I Am A Child of God

The Debilitating Lie
In the Pearl of Great Price, we begin with reading about Moses and a glorious experience he has with the Father. Moses was carried away in the Spirit into a vision and he witnesses the glory of God – we read in Moses 1:3

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?”

What an amazing experience. Here is Moses, a mortal man, witnessing before him the very existence of a God and that He is all-powerful and endless. If you were in that moment, how would you feel? A little intimidated? Nervous? Even a little scared? Or, if you know the truth that Moses was to learn immediately after, maybe you would feel something else. God goes on to say in verse 4:

“And, behold, thou art my son;”

Why would the Lord, after proclaiming his never-ending nature, decide to proclaim his never-ending relationship with Moses? Why teach him so early on this profound truth? We find the answer very soon after this marvellous vision. Satan, the father of lies, deception and falsehoods, comes to Moses immediately after this life-changing experience. This cunning architect of doubt knew exactly what his best stratagem was after Moses had such a revealing vision of God. In verse 12 we read:

“And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

Here is the great, debilitating lie that Satan often uses with us today to seemingly demean our value, and it is what he tried with Moses. Moses had just witnessed a perfect Being, a glorified Man – one who Moses might have found difficult to relate to, had he not learnt the simple, glorious truth mentioned before. Was he not indeed insignificant, did he not tremble before the presence of this almighty God and see he, himself, was inadequate? In saying ‘Moses, son of man’ Satan is deliberately trying to cause feelings of doubt and unworthiness in Moses, implying that Moses is worth nothing to God, this Mighty, Immortal Being.

The Glorious Truth

But, we know different. Moses knew different. He had been taught the simple, profound truth – the truth that would enable him to overcome all Satan could throw at him, to overcome all feelings of doubt and inadequacy – and yet, Primary children in our Church at the age of three (even younger) sing this life-saving truth in an innocent, heartfelt song – ‘I am a Child of God’. Because this doctrine is learnt at such a young age in the Church I feel I have often overlooked its significance. Moses did indeed overcome Satan’s advances in this experience, we can do the same.

Often Understated, Can Never Be Overstated

These thoughts are based on a talk given by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy in a recent General Conference. He stated:

“This doctrine is so basic, so oft stated, and so instinctively simple that it can seem to be ordinary, when in reality it is among the most extraordinary knowledge we can obtain. A correct understanding of our heavenly heritage is essential to exaltation.”

It is indeed understated just how important this tremendous truth is. The reality is, it can never be overstated. Just imagine if you did not know there was a God? Would there be any purpose to our mortal lives? Would we be motivated if we did not have an ultimate, eternal goal to strive for? Now, imagine how you would feel if you felt there was a God, but you had no meaningful, loving connection with Him? Would this be any more comforting that not knowing there was a God at all? That there was some all-powerful Being observing our every action, with little care or unconditional love for us?

If we look in the Bible Dictionary under ‘God’ we read:

“Although God created all things and is the ruler of the universe, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (through His Spirit), mankind has a special relationship to Him that differentiates man from all other created things: man is literally God’s offspring, made in His image, whereas all other things are but the work of His hands.”

As mentioned, this special relationship can be a great support and comforting for us to know as we journey through this mortal life. It means a lot. Once we understand this eternal truth, we can know that God is indeed there, but not only that, that He loves us as a perfect Father does, He is guiding us, He knows what is best for us and He desires nothing more for us to return again to Him for eternity.

Eternal Implications

Such a monumental truth has a number of implications, things which we need to take into account. I will only mention a couple but there are many.

The first, as mentioned, is the way we view trials. Elder Hallstrom went on to say in his message:

“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are—that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?”

The truth of ‘I am a child of God’ can have a profound impact on how we react to trials in our lives. Trials change from being irritable barriers which impede our progress to spiritual hurdles which, whilst challenging, will ultimately support our growth and progress.

