I strongly encourage you to watch the video at the end of this article by Pres. Boyd K. Packer on the Atonement.
Agency and Law
God has told us that where there is no law there is no punishment. If a man is not taught that murder is wrong, then if he murders he cannot be held accountable for that act. That is why we were given commandments. Commandments serve at least two purposes: they spell out for us the rules of happiness, which if followed will result in long-term happiness, both here in mortality and in the eternities, and two, they make it possible for God to judge us fairly, because we have a set of laws, and we either live them or we don’t. So anyone who says that you can be saved only through belief in Christ is ignorant of the scriptures or is just blowing smoke. We cannot be saved unless we keep the commandments, and the commandments all require work and change of behavior.
Over and over again the Lord in the scriptures tells us that by their works you can know whether they be good or evil. When the books are opened in the judgment day, one of the main ways in which we will be judged is by our works. Works alone won’t save us, but you also cannot say that they have no place in our salvation. It is in the end, the grace of God, through Christ’s atonement that saves us, but we are required by God to do all that we can to show our appreciation for that saving grace. That appreciation is demonstrated through our obedience to God’s commandments. Anyone who says that salvation is a freebie, requiring no personal effort, is selling snake oil.
Bringing it home
So moral agency, like taking another breath, is something we can take for granted. God, our Father, made sure of that. But it is also often mistakenly referred to as “free agency,” while it most assuredly is not “free.” Moral Agency is expensive, it cost us a third part of our family to keep it. But having it also makes it possible, through repentance and the atonement of Christ, to return to our Heavenly Father and walk back into his presence having had all our many sins forgiven. The gift of moral agency allows us to realize the desires of our heart to be with him and live as He lives. We will know in that day that this proving ground was not for God’s benefit – it is for our benefit. By choosing to live and keep the laws of happiness, the commandments, we prove to ourselves, and to our Heavenly Father, that happiness is all we ever wanted, and that we are willing to make any choice, no matter how difficult to defend our right to that happiness.
We value and protect our own right to moral agency. Being able to make up our own mind about things is more important to us than almost anything. But if I am willing to defend my right to choose, I must also be willing to defend my neighbor’s right to choose as well. What’s good for the goose and all that. When we serve others through ministering to their needs we must become as patient as God. We cannot expect that just because we see the rightness of something that someone else must immediately accept it and run with it as we preach it. We may have taken a long time arriving to this point of obedience to God’s laws, and by rights those whom we serve have to be given whatever time and process they require to arrive at the same decision, or even a different decision. It is, after all, their choice. But no matter what our neighbor’s choice in life, our love should be as unwavering and as constant for them as God’s love is for us.
Click on the title of the video to hear a talk by
Boyd K. Packer on Atonement, Agency, Accountability