True Nature of God

The concept of God has been played with and discussed so much over the centuries after Christ because there was no ordained mouthpiece, witness or prophet to have the authority to know him. Some believe He is an unknown entity out somewhere that we cannot relate to. Some state that He is a spirit. Some state that He does not exist and of course there are many other theories. Once we get past what He actually ‘is’ there is the matter of his personality. Some say He is just and unflinching in His judgement. Some say He is so merciful that He will lovingly welcome us back no matter our choices and again, multitudes of theories are in between those two. Thanks to latter-day revelation and our Heavenly Father’s love for His children – He has revealed His true nature to the Earth to help us put our trust in Him and believe on Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, who is in the express image of His Father in every way.

First, I want to look deeper at the physical (for He is tangible) aspect of God. There are few accounts where God our Heavenly Father has actually been witnessed – but from these and other scriptures we know God does have a body of flesh and bone. To begin with, Genesis 1:26-27 states “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him…”. A statement saying we are in the image of God – also the phrasing ‘let us make man’ also has significant meaning which will be addressed later. In latter-day revelation, Joseph Smith states “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s…” (D&C 130:22). If Christ was resurrected and had a perfected, glorified body, would it not make sense that His Father has the same, perfect, physical attribute?

Now, linked with the question of God’s physical attributes, the doctrine of the Godhead must be considered. Widely known, many Christians believe that our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are all one Being or entity. Bringing back the statement found in Genesis ‘let us make man’ we are led to question why use the plural pronoun? Obviously, there are more important revelations stating this, but this phrase in Genesis should cause us to consider the possibility that they are three distinct Personages. He was speaking to His Son, Jehovah at the time, in the process of the Creation. Stephen the martyr saw “…the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” in Acts 7:56. How could he have seen God and Christ separately and distinguish them if they were not separate? It could be argued that with God, anything is possible, but why confuse a dying disciple and generations of future Christians about His nature? We also have to consider that it is “…impossible for God to lie.” (Hebrews 6:18) so surely a scene that confuses the nature of Him would go against that. Jesus Christ Himself, spoke to His Father many times – one being the Great Intercessory Prayer. In that petition, Christ says “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…that they may be one, even as we are one…” (John 17:21-22) – does Christ want His followers to be one entity or Personage? Or is He referring to being one in purpose? If He wants us to be one, as He and His Father are one, then we are to be unified in purpose, as Christ is with the Father. The final (but not only) account of God and Christ together as separate Personages is the glorious appearance of them to the boy Prophet, Joseph Smith. After centuries of darkness and confusion, the truth of God was restored. He says “When the light rested upon me…I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description…One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other – This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him.” Joseph Smith saw and heard God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, separate, distinct, visual and tangible Heavenly Beings. What more evidence could we need than from a prophet of God?

Now, let’s discover God’s personality. First, His omniscient knowledge. He sees all, He knows all. He even knows what choices we will make in certain conditions. To state briefly, as He is our perfect Father, He knows each and every one of His children better than they know themselves. Elder James E. Talmage says “God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations; He knows what each will do under given conditions…” – however – “…Can it be said that the father’s foreknowledge is a cause of the son’s sinful life? The son…has reached his maturity; he is the master of his own destiny; a free agent unto himself.” (Jesus the Christ pg 29). Let it not be forgotten that, despite God knowing what we’ll do – we still decide and He allows our agency because He loves us! God makes perfect choices, therefore we can trust Him. In Isaiah 55:8-9 it says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Even when we think we know of a better solution for a situation – God sees the whole perspective of things and ultimately knows what’s best for us, like our earthly parents – only even more perfect!

God is also a just God. In Alma 42:22 it states “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed…and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” Law is something that keeps things in order – without it, all would be chaos. God has to abide by certain laws, or commandments (such as never being able to lie), and we are the same. If we break a law, then the penalty must be be paid – otherwise, is that fair? God cannot allow the penalty not to be paid because He would violate laws. However, 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” so there is a way we can be forgiven and the outcome will be just. Through Christ. Isn’t it settling to know that if we are dealt with wrongly in this life, despite living the best we can, we will be paid back in the next life. God is just.

