God’s Gift of Agency
There are a few things that people say that make me chuckle. “The Devil made me do it” or “I have no choice in the matter” or my favorite: “If God were real, why does he just no show himself?” Unfortunately life is not that easy, the Devil cannot and God will not make us do anything; they can’t and we always have a choice in things. That choice is called agency. Agency is a fundamental part of the Plan of Salvation and has been since the beginning. The Lord speaking to the prophet Enoch said:
The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; (Moses 7:32)
Agency is so critical to God’s plan for us, Satan has sought to destroy the agency that God has given us. Again in Moses we read:
Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:3-4)
In the Garden of Eden, Adam was given a choice he could eat of fruit of every tree in the garden except for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were told that if they did partake of the fruit of that tree they would die. Not understanding God’s plan for his children, Satan thought he we thwart the plan by getting Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, but as Adam and Eve later found out, he actually helped them make the necessary choice to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil causing the Fall of Man and putting the Plan of Salvation into motion. After partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and were forced to work for everything. Later they were taught the Gospel and they said:
10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:10-11)
Agency is so important to God’s plan for us that even God will not force us to keep his commandments or allow Satan to take our agency away. We must make the choice to obey or disobey; no one can force those decisions. The prophet Lehi in the Book of Mormon taught his sons the importance of opposition in our lives:
11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. (2 Nephi 2:11, 15-16)
Another part of agency is that we must choose to believe in God and his Son Jesus Christ. Through our choices to obey the commandments and to believe that God exists we can come to know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that it has been restored to the earth again. Faith is an important part of agency and our choice to believe. There must be the possibility that God is real and just as much a possibility that he is not real. We choose by faith to follow the path that leads to God and forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ. If God could be proven through scientific discovery, it would destroy agency. In a devotional talk at Brigham Young University Brother Dearden explained it this way:
“As much as I love science as a means for discovering truth, my life’s experience suggests that it will never be possible to arrive at full spiritual knowledge by purely scientific methods. I know this because if such a course were possible, it would destroy our agency, and the Lord does not work that way. Agency is sacred. If we could prove the gospel true and always know how to act purely through reason or logic or science, only choices in accord with the gospel would be reasonable or acceptable. Correct choices would become obvious with minimal effort on our part. That was essentially the plan all of us rejected in the premortal existence. Although sometimes our choices have consequences that limit our future choices, our Father in Heaven never compromises our agency. (“The Sacred Gift of Agency”, David V. Dearden, BYU Devotional Address, March 31, 2009).
While we have our agency to choose to believe in the reality of God or not, it does not change the absolute truth that he does exist. President Spencer W. Kimball explained this when he said:
“God, our Heavenly Father—Elohim—lives. That is an absolute truth. All four billion of the children of men on the earth might be ignorant of him and his attributes and his powers, but he still lives. All the people on the earth might deny him and disbelieve, but he lives in spite of them. They may have their own opinions, but he still lives, and his form, powers, and attributes do not change according to men’s opinions. In short, opinion alone has no power in the matter of an absolute truth. He still lives. And Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Almighty, the Creator, the Master of the only true way of life—the gospel of Jesus Christ. The intellectual may rationalize him out of existence and the unbeliever may scoff, but Christ still lives and guides the destinies of his people. That is an absolute truth; there is no gainsaying.” (“Absolute Truth”, Spencer W. Kimball, BYU Devotional, September 6, 1977)
One other important part of agency is that there are consequences that come with the choices we make. President Dieter F. Uchtodorf had this to say about our agency:
You have agency and you are free to choose. But there is actually no free agency. Agency has its price. You have to pay the consequences of your choices.
Like gravity or drag in aerodynamics, agency will collect its fee through accountability—just like the foolish man who chose to step out of the window of a high building had to accept the consequences of his choice. He had to learn the hard way that “it ain’t the free fall that hurts; it’s the sudden stop.”
Agency is a spiritual matter. Without awareness of alternatives, you could not choose. Agency is so important in your lives that you not only can choose obedience or rebellion but you must. During this life you cannot remain on neutral ground—you cannot abstain from either receiving or rejecting the light from God. (“The Wind Beneath Your Wings”, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, BYU Devotional, November 11, 2003)
The final principle that comes with agency is that our Heavenly Father knew that we would not live in this world and always make the right choices, nor would we always choose to be obedient to his commandments. We are not perfect and therefore would not live perfect lives. From the beginning God knew that Adam and Eve had to choose to eat the forbidden fruit for the Gospel Plan to be put in action. He also knew that only one would be able to live a perfect life and that would be His only begotten Son in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Again from the Book of Mormon we read of Lehi’s teachings of the importance of choosing to believe in the redemptive power of the atonement of Jesus Christ:
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are afree according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; (2 Nephi 2:25-28)
Agency is God’s gift to us his children. We show our love for him by using that agency to choose to believe in him and in His Son Jesus Christ. We also use that agency to accept our weaknesses and give our sins away and rely on the atonement of Jesus Christ to help us overcome our sins and the times we make choices that take us off the gospel path. I know that these principles are true and are wonderful when we understand them. I also know that we are blessed when we choose to follow the path that brings us closer to Jesus Christ and back to the presence of our Eternal Father with our families.
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