An eternal gift of choice, moral agency (Part 2)
Satan’s attack on agency
We recognise the gift of agency as a central aspect of God’s plan proposed by Him in the great premortal council, and that “there was war in heaven” to defend and preserve it. Satan has not ceased his effort “to destroy the agency of man.” He promotes conduct and choices that limit a person’s freedom to choose by replacing the influence of the Holy Spirit with his own domination. Yielding to his temptations leads to a narrower and narrower range of choices until none remain and to addictions that leave one powerless to resist. While Satan cannot actually destroy law and truth, he accomplishes the same result in the lives of those who heed him by convincing them that whatever they think is right is right and that there is no ultimate truth; every man is his own god, and there is no sin.
Of course, Satan’s ongoing opposition is a useful and even necessary part of moral agency. The scripture states: It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter, they could not know the sweet.
Remember, that we retain the right and power of independent action. God does not intend that we yield to temptation. Like Jesus, we can gain all we need in the way of a mortal experience without yielding.
The central role of Jesus Christ
We have reviewed the elements of moral agency and its divine origins, but we must always remember that agency would have no meaning without the vital contribution of Jesus Christ. His central role began with His support of the Father’s plan and His willingness to become the essential Saviour under that plan. The plan required a setting for its implementation, and Jesus was instrumental in the creation of this planet for that purpose. Most important, while the Fall of Adam was a critical element of the plan, the Fall would have frustrated the plan if certain of its consequences were not mitigated by the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It was necessary in God’s plan for our future happiness and glory that we become morally free and responsible. For that to happen, we needed an experience apart from Him where our own choices would determine our destiny. The Fall of Adam provided the spiritual death needed to separate us from God and place us in this mortal condition as well as the physical death needed to provide an end to the mortal experience.
Without more, however, these deaths would have defeated the plan after having made it possible. Death had to be permitted, but it had to also be overcome or we could not return to the presence of God. Jacob, another prophet in the Book of Mormon, explained it this way:
For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection…
. . . For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself…
O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
So, if our separation from God and our physical death were permanent, moral agency would mean nothing. Yes, we would be free to make choices, but what would be the point? The end result would always be the same no matter what our actions: death with no hope of resurrection and no hope of heaven. Good or bad as we might choose to be, we would all end up, in Jacob’s words, “devils, angels to a devil.”
With resurrection through Jesus Christ, the Fall can achieve its essential purpose without becoming a permanent death sentence. “The grave must deliver up its captive bodies,” “hell must deliver up its captive spirits,” and “the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous” so that “the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.”
But there was one more thing that Christ needed to accomplish so that moral agency could have a positive potential. Just as death would doom us and render our agency meaningless but for the redemption of Christ, even so, without His grace, our bad choices or sins would leave us forever lost. There would be no way of fully recovering from our mistakes, and, being unclean, we could never live again in the presence of the “Man of Holiness.”
We cannot look to the law to save us when we have broken the law. We need a Saviour, a Mediator who can overcome the effects of our sins and errors so that they are not necessarily fatal. It is because of the Atonement of Christ that we can recover from bad choices and be justified under the law as if we had not sinned.
Professor C. Terry Warner stated: Human agency was purchased with the price of Christ’s suffering. This means that to those who blame God for allowing human suffering, Followers of Jesus Christ can respond that suffering is less important than the gift of agency, upon which everything else depends, and that none of us has paid a greater price for this gift than Christ.
The Saviour’s exemplary use of moral agency
The Saviour’s use of moral agency during His lifetime is an instructive example for us to follow. At one point in His teaching He revealed the principle that guided His choices: “He that sent me is with me: The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.” I believe that much of the Lord’s power is attributable to the fact that He never wavered in that determination. He had a clear, consistent direction. Whatever the Father desired, Jesus chose to do.
John reported the following response to Jesus’ statement that He did always those things that please the Father: As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then Jesus said to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
So, being Jesus’ obedient disciple just as He is the Father’s obedient disciple, leads to truth and freedom. Then He added, “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free, indeed.”
I recently read of a young British girl who learned in school about the characteristics of water along a shoreline that signal the approach of a tsunami. Two weeks later, on vacation with her family in Thailand, she observed those phenomena and insistently warned her parents and the people around her. They escaped to higher ground just in time when the December 26, 2004, tsunami hit south Asia. More than a 100 people owe their lives to that girl’s knowledge of certain truths of the natural world.
But the Lord’s statement that the truth will make us free has broader significance. “Truth,” He tells us, “is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” Possession of this knowledge of things past, present, and future is a critical element of God’s glory: Does anyone doubt that, as a consequence of possessing all light and truth, God possesses ultimate freedom to be and to do?
The Lord promises that if, in the exercise of our agency, we follow His example and do always those things that please Him and the Father, then we will come to know and understand all things:
We should, however, be encouraged by what John said of the Saviour: And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.
So, we might presume to follow in His footsteps and receive grace for grace and truth for truth until we also receive a fulness.
Samuel Enos Eghan