As previously mentioned, God is also merciful, as well as just. He loves us so dearly that, if He could and if it would benefit us in our progression, He would make sure none of us have to feel sorrow. However, that is the only way we learn and grow from our mistakes. But, He has provided a way for us to return to live with Him – as we follow the Gospel of Christ. There are many scriptures relating to the mercy of God – one is Alma 12:33 which says “If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon, through mine Only Begotten Son.” As stated, this mercy which God so wants to extend to us could only be brought about through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Alma explains “…the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins…that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.” (Alma 42:15) God Himself, through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ, has made sure to provide a way for us to receive mercy – how much must He love us to provide that?

That, in fact, is another important attribute to consider – God’s love. As Peter testified “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons,” (Acts 10:34) – His love is unconditional and universal for all His children. He loves me just as much as He loves the vilest sinner ever, just as much as He has loved ancient prophets – we are all His loved sons and daughters. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16) says that He even offered His Beloved Son so we could return to live with Him again. God created this whole plan in the first place because He loved us – He wanted us to have everything He had for we are “…heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:17) and this He did for us to live happily for eternity with Him and our families. Part of this plan is the fact we have our moral agency – our ability to choose. “And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life…or to choose captivity and death…” (2 Nephi 2:27) said Lehi of old. Enoch was shown in vision God’s perfect love in allowing all – including wicked people – to have their agency. Moses 7:26-33 gives this account “And he beheld Satan; And he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed…And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept…And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?…The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands…and in the Garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said…that they should love one another…but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” Others use their agency for evil, negatively affect others and God weeps in His love for us – because, even though He has the power to end all suffering, He doesn’t want to take away agency because it is necessary and a loving God would not subjugate all against their wills – that is how much He loves us.

Also, because of His love, He wants to help us through mortality. That’s why He has given us prophets, scripture, families and a way to communicate directly with Him, through prayer. He hears and answers our prayers! One of the most commonly used scriptures “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…” (Matthew 7:7) states this, that God will answer, not in the way we want or expect sometimes – “If ye then…know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him.” (Matthew 7:11). He will answer the righteous desires of our hearts, because He really does love us!

God is also a God of order, He has things set perfectly, starting with His planned creation – the planets move in perfect form and animals have perfect adaptations and balance. All is put together as a master designer would have done. The Lord said, in His commandment to build a temple, “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house…a house of order, a house of God.” (D&C 88:119) Not only does He require things established in an orderly manner, but things need to be performed in the proper order and way too. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Hebrews 5:4) “Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?…and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23). Each of these verses speak of the authority needed to act in God’s name – even when good things are done supposedly in Christ’s name – He won’t recognise them – that is the importance of order in God’s all-knowing eye, otherwise, it would truely be chaos, and we inevitably would become lost.

Another important attribute of God is that He is all-powerful. It confuses me that people question or argue the virgin birth of Christ when, one, today the technology is available for people to procreate through assistance of scientific methods and, two, if God is there (which He is) and He is omnipotent – would something like that not be possible? We do not need to look far in the scriptures to see other examples of God’s power “…and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” (Exodus 14:21) ” Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God…Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water…” (1 Kings 18:38) “Stretch forth thine hand again unto they brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them…I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and…the Lord did shake them…” (1 Nephi 17:53-54) “And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them…Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned…” (Helaman 12:13). If He were not all powerful – would we want to place our faith and trust in Him and His plan? It is because of His omnipotence we are able to place our faith in our Father’s plan and His Son who made the plan possible.

Finally, in all these attributes, God is perfect. He simply does not, can not and will not make a mistake. 2 Nephi 2:24, in relation to the Fall of Adam and Eve, says “…all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” Adam and Even did not surprise God when they took the fruit. It was part of His perfect plan. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) was Christ’s admonition to us – He wouldn’t ask it of us if it wasn’t true and God wasn’t perfect. This final attribute makes it easier, once we believe it, to place our trust in Him. And He doesn’t change. “From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail.” (D&C 76:4), the same yesterday, today and forever – and that is why He, our Heavenly Father, also has the title of ‘God’.

