This morning I was engaged in an exchange on Twitter with someone who asked the question, "What is freedom?"
We began with his question, "In three words or less, what is freedom?" I responded, "Absence of debt." He liked that answer, and retweeted to his 150,000 followers. Then he asked, "A harder question: What is freedom and why does it matter?" I responded in six words: "Without freedom there is no agency." He responded, not impressed by my answer, "So?"
Since 140 characters on Twitter is insufficient, let me flesh it out here. It seems to me as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, questions of freedom and agency are nearly axiomatic. We simply don't give it a second thought because it is so deeply embedded in our DNA. However, those unfamiliar with the doctrines of the Restoration like my Twitter conversationalist, are stumbling to define exactly what freedom is, and seem at a loss to explain it.
In more recent years the leaders of the Church have made a distinction. They no longer refer to "free agency." Today it is "moral agency."
|President David O. McKay|
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 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. (The Improvement Era 65 [February 1962]:86).
Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. (TPJS, 353-4).
This is such an enobling idea, isn't it? One the world has little appreciation for. We have ALWAYS had the freedom to choose as an essential component of our identity as human beings.
In our pre-mortal existence at some point our Heavenly Parents clothed intelligence with a spirit body. All who live on this earth descended from the same heavenly parentage, and were spirit children of the same Father in Heaven.
We learned in the spirit world the importance of our moral agency. We learned we MUST experience the opportunity of choice in mortality. We embraced the necessities of opposites - good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness, health and sickness, wealth and poverty. We were taught we would always be free to choose. We would be encouraged to receive knowledge of the law and all its consequences. These essential elements, we were told, must be part of our existence as human beings to become as our Father in Heaven is, and to rise to our eternal opportunities.
In the spirit world before this mortal probation, however, no faith was required. We walked and talked with Him. We knew He existed in a corporeal and resurrected body of flesh and bone. The only way we could progress was to leave His side, take upon our spirits a physical body, subject ourselves to opposites so we could choose, and voluntarily assume the vagaries of a world that would not treat us fairly. We were assured, however, that here on the earth we would receive laws and ordinances associated with salvation (exaltation) we would be free to choose the moral consequences associated with truth and error. We would have scriptures, prophets, angels and parents to assist.
We knew before we ever came that some things would happen to us that were simply inexplicable, having nothing to do with our violation of the laws of the gospel, nor the agency of others that impacted us adversely. When parents suffer the death of an infant, for example, and these little ones are snatched suddenly from our arms without explanation either medically or spiritually, there is nothing but faith to turn to.
However, another law operates to assuage our anguish in mortality. I speak of the law of mercy. Mercy never robs the justice required under the law because there is a vicarious payment in full for the broken law. When we do violate the laws of the gospel willfully there is still forebearance through the instrumentality of the Savior. He descended below all things - premature death of infants, sin, despair, loneliness, anger, fear, misjudgment, anxiety, you name it, He's been there and done that. When we turn to Him in our need, mercy is activated on our behalf.
Father Lehi explains:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so. . . righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. . .
There is a God, and he hath created both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
And to bring about his eternal purposes. . . the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. . .
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because. . . 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. . .
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 mediation of all men, or to choose captivity and death. . . (1 Nephi 2:11, 14-16, 26-27).
There are few things more maddening in life than being a parent and witnessing the willful disregard in a child for the things you have believed and sought to instill in your offspring. That is agony. However, we are admonished in the example of our Father to let it play out in agency. We are encouraged to honor and bow beneath the rod of our children's agency, just as He is constrained to do with each of us. The physical body we now inhabit is a veil of forgetfulness, mandating that we walk by faith in this life not seeing and knowing as we once did. We are admonished to RECEIVE the gift of the Holy Ghost who is enabled to bring all things to our remembrance. Our spirit responds to the gentle enticings of the Spirit. We must remember as parents that He knew our children longer and more intimately than we do.
Mortality is a test on so many levels, the perfect laboratory to work out our salvation. Our children are bombarded with every enticement to draw them away through Satanic influences.
I don't know all the details of the designs of Satan's minions, but I do have this one chilling reality, that he "sought to destroy the agency of man." (Moses 4:3). All who live on earth today were abhorred by the prospect of the loss of agency, because we all embraced the plan of happiness that ensured our agency.
We exercised faith in our Heavenly Father's plan, in our Redeemer Jesus Christ, and in ourselves. We enthusiastically sustained the idea of living in a world filled with opportunities for further development. We embraced the possiblity of failure, disappointment, heartache and sin. I know it's sometimes hard to imagine that now when life deals its cruelest blows, but it's true.
As Latter-day Saints we know there was a war in heaven over agency. As I said, it is axiomatic with us. The prophet Jacob in The Book of Mormon taught if Jesus Christ did not atone, then all mankind must unavoidably perish and we would all "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 unto himself." (2 Nephi 9:9). Jesus Christ was born into this earth as the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh and would have power over physical death. He lived a sinless perfect life in mortality so He alone would have power over all the laws of the gospel and could infinitely satisfy all the demands of justice and overcome death and hell (physical and spiritual death).
