Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sunday's Lesson on Freedom/Agency

What comes to your mind when you think of Independence Day?

Although I have a very strong testimony of the blessings of freedom as they pertain to our country, with today’s lesson I’m going to focus on an even greater freedom that we all have.

What do you feel when you hear the word “force?” In comparison, what do you feel when you hear the word “choice?”

I think that these feelings show that there is something within us that recognizes that freedom of choice is a divine gift, one that we should treasure and hold sacred.

President David O. McKay has written, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. … Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift to every normal being. … Everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency—man’s inherited and inalienable right.” (Improvement Era, Feb. 1962, p. 86.)

Hearing that quote makes me feel so thankful to Heavenly Father for giving us such a wonderful gift!

How would you complete this sentence? Agency is…..
Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined it as: Agency is the ability and freedom to choose good or evil.
Ability means being able. To be able we need to have enough power and knowledge to do something. In Elder McConkie’s definition, freedom means being able to make choices without being forced or coerced.

How would you feel if your freedom of choice was suddenly taken away and you were no longer allowed to choose what you did or didn’t do?
Why would such a situation go against Heavenly Father’s plan?

Agency is a direct gift from God. Force, on the other hand, emanates from Lucifer himself. Satan is trying to keep us from individually achieving the great divine purposes for which we came to this earth, including the exercise of our free agency.

He can do it by destroying our freedom of choice, and he does this by enticing us to give up our right of free agency to other persons or to other institutions and allow them to make our choices for us,
He also does it by trying to encourage us not to come to a knowledge of our Heavenly Father by not listening to the prophets, by not studying the scriptures, and therefore by not knowing the consequences of our choices. He says to us, “The scriptures are irrelevant today. They were written a long time ago. Don’t pay any attention to them. There are no such things as prophets upon the earth; they ceased at the time of Christ.” Or he says that the heavens are sealed; there is no revelation today. He even says that God is dead!
Thus in one way or another he tries to entice us to become like him and to become subject to the misery and unhappiness that he now experiences.

Joseph Smith has said that if Heavenly Father or Satan forced us to do good or evil we would not have our agency. Listen to an account of what he said in a sermon on May 16, 1841:
“He commenced his observations by remarking that the kindness of our Heavenly Father called for our heartfelt gratitude. He then observed that Satan was generally blamed for the evils which we did, but if he was the cause of all our wickedness, men could not be condemned. The devil could not compel mankind to do evil; all was voluntary. Those who resisted the Spirit of God, would be liable to be led into temptation, and then the association of heaven would be withdrawn from those who refused to be made partakers of such great glory. God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not” (History of the Church, 4:358).

Why can’t Satan make us do things we do not wish to do?
Why won’t Heavenly Father force us to do things we don’t want to?

Although we have many choices to make during our mortal existence, our test in life is to choose good over evil, as 2 Nephi 2:27 shows:
“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.” (2 Nephi 2:27)

How do we choose liberty and eternal life?
What is the key to retaining our free agency?
How does obeying the commandments help preserve our freedom?

Our Father’s plan of happiness incorporates the exercise of agency, but it also, of necessity, incorporates accountability and judgment.
With the gift of agency also comes the responsibility to use it correctly. After all, we can make our own choices, but we can’t choose the consequences.

The psychologist Erich Fromm called the wish to escape the consequences of one’s actions a desire to escape from freedom. For being free requires being responsible. The very word freedom connotes the ability to judge rationally between alternatives and the willingness to accept the consequences of one’s decisions.

God has paid us the ultimate compliment: He holds us responsible and respects us as free, rational beings. He has given us this freedom through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The concepts of individual freedom and personal responsibility are at the very center of the Atonement.

Note this great truth: once we have accepted responsibility for our own actions, the grace of God is extended to us. For freedom implies not only accountability but also the ability to repent, and repentance, grounded upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, brings sanctification and holiness—the ability to transcend the consequences of our actions and to be restored as children of our Father in Heaven.

Adherence to divine commandments will protect us from those consequences that are most damaging to our quest for sanctification and exaltation. If we abide strictly by the commands of our Heavenly Father, we may not necessarily be protected from adversity, but we will be protected from that which is most deadly—the weakening of our integrity, alienation from God, the surrender of our divine destiny as children of God, and the destruction of our soul. Consequently, when we disobey the commands of God and the counsels of the living prophets, we always pay a price. No rationalization, no excuse, no complaining will alter the consequences.

Some people think that when we obey the commandments we give up our freedom. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Why are we allowed to suffer the consequences of our actions? How would our mortal experience be diminished if God averted war, prevented crime, and destroyed poverty?
How do we lose freedom by making bad choices? How do we gain freedom by making good choices?
Why do you think the obedient are more at peace in this life?

“Obedience—that which God will never take by force—he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of—the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. Strangely enough, the key to freedom is obedience” (Obedience, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 7 Dec. 1971], pp. 3–4).

How is it different to obey God’s laws because of love rather than because of fear of punishment?

Just as following wrong alternatives restricts free agency and leads to slavery, so pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one’s agency and leads to perfect liberty. As a matter of fact, one may, by this process, obtain freedom of the soul while at the same time being denied political, economic, and personal liberty.

True liberty in individuals consists in the enjoying of every right that will contribute to one’s peace and happiness, so long as the exercise of such a privilege does not interfere with the same privilege in others. It consists not in doing what one likes to do, but in doing what one ought to do. It is the right of each individual to be master of his own time and actions consistent with fairness and justice to his fellow men and with harmony with the laws of God. … It is freedom of choice, a divine gift, an essential virtue in a peaceful society.
Let’s keep in mind what it says in 2 Nephi 10:23: Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves- to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.

I hope that we’ll all remember that Independence Day is not independent of God. It is because of His great gift to us that we are allowed such freedom. I pray that our hearts will be filled with gratitude today, and every day for the blessing of agency that He has given us.

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