Why is it important we come to gain a knowledge of these things for ourselves? Why do we need to know God’s perfect love? Or indeed He is a separate, distinct Personage? “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) From this we may understand that, in order to gain eternal life, we need to know the God whom we worship – not blindly. Also, as mentioned before, if we are indeed to be perfect, as Christ commanded us to be, we need to know what we are aiming for. Simply, like we need to get to know our earthly parents, we need to know our Heavenly Father. Whilst it is vital to study and learn of our Heavenly Father, we also MUST develop a relationship with Him through daily sincere prayer. In the most recent General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson said “Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you.” As we are taught by the Lord, we can come closer to our Heavenly Father, and then, we will truly become spiritually self-reliant.

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Locusts of Life

Locusts are nasty little things, eating everything you’ve worked so hard to plant and cultivate. However, there is a scripture in Joel 2:25 which uses these creatures as a good allegory. It says “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…” – for most of us our main concern is not to worry about physical locusts eating our livelihood but figurative locusts which make us waste our precious moments in life.

One example of a locust that can rob us of potential produce, or rewards, is a sense of apathy. Shirking responsibilities offered by the Lord indicate we do not have faith in Him or the fact that the leaders of His Church receive revelation to guide His flock. If we pass up the opportunity to serve God and our fellow man then we show to our Heavenly Father that we have lost our trust in Him to a degree. As such, we lose out on possible future blessings the Lord would have given to us. Blessings and years are eaten away…

Also, technology can ‘eat away’ a lot of our time. If used for good purposes and in moderation, ways of communication, social media and recreation can be useful and provide a rest. However, when one puts these distractions before developing personal spiritual strength, building family relationships or fulfilling duties then it we can lose vital time. “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea…this life is the day for men to perform their labours.” (Alma 34:32)

Of course, one major swarm we have to be aware of is sin. Sin leads us lose the Spirit and the blessings and progression we can have in our life can be eaten away. Satan won’t have the life we do, ever, and so it’s his desire to make men miserable like himself. As Amulek continues in Alma 34:35 “…if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his…and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.” If we want to achieve all our Heavenly Father wants us to achieve, we need to try to avoid allowing these locusts of life eat away from our time. 

Foreknowledge of God

Whilst studying through Jesus the Christ I came to this quote which I wanted to explore a little further. Elder James E. Talmage wrote “Let not ignorance and thoughtlessness lead us into the error of assuming that the Father’s foreknowledge as to what would be, under given conditions, determined that such must be.” 

God, in His infinite love for us, has allowed us to choose for ourselves. Due to His infinite knowledge, or omniscience, He knows all of His children better than they themselves do. Therefore, He knows what decisions we will make when placed under certain circumstances. However, if the choices we will make are not good, we are still allowed to go through with them because that’s part of the whole purpose of why we’re here – “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25) – God knows if we will prove ourselves but He allows us to make the decision.

True to the Faith describes it very well, much better than I can – “Foreordination does not guarantee that individuals will receive certain callings or responsibilities. Such opportunities cone in this life as a result of the righteous exercise of agency, just as foreordination came as a result of righteousness in the premortal existence.” We have been offered and have accepted certain tasks, but whether we take them up in this life depends on our willingness and worthiness.

One final quote again by Elder James E. Talmage “He…sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.” If we don’t live righteously to take on our pre-chosen duties – God has foreseen it (not pre-determined it) and will have provided another way for it to be accomplished. A great example of this is the Fall of Adam and Eve. The Lord left Adam and Eve in the Garden with the express commandment not to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, as we know, they did partake. Was this a surprise? Of course not – as Lehi states “But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” (2 Nephi 2:24)  Adam did not ‘surprise’ God by taking the fruit – our Saviour was not chosen to come to Earth to save mankind because Adam and Eve did something he did not expect – it was always His plan. Does that mean He consigned Adam and Eve to fail? No, because they chose to partake of the fruit, and also He knew there would be a way for them to be saved through our Saviour.

