By J. Kenneth Doty
If there is one gift or blessing from God that sets mankind apart from all of God’s other creations, it would be the gift of agency. The opportunity to make our own choices in this life, to choose what we will be, what we will do, and how we will do it, indeed sets us apart from all the other creations of all the worlds that God has made.
Let me call your attention to chapter 4 in the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. This is a description of the creation that God gave to Abraham. It is interesting to me to read of the several phases of the creation process and to observe how each phase was evaluated with some unusual statements. For example, the waters were divided upon the orders of the Gods, “…and it was so even as they ordered” (verse 7).
In verse 10, concerning the dry land, “…and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.” Verse 18 says, “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” And verse 25, referring to the beasts, “…and the Gods saw they would obey.”
So all that was created or organized was done so with the provision that each creation would perform its prescribed function and purpose upon the principle of obedience! These things have no choice. The amazing things is that they have continued in that level of obedience. How else could we, mankind, be able to depend on the vital functions of maintaining our environment that allows us to live as we do?
But when God created man, (the scripture says organized), He did something very different. He taught Adam and Eve all that they could do, explained what He wanted them to do (commandments), and what he did NOT want them to do. And then God said something entirely different from all the other creations: “Nevertheless thou mayest choose for thyself!” Why? Men and women of this world are his spiritual children!
In the Book of Mormon, Lehi explains it very clearly when he taught about the choice Adam and Eve made that led to “The Fall.”
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that He may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because they have been 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 has given” (2 Nephi 2:25-26).
I am convinced, and so witness, that mankind has such a great freedom of choice that no one can compel us to do anything that we are not willing to do; or, by that same token, there is nothing that can prevent us from doing anything we wish to do!
In fact, the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – and when we obtain any blessing from God it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
How simple it is. Learn the law, live the law, get the blessing! You could even substitute the word “success” for “blessing.” Or add the word “success” along with the word “blessing,” if you wish. It still works! That is what we do in developing our careers in this life. We learn the knowledge, the skills, and/or the crafts of any career and then we practice the skills and apply the knowledge, and practice and apply until we get pretty good at it. Then, finally, we begin to gain some success – get the blessing. This principle applies in every facet of our lives! In fact, the Lord himself decreed: “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say” (D&C 82:10).
We should also understand that the Lord expects us to make our own decisions. For example, when the saints of the Church in Kirtland were facing the choice of staying there or going to Missouri, they flocked to the Prophet Joseph asking him to tell them what to do. The Prophet went to the Lord and the Lord’s answer is given in D&C 58:25-28. “Wherefore, let them bring their families to this land, as they shall counsel between themselves and me. For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore, he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
Focus on those key words:
FREEWILL. POWER. AGENCY!
The Lord has given us these gifts and He expects us to use them. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said that God has given us abilities, talents, sense, and judgement. These in addition to the freewill, power, and agency just mentioned. All are gifts designed to let us make our own way in the world in which we live.
That puts a lot of responsibility upon us, and many people don’t like it because it leaves them without an excuse for their behavior. But I like it! It lets me set my own priorities and goals in life. It lets me decide who I will behave. I can choose to serve the Lord, to keep His commandments, and do all that He instructs that we should do if we are to return to Him in His heavenly kingdom.
In addition to all the expectations that God has for us, He has not left us alone. We may still call upon Him in prayer. We may study the scriptures so that we may learn how to act before Him. And we may participate in the ordinances that lead to exaltation and eternal life.
I fear that there are many members of the Church who have a serious weakness, and that is a belief that blessings and success come from faithfulness. If we ask Him often enough and convince Him that we are being good enough, then, someday – miraculously – the things we think we should have will just appear. It just doesn’t happen that way. We must make it happen. Even our own happiness is created from our own effort.
The help we need from the Lord is to ascertain the correctness of our decisions. Are we doing “good” in the goals we have set? Is the way we are planning to accomplish them okay? The Lord gives us a way to know. It is contained in the 9th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It comes from the experience that Oliver Cowdery had when he attempted to translate some of the Book of Mormon plates. He discovered that he could not translate as he had supposed he could.
The reason given by the Lord gives all of us an understanding of the process. “Behold, you have not understood; you supposed I would give it unto you when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind; then ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that thy bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong” (D&C 9:8-9).
If we apply these principles fully and properly in our lives, we can get along without ever making any mistakes! Of course, we are all weak in many ways, and when we do make mistakes the Lord has instituted the principle of repentance so that we may change our course of action and be forgiven if any sins were committed.
I leave you with my testimony of the truthfulness and divinity of these things as they are contained in the fullness of the Gospel. I know God lives and that he hears and answers our prayers. I also know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the source of all blessings and happiness.