We had wonderful talks in our Sacrament Meeting this past Sunday and I asked my friend, Thomas, for a copy of his talk to share on my blog. Enjoy!
Agency(direct comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Social Scientists should probably not be allowed to have children. To us children are a readily available source of subjects and the material for perpetual experiments:
-FHE Lesson: put ice cream on two tables, tie children together (Thomas explained that when his kids were younger, he was trying to teach them a lesson on cooperation. He placed a bowl of ice cream on two tables. He put the kids between the two tables, and he tied a rope around each of their waists so that they would, in theory, need to cooperate to move to either table. He told the kids that if they could reach both bowls of ice cream, they could each eat a bowl, but if they only reached one bowl, no one could have ice cream. Needless to say, the social experiment was a complete flop... the younger son ended up with the rope around his neck... the older daughter was in pain from the weight of her brother tightening the rope on her waist as she dragged him. Thomas' wife was laughing hysterically... Everyone at church was laughing as they heard the tale and my kids are still talking about the story).
-Lincoln and Nemo (Toddler Lincoln loves to watch Finding Nemo multiple a day. His favorite part is when the seagulls yell - "Mine, Mine, Mine!")Lincoln is approaching two years and is discovering his ability to control his course in this world (agency). In the past he was quite happy to be carted around. Now some of his most frequent words are: “me too”, I wan some” and “mine”.
-Griffin: AKA the happy destroyer is Lincoln’s teacher about the advantages of exercising agency: Their exploits clearly show that agency is not always a great idea.
-pool side chaise lounge -fingernail polish on the carpet
-coins in the new car CD player -cabinet door demolished
-pool pump -countless spilled groceries
-the gift of agency or the ability to choose for themselves was a bold venture. Let’s try to relate this to our day. Consider sending your 16 year old son on an un-chaperoned trip. Let’s send him to a high end hotel right in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. Let’s send him on this adventure (misadventure) in company with companions who are want to live large, to live on the edge, who live for pleasure and gratification of their physical appetites… How, I ask you, is this different that the world in which Heavenly Father’s children are now arriving?
The Primacy of Agency
Agency is one of those fundamental principles of truth and is at the core of our salvation. Like the concept of atonement, so many things hinge on or are connected to it. Consider how agency is related to choice, freedom, progression, consequences, faith, happiness, eternal life, the plan of salvation and yes, the atonement. It is impossible to talk about any of these without including the principle of agency.
In fact, how each of us masters or appropriately uses our agency will be the main qualification for where we end up in eternity. Agency was the issue in question that led to the war in heaven. The casualties, the number of deaths in that war, makes any of the later wars on earth look like minor squirmishes. Imagine billions of people and 1/3rd of them are killed. That is a death toll of 33%. In WWII, the death toll was about 3.5% (world pop: 2 billion, all deaths: 70 million -23 million military, 47 million civilian). That is 3.5% of people alive on the earth died in connection to the issues and conflicts at question in World War II. The war in heaven was almost beyond our ability to imagine and at the issue at the heart of the conflict was agency.
(Moses 4:3) Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him… I caused that he should be cast down;
On this topic, Elder Hales taught us in the last conference: Those who followed Satan lost the opportunity to receive a mortal body, live on earth, and progress. Because of the way they used their agency, they lost their agency.
Here is a truth that provides great insight and clarification about life. It helps us see the world, society and temptations for what they really are: The war in heaven is not over, it has simply shifted to a new front. We fight on earth now instead of in heaven. The very same things Satan tried to take from you in heaven he is now trying to take from you on earth. Central among these is your agency. He is attempting to convince us to follow him, to come to his side and he is a master at this task. He has had millions of years experience and already has at least a 33% success rate. He lies and makes promises he cannot and has no intention to keep. In the case of agency he promises rewards and freedom for those who follow his cause. Ironically and sadly, like Cane, that freedom turns into eternal dead ends:
28 And it came to pass that Cain took one of his brothers' daughters to wife, and they loved Satan more than God.
30 And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret.
Wherefore Cain … gloried in his wickedness.
And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.
33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands. -Moses 5:33
For those he cannot entice outright, those good and honorable people who love God and eschew evil he employs more subtle strategies.