Knowing this helps us to be assured in the knowledge we have a Heavenly Father who has planned the best for us. If we are willing to do what we can, we have the opportunity for great blessings. 

The Word of Wisdom

President Gordon B. Hinckley once said “I recall a bishop’s telling me of a woman who came to get a [temple] recommend. When asked if she observed the Word of Wisdom, she said that she occasionally drank a cup of coffee. She said, “Now, bishop, you’re not ging to let that keep me from going to the temple, are you?” To which he replied, “Sister, surely you will not let a cup of coffee stand between you and the house of the Lord””
What this bishop said was very true, we shouldn’t allow anything to stop us from going to the House of the Lord – we can’t even allow a cup of coffee because “…no unclean thing can dwell with God…” (1 Nephi 10:21) 

The ‘not allowing’ of drinking coffee relates to the Word of Wisdom, which can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why was it revealed? Part of the answer is linked to a question, which was often the case in the early days of the restoring of the Lord’s Church. It was revealed as a result of a question from Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma Smith. However, the counsel that our body is sacred and should be respected is not new. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Our spirits are the offspring of God (see Acts 17:28) and so, we need to keep the tabernacle in which they reside in pure.

Not only does the Word of Wisdom protect us, but it is further evidence that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God. When this revelation was received in 1833, the principles given about what not to take into our bodies were far advanced for their time – most of the items and substances prohibited  had not yet even been thought of as harmful, never mind proven as harmful. In fact, some doctors, when faced with a patient with a cough, would ‘prescribe’ them to smoke tobacco! Therefore, at the time, the Word of Wisdom would some counterproductive in protecting the body – although today’s scientific evidence proves the potential danger of these items.

Even D&C 89:4 is a prophecy that has been fulfilled. It says “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days…” This revelation was given in part because people will be tempted. Some of the items listed will not have significant damage to the body if taken in the correct moderation. However, because of ‘conspiring minds’ wanting to sell their wares, they make their products seem desirable for consumption, making people tempted to partake more than they should.

I will not attempt to make an exhaustive list of items suggested for consumption and items prohibited here but those wanting to find out can look on http://www.mormon.org, http://www.lds.org or in Doctrine and Covenants 89.

The First Presidency in October 1942 declared “Drunken with strong drink, man have lost their reason; their counsel has been destroyed; their judgment and vision are fled…Drink has brought more woe and misery, broken more hearts, wrecked more homes, committed more crimes, filled more coffins, than all the wars the world has suffered.”

James O. Mason in the September 1986 Ensign put these statements forward regarding another prohibited item in the Word of Wisdom:
“Each year tobacco use causes nearly 2.5 million premature deaths worldwide. Tobacco use also harms millions of innocent victims. For example, smoking by pregnant mothers passes on toxic chemicals that interfere with fetal development, afflicting apporximately 3 million babies each year. These babies have lower birth weight and increased risk for neurological and intellectual delays and for premature birth. Other innocent victims include non-smokers who regularly inhale second-hand smoke. These people have much higher rates of respiratory illness and are three times more likely to die of lung cancer than those who do not inhale second-hand smoke.”

We see the  damage that not following the guidelines of the Word of Wisdom has. These quotes mention only the fatalities and impact on families. Consider the economic effects too:
President Heber J. Grant outlined “Consider the amount of land, money, and other resources that are used to produce harmful substances, advertise them, purchase them, and treat the consequences of their use. For example, in 1985 the cost in America of health care and lost productivity related to the use of tobacco was approximately $65 billion. The costs of the production and use of alcohol are also very high.Consider the potential economic impact of using these resources for beneficial purposes rather than destructive ones.”

It could be argued that the revenue brought in from producing tobacco pays up for it (I haven’t done the research myself so I have no idea), however, the fact that it could be used for greater purposes is still extremely valid.