The second thing we change is our view of each other. How much easier does it become to love those around us when we recognise and understand that, as we are all the children of God, we are all spiritually connected and related? In the weeks leading up to serving my Mission in the England Leeds Mission, I was having a personal struggle. Not one of desire to actually go on my mission – but one of concern with my level of charity. It’s not that I didn’t care for other people…it’s that I just didn’t like talking to people, much less people I had no connection with (and even less those from Yorkshire!) Joking aside, a couple of weeks before I was to leave, I begin to have a quiet concern – how could I begin to proclaim the Gospel if I didn’t have a love for the people I would be serving. I had a love of the Saviour and His Atonement – but I do not think I yet had a sufficient understanding that we are all children of God (despite, again, having sung that fact over a thousand times). Elder Hallstrom commented on this saying:

This beloved hymn is one of the most often sung in this Church. But the critical question is, do we really know it? Do we know it in our mind and in our heart and in our soul? Is our heavenly parentage our first and most profound identity?

I thought I did – but maybe I was wrong. As it was, this concern was eating away at me as I was sat on a bus travelling to a destination. It grew and grew in my mind until I couldn’t bear it. I looked around at all the unfamiliar people from my seat at the back of the bus (remember, I was on a public transport, so they were very unfamiliar) and I just couldn’t imagine myself ever having the confidence and the strength to talk to them. As the worry grew, I felt a profound feeling that I needed to pray…looking back this now reminds me of a scripture in Moroni 7:45 which says: 

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God;”

As I prayed, certainly trying as much as I could in my heart, something significant stirred within me. It can only be described as a prompting from the greatest teacher we have access to, the Holy Ghost. As I lifted my eyes from being bowed in prayer, something incredible happened. There was no heavenly music, no mystical voice heard in my ear – but there was a significant change in my heart. For that moment, I understood. I looked around again, at each individual on that bus, and I saw a glimpse of something that I hadn’t even yet seen in myself – potential. Every single soul on that bus had (and still have today) the potential to become as God is, their Heavenly Father. No matter who they were, where they were from, what life they had lived up until that point, they could become like Him. The only thing stopping them was not having the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and I had it!! The young, 18-year-old man at the back of that bus was sitting there with eternal truths that would bless their eternal lives forever…so why was he just sat there!? Unfortunately I cannot say that I jumped up and proclaimed restored truth to my first converts then, but I knew what was needed. Not for me to be perfect at teaching, or even be the most confident at talking to people. I needed to recognise that EVERYONE I spoke to had divine potential, they were offspring of God.

What do we need to do?

Now, in a world that is constantly pulling us in seemingly never-ending directions, the truth of ‘I Am a Child of God’ can take a backseat. It really can be a truth which, whilst it is glorious in principle, it can be ordinary in day-to-day living. Elder Hallstrom warned us of this, saying: 

“The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, then ignore, and then forget our connection with God.”

Elder Hallstrom said it is a truth which is vital to our exaltation. Whatever methods we take to internalise this truth and understand it more (and yes it is the usual, seemingly ‘ordinary and mundane’ answers of reading scriptures, engaging in consistent meaningful prayer, partaking the sacrament religiously and renewing our covenants made with the Father and so on), they simply cannot be glossed over. A 30 second prayer which we repeat every evening will not open our natural eyes to the glorious feeling that we have divine potential – we must WANT to find this truth.

We’ll Ascend Together

This entry is based remarks on the talk given by Sister Linda K Burton in the recent General Conference ‘We’ll Ascend Together”. In her talk she speaks of the importance of the family, in particular the relationship between the husband and wife. I would like to focus on this relationship but also include the children within this family setting and their role in helping the whole family ascend together.

The world as we know it is in disarray. Countless concourses of people are tossed to and fro in chaos, looking for a sense of purpose and comfort in their lives. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we are in a very fortunate position. We have a great amount of knowledge about such deep and spiritual things that I think sometimes we forget just how fortunate we are. We know what we need to do to have peace and happiness in our lives.

On the other hand, we also know that Satan, the adversary of peace and happiness, does all he can to make all mankind suffer and become lost. Have we ever stopped to wonder why? After all, this Satan was once like we were, in that he was a spirit child of our Heavenly Father. We know that he decided that he required more though, in his own way and time. In rebelling against our Father in Heaven, Satan lost the opportunity to experience mortality. As a result he works ceaselessly to degrade us and our families. He has planted the lie that family, and the fundamental organisation of the family, are not necessary, that we can find happiness without family. In the last General Conference, Sister Linda K. Burton stated I plead with you not to listen to Satans lies! He has forfeited that sacred privilege of ever becoming a husband or father. Because he is jealous of those who have the sacred roles he will never fill, he is intent on making all men miserable like unto himself!