Imitation and Adulterations of Agency
One way he does this is by imitating truth and providing cheap –but attractive- counterfeits. He wants to be our God (which, incidentally, was also a fundamental element of the war in heaven). Consider some of God’s truths and his counterfeits:
Love – lust
Priesthood – Priestcraft
Happiness – pleasure
Self-worth – self-esteem
God wants to give us things (priesthood, patriarchal blessings, families, life, air, health, children, talents, knowledge, insight, the Holy Ghost, peace, endowments, assurance, faith, forgiveness, responsibilities and yes, agency) Satan wants to take these very same things away. Think about it, let’s take just one example: the institution of the family. Think about the world and the attacks on the family, how it is being broken apart from the way marriage is being profaned, to the prevalence of adultery and premarital immorality. We live in a world where 40% of all children are born to unwed mothers.
Satan’s corollary to God’s gift of agency is addiction. God wants us to have choice and to exercise that choice in order to come back and be with him. Satan wants to force us, it was his plan from the beginning. His manner of forcing us is to take away our agency with what might be the most oppressive tool in his arsenal: addiction. Satan’s counterfeit for motivating human behavior and ultimately gaining our allegiance is addiction.
Life, not only the scriptures, is full of examples of how the devil takes everything from his followers and abandons them in their moment of greatest need. King Noah and Korihor are only two examples but the moral to their stories as clearly pointed out: “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.”
Freedom and Agency: not free-agency
Clarification: Elder Packer has spent considerable time trying to clarify one very subtle but essential point when it comes to agency. The pairing of the words free with agency. We sometimes talk about free agency. But he points out that never in the scriptures are these two words used. They clearly have a correlation but there is nothing free about agency. It was given and defended at great cost. Agency, in a strict sense is not freedom. When we exercise our agency correctly we do become more free. When we exercise our agency against the laws of eternity –in other words, when we sin- we become less-free. We are enslaved.
The popular conception of freedom is fundamentally inaccurate. Men are not free from any and all influences, powers and authorities –they do not live their lives in a vacuum where they may do whatever they choose at any particular time. Men will always have a master who exercises control, influence, coercion (call it what you will) over them. It is folly and futility to escape this. The modern or progressive idea of freedom has given man the idea that he is entirely free and answerable only to himself, to his conscience -that each of us is some kind of political, spiritual and emotional free agent or sovereign, autonomous being. While we do possess agency which is the ability to choose (to make our minds up for ourselves and proceed along some course of action), it is a false assumption and erroneous extension to suppose agency makes us omnipotent or exists outside other equally fundamental eternal principles. Both people and law impose upon us and we are bound by their influence. We will have some entity exercising authority and imposing influence over us. Agency does not make us immune or remove us from being a subject to higher powers but it allows us to decide who we will have as our overseer. Satan operates in confusion, misinterpretation and redefinition when he cannot entice with outright lies. He has confounded the concepts of freedom and agency and caused as much damage by corrupting true doctrine (and our conception of) as he would if he completely destroyed it. A knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel, the warning voice of the prophets and the companionship of the quiet but powerful voice of the Holy Ghost
Lehi was one such prophet who taught with clarity:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; 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. (2 Nephi 2:27)
Laurel’s dad described what he called the Law of Lousy options… the main point being that our poor decisions frequently lead us to a situation where we have few options -none of which are attractive. Elder Hales described the same principle by way of a personal experience:
In my youth I learned an important lesson about how our actions may limit our freedom. One day my father assigned me to varnish a wooden floor. I made the choice to begin at the door and work my way into the room. When I was almost finished, I realized I had left myself no way to get out. There was no window or door on the other side. I had literally painted myself into a corner. I had no place to go. I was stuck.
Whenever we disobey, we spiritually paint ourselves into a corner and are captive to our choices. Though we are spiritually stuck, there is always a way back. (Ensign, 11/10)
A powerful but brief explanation about the relationship between agency, choices and freedom is worthy of our memorization:
"While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices we are tied to the consequences of those choices. Bad choices surrender later freedoms to choose."
-Russell M. Nelson
Agency, Submission and Ownership
There is another lie Satan tries to establish in connection to agency. He tries to portray our obedience to God as limiting. We frequently see the commandments as restrictive of our freedom. We can’t do this and that (see “R” rated movies, can’t date before we are 16, can’t drink or smoke, etc.) or we have to do certain things (go to church for 3 hours on Sunday, pay 10% of our income, go on a mission). God’s commandments put such a cramp in our style and when we exercise our agency to follow these standards we are being controlled, oppressed, we are not able to be our true selves. And so he convinces us to rebel, to not be bound by such restrictions especially since they cannot be proven. If we want to be free we should be able to do whatever we want! You don’t need to listen to anyone, you can be your own self, choose your own way. You are in charge, you have freedoms and rights and no one is in charge of you. Many teenagers have fallen victim to this line and to this lie of thinking. Here is the truth about our agency, about God and about the Devil. In the end we will be subjects to one of two people. There is no third option. We will not be our own independent self.