Of course, the Word of Wisdom is not just a list of don’ts. There are many things listed that are recommended for us to eat as well as this counsel found in D&C 88:124 which says “…retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.” President Brigham Young commented “Instead of doing two days’ work in one day, wisdom would dictate to [the Saints] that if they desire long life and good health, they must, after sufficient exertion, allow the body to rest before it is entirely exhausted. When exhausted, some argue that they need stimulants…But instead of these kind of stimulants they should recruit by rest.” Very simple guidance but can be hard to do – but this wise counsel will help us lead a happier, healthier life.

Having said all this, do all people who live the Word of Wisdom live a perfectly healthy life? Of course, some who live by it’s principles do suffer from physical ailments produced from the prohibited substances (although it is arguably a much smaller proportion). Two points answer this issue. First – why raise the chances? Second – even if they struggle with a physical issue, they will still receive the spiritual blessings of living the Word of Wisdom. Elder Boyd K. Packer said “I have come to know…that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation…If someone ‘under the influence’ [of harmful substances] can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.” Keeping the Word of Wisdom can help us be more in tune with the Spirit – allowing greater ability to receive personal revelation. Not only that but it gives us greater self-mastery and emotional strength.

Just look at King Benjamin’s address to the Nephites in Mosiah 2:41 “…consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” Through the Word of Wisdom we are blessed spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally – what a great blessing to have this principle and be able to receive the promised blessings!

Moral Agency

The thoughts expressed here are based on an article by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the June 2009 Ensign.

Free Agency vs Moral Agency
We usually talk of free agency, which is correct, for we are indeed “free to choose” (2 Nephi 2:27). However, the actual phrase ‘free agency’ is not found in the scriptures – ‘moral agency’ is though. Adding the adjective ‘moral’ puts a whole different perspective to our agency – it means that we are people free to choose, but are also responsible for the outcome of our choice. We cannot personally choose the consequence of our actions but we decide the choices we make which lead to the consequences.

What is Moral Agency?
Elder Christofferson then listed three elements of moral agency:

“First, there must be alternatives among what to choose…” – there would be little point in giving freedom to choose if there was nothing to choose from. In 2 Nephi 2:11, Lehi counsels Jacob “there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness…” We need these choices in life so that we can learn and grow from the outcomes. These alternatives must also have an outcome, positive or negative, or in some cases both. There must be consequences “the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:22) As we have been the Light of Christ, every single one of God’s children, we are responsible for our choices as we sense what kind of outcome there will be.

Now of course, not everyone has a perfect knowledge of what the consequences to all of our actions will be, and some have more knowledge or experience than others. However, this leads onto the next element Elder Christofferson stated – “Second, we must not only have alternatives, but we must also know what they are…If we are unaware of the choices available, the existence of those choices is meaningless to us.” Due to the choice of Adam and Eve, we each have a knowledge of good and evil, therefore “we attain a state of accountability and we can recognise the alternatives before us.” Now, we do have to remember that some have more awareness than others – the Gospel of Jesus Christ illuminates and enhances perspective, making us aware of dangers and pitfalls that Satan has placed along the way. We, therefore, have better use of our moral agency to bring happiness, bringing into context the phrase ‘the truth will set you free’ – we are more able to choose our outcome because we are more aware of the alternatives. Elder Christofferson continued “Many of God’s children fall into unanticipated traps and unhappiness because they either lack or ignore gospel light. They are unaware of their options or are confused about the outcomes of their choices.” – they are limited in their choices.

The final element of moral agency is “Third…the freedom to make choices,” or, put scripturally “ye are free to act for yourselves.” (2 Nephi 10:23). This freedom of choice is a gift from God. Without this freedom to choose, there would be little point in even coming to Earth as all decisions would be made for us. We know that we had this agency as far back as the pre-mortal life, we are told by the Lord in latter-day revelation that “the devil…rebelled against me, saying “Give me thine honour, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency.” (D&C 29:36) Notice the irony that in order to give up their agency and follow Satan, those of Heavenly Father’s children had to use their agency to decide that. Not only has God given us moral agency, but he “is preserving you day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will…” (Mosiah 2:21) – meaning that He gives us the life we have in which to use this agency…that He has also given us! Now, it must be remembered again that despite the fact we have moral agency, we can not decide the outcome of our actions. Because of this, some would say that we are not free to choose – for example, someone might argue that they would like to steal something they cannot afford, but because there would be negative consequences they aren’t able to choose that. On this point, Elder Dallin H. Oakes said “We are responsible to use our agency in a world f choices. It will not do to pretend that our agency has been taken away when we are ot free to exercise it without unwelcome consequences.” We can still decide to do what we want…we just have to be prepared for the consequences.