Is it any wonder that in today’s ever-changing world, the family is being attacked on all sides? Whether it’s the family as a concept or own individual families, Satan is mobilising all his efforts to rip the family apart. The list that could be given of active threats to the family is too long and disheartening to state at this moment but we are fully aware of them. As parents in Zion, it is vital for us to not only teach our children the principles of the Gospel but create a nurturing home which can be a place of refuge in the spiritual storm. As children in Zion, it is very important that we accept our role in making the home truly a heaven on Earth. Parents and children have a partnership and if they work together they can resist the oncoming march of Satan and his lies.

Parents

As I researched for this talk I came across a great list of quotes about family given by well-known people; people like CS Lewis, Walt Disney, Princess Diana and more. What was fantastic to see was that within this list there was a quote by Marjorie Pay Hinckley – wife of recent Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley – she said “Home is where you are loved the most and act the worst.” The sad thing about this thought is that I instantly felt bad – you know the feeling. Parents, do we act as polite and respectful of others at home as we do maybe in the workplace, or in public? As husbands or wives do we remember to apply the Proverb “A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1). We all have arguments with our family members and I’m no exception. There have been a number of times I’ve looked back over a discussion we’ve had and I wonder ‘Why didn’t I just let it go?’ – did me being right really matter that much? I’m sure we’ve all had those moments too! Couples who have been blessed with a temple marriage should be working towards a Celestial Marriage – and there is no contention in the Celestial Kingdom. Will we therefore agree completely in the eternities? Maybe not, but we will not contend with each other. Let’s get into that habit now.

As a people who have made life-changing covenants with Heavenly Father it is our duty to remember Christ and try to live a life that He would in all times, things and places – this includes, and probably applies most to, our own home. As I think of the role of parents in the home my mind refers straight back to my favourite passage in the Bible Dictionary under the entry for the Temple – it describes the Temple as “A place where the Lord may come, it is the most holy of any place of worship on the earth. Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.”

This thought surprised me when I first read it – can our homes REALLY compare to the Temple in sacredness? Can my home with Cheerios scattered across the living room floor from snack time, my home with books constantly finding their way on the floor, my home with little flecks of Playdoh all around the dining room table really compare to the Temple in holiness? Before deciding that goal was a little unrealistic for our young family I paused and thought about the significance of those items. All of these things (and more) show that our home is a place for nurturing, learning, playing and growing together. However messy until the children go to sleep (and then the same again the following day), it is indeed a special place and yes, a place where the Spirit of the Lord can be unrestrained, if we invite it to be there.

In the scriptures, we read of parents who taught their children well so that when they grew up they did not depart from the way they had been taught. From the very start of the Book of Mormon we learn the principle of righteous parenting – ‘I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents’ is often referred to as the most read line in the entire Book of Mormon. But it is a good line. It shows that Nephi was taught and that his parents were good. They must have taught their children well because Nephi did not just accept what his parents said but also went to find out for himself – in 1 Nephi 2:16 we read “…having great desires to know the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord and behold…he did soften my heart that I did believe the words which had been spoken by my father.”

I don’t know if you have noticed but did you spot the word ‘soften’. I had always, for some reason, pictured Nephi as this unquestioning, strictly obedient son to Lehi. Yet, here Nephi specifically says that his heart was softened, suggesting it was in a state that it needed to be softened. Yet, Lehi and Sariah must have taught their children how to receive an answer for themselves, otherwise why would Nephi know to pray to the Father? We would do well as parents or prospective parents to follow the example of Lehi and teach our children in a ‘goodly’ way, or, teach them the Gospel and how to find truth for themselves.

