A famous chapter in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ helps to explain the importance of the gift of agency, which has been given to all people. We read in the book of 2 Nephi, chapter 2 of man becoming free to act for himself, also meant as being able to choose between good and evil. An often quoted phrase in the 26th verse is of mankind having the ability ‘to act for themselves and not be acted upon’. I have often heard people say how they ‘are free’, that they ‘have their free agency’ and ‘can do what they want’. All true statements, but when we pause and consider the words of the prophet Lehi in this chapter, we come to realize the immense responsibility that comes along with being a ‘free agent’.
Most people – religious and non-religious alike – I believe, are working to be good people and make good choices. From a religious – or more accurately, an LDS – standpoint, choice is seen as the governing factor in our personal growth and development as human beings, as well as spirit children of God. Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in a General Conference address in April 2006 said, “How we choose to feel and think and act every day is the way we get on the [strait and narrow] path, and stay on it, until we reach our eternal destination.” Choice becomes then the defining factor of our character. We become who we are as a result of our daily decisions, be those great or small decisions. Those same choices which shape us potentially influence and shape those around us.
Seeing as our goal is to become better individuals through each days experiences, one can see how important it is to be moving in a constant forward or upward direction. The rate of forward/upward progress isn’t so much the issue as is simply making progress. This appears to be a daunting task, given the state of the world, but we cannot expect such excuses to hold up, when our goal is constant progression and the correct use of agency. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made the statement in a General Conference address in April 2003 that “Though ours is a time of conflict, quiet caring for ‘the life of the soul’ is still what matters most. Though events set up the defining moments which can evoke profiles in righteousness, outward commotions cannot excuse any failure of inward resolve, even if some seem to unravel so easily.” Our purpose must remain firm and true. To compromise our standards in times of trial and difficulty is said to be human, but are we here to settle for something less than the best we can do or be? Is our standard of excellence to be average or perhaps mediocre, or are we striving to become the very best that we can be and thus become masters of ourselves and a strength to those around us?
Now when I say ‘better’, I don’t mean that we are in competition with those around us. We aren’t looking to be better than our neighbors. It’s a quest for self improvement, where you have only yourself to compete with. We all have a personal average within us and the object is to go beyond that to develop ourselves, not out do the people around us.
An examination of holy scripture shows the desired approach to life and choice to be one of action. We are to be pro-active in our daily doings and through that act rather than be acted upon. In the Holy Bible James speaks of us being ‘doers of the word, and not just hearers only’ (The General Epistle of James 1:22). He speaks further saying that a hearer of the word ‘forgetteth what manner of man he was’ (James 1:24). In the Book of Mormon we have the prophet Jacob say that the seeking of riches should be with ‘the intent to do good’ (Jacob 2:19). The prophet Nephi also explains that the words of Christ ‘teach all men that they should do good’ (2 Nephi 33:10). In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith we are told, ‘seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). It does appear that God expects us to be using our agency, this gift from Him, for the betterment of ourselves and others. Within each person lies the desire to do good – for that you don’t need a belief or faith in God. Yet we do see the message of holy scripture as one of reaching for something higher and grander than we now have.
Our choice to ‘seek’ to do good and make correct decisions can only build us up and be a means of bringing peace to an often troubled and tired world. Proper use of our agency has the power to mend and heal, in essence, create. With such possibilities, is it no wonder that this is such a precious gift.
For the complete address given by Elder Robert D. Hales, click here.
For the complete address given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, click here.