A Vital Part of the Plan
Now, to understand the importance of this moral agency again we look back to the Council in Heaven. A couple of points need to be made. First, look at the two plans – Heavenly Father’s and Satan’s. Satan said “…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…” (Moses 4:1) Satan offered to save every single one of God’s children – what more could Heavenly Father wnat? Well, one thing actually…moral agency. Our Father in Heaven would rather give His children the choice and lose some from His presence than force everyone to be saved and follow Him. That is one reason we can assume that moral agency is so vital to us. Also, “…there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…” (Revelation 12:7) – a war was waged to preserve this agency and agency prevailed! Surely we should think carefully how we use this God-given moral agency.

Since that time, Satan has done everything he can to destroy the precious gift of agency we have. He entices God’s children to do things which will take away that agency, things which drive away the Spirit and therefore limit our choices as we are slowly put under Satan’s power. Addictive behaviours, once Satan pulls us onto those paths, diminish our agency as we find we have less power to choose not to partake in them, whatever they may be. In the mind of a person going down the path of addiction, they simply cannot choose not to partake, and moral agency is destroyed. There are also people influenced by Satan who seek to carry out his original plan here on Earth, probably not even realising it! Amalickiah was such a person. In Alma 46:10 it says he did “seek to destroy the Church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them…” – those who desire to take away other people’s moral agency to choose are in the world today.

Of course, without this adversity from Satan, as has been said before “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery…neither good nor bad.” (2 Nephi 2:11) There would be no point in having moral agency if Satan was not there to tempt us. “It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves…” (D&C 29:39).

The Role of the Saviour and His Gospel in Agency
As always, our Saviour plays a vital role in this. First, He was an upholder of the original plan of happiness, or agency. He said “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” (Moses 4:2). Not only that but, as the Saviour, He makes it possible for us to return to live with our Heavenly Father again. We all sin, we are fallen. No matter how hard we try to exercise our agency for good, we will fail overall. And once we have fallen short of perfection, that’s it! We have sinned and so, can not return to the presence of God. That is – if we did not have our Saviour. “And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.” (Alma 42:14). Without Christ, we’d be free to make choices, but for what reason? We would all fall short of perfection. “But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God…to be judged according to their works…” (Alma 42:23) – what a great scripture! Alma testifies to his son, Corianton, that because of Christ’s atonement, we will be resurrected, meaning we can be judged and therefore, our moral agency is once again, proven to be of valuable worth.

Jumping back a bit, how can obedience to God’s commandments really give us more ability to choose? Surely we are limiting our agency to set guidelines? Professor Daniel H. Ludlow said “The extent of our individual agency…is in direct proportion to the number and kind of laws we know and keep.” As we understand the gospel doctrine and principles more, primarily by obeying them, we can see things more clearly, enlightened by the Spirit, and our agency grows as we can see more alternatives and their potential outcomes. Elder Christofferson explained “Think of a ladder – each new law or commandment we learn is like one more rung on the ladder that enables us to climb higher…”

Decisions Determine Destiny
Now, despite using our agency for good, we will all still be tested – in Christ’s parable of the wise man and the foolish man (see Matthew 7:24-27), the rain fell on both houses, not just the foolish man’s. However, all tests and trials can be for our benefit. The Lord taught Joseph Smith “…if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7). We learn from all tests we face, as we learn outcomes from certain choices – we improve ourselves and become better. Elder Dallin H. Oakes said “The Final Judgement is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts – what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts – what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions…The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” Using our agency to make the right choices today will ultimately have an impact on who we become. This final character of who we are will determine our future, or, as President Thomas S. Monson puts it “Decisions determine destiny.”

