The Principle of Agency
Misunderstanding agency can turn it into a false idol.
I wrote previously about agency during the “Reform the Honor Code” protests that occurred at BYU in April. One of the foundational doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that of the pre-mortal struggle between the followers of Christ the spirits who chose to follow Lucifer. We understand the principle of agency was of primary import. Detractors of the Church, both inside and outside, use their incorrect understanding of agency to bludgeon believers into accepting their attempted coup of church culture and doctrine.
First, I would like to address the War in Heaven. A common theme taught in Sunday School classes is Heavenly Father presented two plans to be debated…or even worse, He presented no plans and asked for suggestions. Heavenly Father presented His plan. Period. He knew what He was doing. We required a Savior. We read in Moses the play-by-play of what happened next:
And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
Wherefore, because that 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; (Moses 4:1-3)
Ironically enough, a third of the hosts of heaven exercised their agency to follow Lucifer and were cast out. (D&C 29:36-37) Because of our inherent understanding of the importance of agency, it is vital that we study and comprehend it as a principle, lest it becomes a weapon of the enemy.
Lehi blessed Jacob and taught him about the Fall of Adam and the principle of agency. Often, I see the argument that we shouldn’t be proponents of certain laws or policies because it will restrict agency. Lehi turns this argument on it’s head:
And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. (2 Nephi 2:5)
Wait a second, a law is given and we have a choice to follow it or not? And there are consequences, good and bad, for the choices we make with respect to that law? Lehi continues:
Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement. (2 Nephi 2:10)
When the question of whether or not morality should be legislated, I often use the example of the drunk driver who hits your car. If there is no law on the books, what recourse does the victim have in having their property repaired by the perpetrator? The same example can be applied to any crime one can think of. If there is no law, there is no choice, and there are no consequences…either beneficial or to our detriment. Isn’t that what Satan really wants to sell, no consequences? And yet, we learn from Lehi that opposition is required in all things or we wouldn’t even know happiness. (2 Nephi 2:23) Meanwhile, we are free to choose freedom or captivity and bondage from the devil. (2 Nephi 2:27)
Going back to our Heavenly Father’s plan from earlier: there was only one plan. Repeat after me, there was only one plan. Lucifer’s “plan” was a lie, and had no way of working. There was no possibility of anything other than bondage, and even then, he couldn’t control our thoughts and keep us sinless. Satan has always wanted us to be his captive, and our poor choices in this life limit our freedom and ability to exercise agency, rather than restrict it as the world would have us believe.
What are we to think when it is stated that we should be “pro-choice,” or that the church shouldn’t have a position on marijuana because our opponents use our own belief in agency and turn it into a false idol? There is no gray area and the laws of heaven are stated that we may choose freedom or suffer the consequences of our choices. Let us be wise and not allow our own principles to become a stumbling block and a tool to be used against our own cherished beliefs.
“The Perfect Law of Liberty” – Elder Marion G. Romney, October 1981
“Agency and Control” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, April 1983
“To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency” – Elder Robert D. Hales, April 2006
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3 thoughts on “The Principle of Agency”
“Moral Agency” by D. Todd Christofferson is the quintessential talk on this topic IMO – https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/d-todd-christofferson_moral-agency/
Thank you, good sir
Lucifer was never going to “Force” Righteouseness. He said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it, wherefore give me thine honor.” He was going to take away the consequence of sin, having us all be saved by his grace without out participation and regardless of what we did. This would never have worked.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council who gave their voice in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.”
Robert J. Matthews taught:
I think we often miss the major issue of the contention in premortality that eventually led to the war in heaven. We talk about it as though Satan were going to force everybody to obey when he said, “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost”—we interpret that as meaning that he was proposing forced obedience.
It seems strange to me that a third of all the spirits that had the potential to be born into this world would have favored a proposal of forced obedience. Most of us do not like to be forced. As I see it, the issue was not so much one of force as it was that Satan said he would guarantee salvation for his spirit brothers and sisters. He promised salvation without excellence, without effort, without hard work, without individual responsibility, and without obedience to righteous laws. That is the lie he promulgated in the pre-earth councils.