Does this mean that if our children decide to depart we have not taught them well? Of course not – look at Lehi’s other sons…

Children

At this stage I want to look now at a child’s role in make the home as sacred as the Temple. Parents do have a large responsibility to ensure that the home provides for temporal and spiritual needs, including regular FHE, prayer and scripture study. However, children play a vital role too.

At this stage it seems appropriate to share a thought I found by the great author Mark Twain about children in the home and how things are from their perspective – he said “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

If you are the child of a parent (which is all of us) I’m sure you have probably felt this or will encounter these feelings. But whether we are a child at home with our parents or moved away from our parents, we are and will forever be the children of our earthly parents (according to the great Plan of Redemption). This, surely, is why when Moses received the 10 great laws that would govern the Lord’s chosen people one of those ten was to ‘Honour thy father and thy mother…’. We will all need to uphold this law into the eternities…

However, children playing their part in the home extends to more than simply respecting their parents and doing what they ask, they can offer so much more. Our son Joshua, when he had just turned three years old, developed a habit of asking us the same question a lot – the question was “You happy?”. Every day, in the Roberts home, we are asked this very deep question “You happy?” Now, that question is adorable enough, but when you recognise that this question was not just restricted to his family at home to make the home a cheerier place it just gets even cuter. Random people who passed our family on the streets would be psychoanalysed by this 3 year old – “You happy?”. When out shopping decided which cereal to get – “You happy?”. The most surreal time has to be when we went swimming and I was with Josh in the changing rooms and one of the lifeguards was mopping the water from the floor nearby “…you happy?” Unfortunately this lifeguard didn’t look too happy but he had headphones in so he didn’t hear this invitation to reflect. Whilst I put this question across as a funny story, this question had a marvellous effect on us and the people who were asked – if we weren’t or the people we met didn’t seem happy…you can’t look into the bright green eyes of a cheerful three year old and say you’re not happy! Our three year old son, even though he probably didn’t recognise it at the time, was trying to make our home a happy place to be – we can truly learn from our children!

Children, currently at home or simply children by relation, can brighten up the home, or their older parents’ days, by your choices. Do we decide to shut ourselves away from our family or do we actively decide to spend time with them, ask how they are and build those eternal relationships? All of us, as children (again referring to all of us) are placed in a perfect position to make the home a heaven on earth; decide today to make the home a happy place.

The Storm will Continue

So, if we, as parents and children, decide together to work on protecting our home will we be completely weather proof from Satan’s storm. We do have to accept it will not be easy, but we can do it!

Subtlety vs Simplicity

In Jacob 4:14, we learn of an issue that was found amongst the Jews at the time of Christ but is also found in the world today. It says “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness…” In a world of instant information and complex media, we often expect to find the answers to questions instantly. With information being easier to access, it can sometimes be easy to want to find answers to complex or meaningless questions. These questions will not help us in life but sometimes we can be tempted to want to find out answers to them. They can distract us from the things that matter most.

Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that His Gospel is clear. It is something which children can be taught to understand. Elder Chistoffel Golden Jnr taught “In its essentials, the gospel is simple and easy to understand and adapted to the capacity of the weakest.” If it were not so, would God be fair? If the Gospel were something to be only understood by an intellectual few then would it be fair for any of us who didn’t understand? We are not required to know the subtle mysteries of God. Yes, we are required to study out the principles of the Gospel as deeply as we can. However, we do not have to look beyond what the Saviour and his messengers teach in the scriptures or through revelation.

On the other hand, and there is always another hand, Satan employs different tactics in order for us to use our agency unwisely. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 we read “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Satan is the opposite to the Saviour. Instead of being open, clear and honest about what he offers, Satan encourages us to disregard the commandments of God by presenting temptation as an enticing and alluring prospect at that moment in time. It is very rare that we make huge mistakes instantly.  Elder Robert C Gay further emphasised “Today it is so easy to get caught up in the noise of the world-despite our good intentions. The world presses us to [look] beyond the mark.” From a scriptural perspective we read in 2 Nephi 28:21 “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” As we make our day to day decisions we will need to remember to avoid looking beyond the mark.

The ways to avoid falling for the subtlety of Satan and keeping to the simplicity of the Saviour will, ironically, be the small and simple things that we often mention: prayer, study, regular partaking of the sacrament and so on. However, these vital acts will help us remember the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and avoid the subtle snares of the adversary.