Free agency is baseball and football: players enter into a contract with a team. They are bound and give their best efforts for the success of the team. At the end of their term they become free agents and can decide whose team they want to be on, who they want to play for, who will give them the best opportunity to achieve their goals. In a way mortality is our period of free agency: we are in a period of time where we must choose between God and Satan. Once we make a choice we are bound to that team. Unlike a ball player we do not make a choice once but each of our choices moves us to one side or the other. Through a hundred weekly decisions we are becoming, through the exercise of our moral agency, either a being who is like God in character, substance and will (i.e. righteous) or like Satan in character, substance and will (i.e. wicked).
We will be subject to God or we will be subject to Satan. It is a question of who we want for our master. Do we want someone who gives us things or one who takes everything that we have. That is the choice irregardless of how the world positions it or what Satan promises. The good news is that we have agency, we can choose for ourselves:
Helaman 14:30-31 (Samuel the Lamanite)
And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good … ye can do evil.
God will not force himself, his truths or his Spirit upon any man or society. To do so would be to violate man’s agency which is our right to exercise even if it takes us all the way to hell and we then present it to the one being whose sole objective was to take it from us since the councils of heaven.
Agency: Evidence of God’s Trust and Satan’s Contempt
Agency is evidence either that God is crazy or it is the most profound illustration/evidence for the amount of God’s trust in his children. Since craziness is not one of the characteristics of deity (see Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith) we must conclude that along with all knowing, all loving and all powerful, God has perfect –that is to say “all”- confidence in our abilities. How many of us as parents have and express this to our children? Now I should point out that confidence in our abilities is significantly different than confidence in our actions. He is surely disappointed in our actions when we “are less than we might have been” but he never lacks confidence or faith in our ability to be like He is. This is a curious twist on what we call the first principle of the gospel: we are to have faith in Him and his son, Jesus Christ precisely because he has perfect faith in us. This foundation of faith, confidence and trust at the heart of our parent-child relationship goes both ways. We have faith in God and God has faith in us. It is the perfect family foundation on which to grow.
How our good intentions can destroy God’s plan: Short-circuiting agency
Agency is a double edged sword. Any parent who has sat on the sidelines watching a child exercise their agency in self-destructive ways begins to taste godly anguish. Agency is the tool with which we fashion our own heaven or hell. Agency must be respected at all costs -even at the cost of losing 1/3 of your children. Heaven is well aware of the price that will be paid for extending the gift of agency.
Our good intentions we can sometimes make things worse in matters of agency:
"Parents, don't make the mistake of purposely intervening to soften or eliminate the natural consequences of your child's deliberate decisions to violate the commandments. Such acts reinforce false principles, open the door for more serious sin, and lessen the likelihood of repentance. "
-Richard G. Scott, Ensign 5/92, p. 34
“God so loved that he would not shield us from the perils of freedom, from the right and responsibility to choose. So deep is his love and so precious that principle that he, who was conscious of the consequences, required that we choose. Lucifer had no love in his heart, no real concept of freedom or respect for it. He had no confidence in the principle or in us. He argued for forced salvation, for imposed survival, for an agencyless round trip to the earth and back again.
If we do not really … believe in free agency, we may be inclined to impose our will on others for what we think is their best good. If we love (them) enough, we will not do that, even at the risk of failure. if we truly love we will never seek to impose our will and deprive others of their agency. That is, after all, Satan’s way. -Agency and Love”, Marion D. Hanks (Oct. 1983)
2 Nephi 2
25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
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 free 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;
29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.
30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part,
"There is no agency without choice. There is no choice without freedom. And there is no freedom without risk, nor true freedom without responsibility."
-Boyd K. Packer
"While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices we are tied to the consequences of those choices. Bad choices surrender later freedoms to choose."
-Russell M. Nelson
“While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences of those choices. We are free to take drugs or not. But once we choose to use a habit-forming drug, we are bound to the consequences of that choice. Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will!”
-Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, 11/88 p
“In every age we are faced with a choice. We can trust in our own strength, or we can journey to higher ground and come unto Christ. Each choice has a consequence. Each consequence, a destination.”
-Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, 11/05, p. 19