If Satan is determined to destroy our agency (which he is), he will do all he can to deny us the opportunity of choice. The history of this world is filled with examples of tyranny through governments, dictatorships, and anarchy. He weakens our resolve that opposition must be necessary for human progress. He will try to "level the playing field," enact tax laws that are "only fair," he will "redistribute the wealth" through social programs administered by the few for the benefit of the many. He will advocate "collective salvation" and he will say to us, "There is no sin. It mattereth not what a man does; whatsoever a man doeth is not sin. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." (2 Nephi 28:8). And thus he attempts to destroy the divinely appointed role of opposition in our lives.
Presidents of the Church and other General Authorities have consistently seen Communism and socialism in this light and have warned repeatedly of its effects.
|President Henry D. Moyle|
All we have to do is. . . examine any movement that may be brought into our midst. . . and if it. . .[attempt[s] to deprive us the slightest respect of our free agency, we should avoid it as we would avoid immorality or anything else that is vicious. . . Free agency is as necessary for our eternal salvation as is our virtue. And. . . as we guard our virtue with our lives, so should we guard our free agency. (Conference Report, October 1947, 46).
|President Marion G. Romney|
One of the fundamental doctrines of revealed truth is that. . . God endowed men with free agency. (Moses 7:32). The preservation of this free agency is more important than the preservation of life itself. . . Everything which militates against man's enjoyment of this endowment persuades not to believe in Christ, for He is the author of free agency.
Now the world today is in the throes of a great social and political revolution. In almost every department of society laws and practices are being daily proposed and adopted which greatly alter the course of our lives. Indeed, some of them are literally shaking the foundations of our political and social institutions. If you would know truth from error in this bitterly contested arena, apply Mormon's test to these innovations [as recorded in Moroni 7:16-18]. Do they facilitate or restrict the exercise of man's divine endowment of free agency? Tested by this standard, most of them will fall quickly into their proper category as between good and evil.
(BYU Speeches of the Year, 30 May 1957, 10-11, emphasis mine).
So how would the scriptures address my Twitter friend who attempts to define freedom? Here's a sampling:
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. (John 8:31-32).
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9).
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1).
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. (D&C 58:27-28).
And 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. (D&C 29:39).
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 and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have which is evil restored unto you (Helaman 14:30-31).
Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:7).
To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17).
The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23).
This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3).
|President John Taylor|
Besides the preaching of the Gospel, we have another mission, namely, the perpetuation of the free agency of man and the maintenance of liberty, freedom, and the rights of man. . . We have a right to liberty - that was a right that God gave to all men; and if there has been oppression, fraud or tyranny in the earth, has been the result of wickedness and corruptions of men and has always been opposed to God and the principles of truth. (JD 23:63).
|Elder Richard L. Evans|
May we take a moment from some of the side issues and from some of the irrelevant celebration, and clear our thoughts and humble our hearts and get down on our knees and simply, fervently, thank God for freedom - and then get on our feet with a firm resolve to preserve it against all who secretly or openly would set it aside.
Thank God for freedom - and for the Founding Fathers who reaffirmed to a new nation, an eternal, timeless truth: that the right of choice - that the free agency of man - is a God-given inalienable right, and is essential to the peace and growth and progress and salvation of the very soul.
This truth has been challenged again and again, and will yet be challenged again and again. It was challenged in the heavens before time began, by the brilliant but rebellious Lucifer. There was war in heaven - for freedom. And anyone who seeks to enslave men in any sense, in mind, in spirit, in thought - anyone who seeks to enslave the minds, the hearts, the spirit of men is essentially in league with Satan himself - for "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Thank God for the Constitution of our country, which was brought into being "by the hands of wise men whom [the Lord God] raised up unto this very purpose." (D&C 101:80). Thank God for the promise that in this choice land, men "shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve" God. (Ether 2:12).
Thank God for the right of choice, for the right to become whatever we can become in a free and provident land that, despite its imperfections, has proved to be more efficient for progress and human happiness than any society founded on the false philosophies that would seek to enslave the minds and souls of men.
God grant that we may repent wherever we have departed from the principles of freedom - that we may preserve the right to fail and the incentive to succeed, and live, as did the Founding Fathers, knowing that there are no acceptable substitutes for freedom. ("Thank God for Freedom," From the Crossroads, 45).
So to parents of wayward youth, to parents who have just buried little ones, to those who are anguishing in the guilt of sin, to aged parents who are struggling with health infirmities and cannot seem to find the exit door to mortality, in short to all who would attempt to define freedom in these last days - I say to all, the Author of freedom is the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom you may all turn for comfort and relief if you will, no matter what the nature of your anguish may be.
In all of it He sets us free.