Our Father in Heaven loves us. He cares for us. He wants us to return to live with Him, in our eternal families – we make the choices, it is up to us. We can receive guidance through the Spirit by our Father in Heaven, but in the end, because of the atonement of Christ, we can determine where we go after this life. THAT is the gift of moral agency.

Hope

In the June 2009 Ensign pgs 8-9 it talks about Hope being the ‘misunderstood sister’ in Faith, Hope and Charity. People have turned hope into a commonly used word, such as ‘I hope it’ll be sunny today’ or ‘I hope I pass my driving test’ – basically making hope synonymous with ‘wishful thinking’. So, in this way, hope doesn’t sound nearly as uplifting as Faith or Charity. However, this is not the meaning that Hope was intended for. Preach My Gospel pg 117 says “Hope is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you.” This is much different to the wishful thinking mentioned before.

How do we gain this abiding trust? In Romans 5:3-5 we read “…we glory in tribulation also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost…” Trials bring us patience as we endure them – but how does patience bring us experience? The article in the Ensign explains “We experience them through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost…we receive this witness “after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6)” – so this experience of the Holy Ghost helps us feel our burdens lifted through Christ’s Atonement and this gives us Hope! 

So we see “Hope is anything but wishful…It is expectation based on experience.” Mormon said to the Nephites “Behold, I say unto you that if ye shall have hope through the Atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal…” (Moroni 7:41) and counsels to his son Moroni, “may Christ lift thee up…and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever,” (Moroni 9:25).

“I see Hope more clearly now. She is serene. Her eyes have the deep, knowing look of someone well acquainted with sorrow, the luminosity of recently being wet with tears. Hope has the confidence of one who clearly sees a bright future even when the next hours seem fog shrouded. Hope is steady and strong, a friend I am glad to have beside me during my own trials.” What a beautiful description of the true form of Hope – it is indeed the anchor of our soul. As we have Hope in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, nothing can hold us down for we see the destination of eternal life rest in our minds forever throughout all our trials. It is clear to see now why it is a Christ-like attribute we should try and possess.

Perfect through Jesus Christ

A while ago, I studied a book called Believing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson and I loved how he explains how Christ’s Atonement sanctifies us from our sins. It’s like a student trying to receive a perfect grade. If that student gets a B in one module, they cannot possibly get a perfect result (in American grading, a ‘4.0’). Even if they do perfectly after that result, that perfection overall is unattainable. Like so, we have all sinned. Even if we live a perfect life from now on (which wouldn’t happen anyway) then we still would fall short of celestial standards – hence the importance of Christ’s sacrifice!

Robinson compared us accepting Christ’s Atonement like merging two bank accounts. Robinson wrote “When we become one with Jesus Christ, spiritually we form a partnership with a joint account, and his assets and our liabilities flow into each other. Since he has more assets than we have liabilities (he has an infinite ocean of assets) the new account has a positive balance…” No matter what we bring to the account, whether we be as perfect as we can be or the furthest from perfection we can be, Christ’s infinite assets will always, every time make the difference (infinity + -x will always equal infinity).

We can all be at different stages of spiritual progression but it’s only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement that we can all be fully cleansed from sin and become celestial material.

Parable of the Bicycle – Stephen E. Robinson

To illustrate further, we are like a child who wants a bike. We do all we can to save up for this bike – doing odd jobs around the house and saving up our pennies. We then realise very quickly that the price of the bike is far too much than we can afford.Our Dad, watching us see the price on the bike, sees the tears in our eyes – the realisation that alone, we won’t accomplish the price. He has told us that if we save up our pennies then we’ll be able to afford a bike. So – he tells us to give him all we have (61 cents in Robinson’s version) and he will pay the rest.

We want to live with Heavenly Father. To do so, we need to be perfect. We are filled with despair when we fall short and realise we are unable to achieve this. Christ asks us, through His Gospel, to give all we can, and He will pay the rest. He is the Great Mediator – only He can make this possible! We need to believe that He can.