Morning and Evening Prayer

As we engage in making our prayers more meaningful, we need to understand how they work and what the purpose of regular prayer is.

Elder David A. Bednar gave a great explanation of this in a talk given in the October 2008 General Conference called ‘Pray Always’. D&C 10:5 reads “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan…” but how do we exactly always pray? How will this constant prayer help?

To address why it’s important to offer morning and evening prayers, Elder Bednar said:

“The patterns used by God in creating the earth are instructive in helping us understand how to make prayer meaningful. In the third chapter of the book of Moses we learn that all things were created spiritually before they were naturally upon the earth.

“And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth,

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth” (Moses 3:4–5).

We learn from these verses that the spiritual creation preceded the temporal creation. In a similar way, meaningful morning prayer is an important element in the spiritual creation of each day—and precedes the temporal creation or the actual execution of the day. Just as the temporal creation was linked to and a continuation of the spiritual creation, so meaningful morning and evening prayers are linked to and are a continuation of each other.”

As we have these morning and evening prayers to plan, create and account for our days, we will naturally over the course of time find it becomes a habit. We will then remember to spiritually ‘create’ our day and to account to the Lord what we’ve done with the time we’ve been allotted by Him. This can also help us realise the heavenly help we are receiving every day. As such, we will find ourselves praying always.

Elder Bednar continued “Morning and evening prayers—and all of the prayers in between—are not unrelated, discrete events; rather, they are linked together each day and across days, weeks, months, and even years. This is in part how we fulfill the scriptural admonition to “pray always” (Luke 21:36; 3 Nephi 18:15, 18; D&C 31:12). Such meaningful prayers are instrumental in obtaining the highest blessings God holds in store for His faithful children.” If we do want to become more like our Heavenly Father, we need to have His divine support and strength to do so. The importance of daily, fervent prayer in receiving this help is vital. Without it, we will struggle to overcome the effects of Satan and therefore, we will struggle to have the influence of the Spirit in our life guiding us back to Him.

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.

Satan

In all the doctrine and principles found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, learning about Lucifer, the Adversary, is not the most…happy of subjects. Despite this, we are encouraged to at least recognise who Satan is, just what power he does have and his methods that he is employing to try and turn as many as possible away from our Father in Heaven.

2 Nephi 28 gives us distinct and clear warnings against Satan and his methods of temptation. 2 Nephi 28:21 in particular gives us one tactic which is probably the most dangerous to anyone. It reads “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well…-and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”

President George Albert Smith said this in a General Conference in 1918 after sharing the above verse: “…that’s exactly the way he does it. He does not come and grab you bodily and take you into his territory…He makes you believe that you are gaining something when you are losing…Men and women today are subject to that influence…that whispering is going on and they do not understand what the Lord desires them to do, but they continue in the territory of the evil one…”

All these cautions remind me of an analogy including a frog and boiling water. More recently, scientists dispute that this analogy would actually take place but it works well with the concept of Satan and his cunning tactic. Reportedly, if a frog is placed in boiling water then it will instantly jump out to safety. However, if the frog is placed in cool water and then the water is heated slowly enough, the frog will not attempt to escape until it has boiled to death. This relates to how we need to be aware of Satan turning up the heat around us before we are ‘boiled’ in a spiritual sense.

 

 

Of course, one of Satan’s tools is to convince people that he doesn’t exist! If there is no Satan, then there isn’t any ‘temptation’ and so there are no bad things to avoid in life. This is actually covered in the next verse of 2 Nephi – “…others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none – and thus he whispereth…until he grasps them with his awful chains…” (2 Nephi 28:22). As people are led to believe there is no devil, they are led much easier into his influences and further into his grasp. 

Elder Marion G. Romney told us “A corollary to the pernicious falsehood that God is dead is the equally pernicious doctrine that there is no devil. Satan himself is the father of both these lies. To believe them is to surrender to him. Such surrender has always led, is leading now, and will continue to lead men to destruction.” What better lie to circulate that he doesn’t exist so people don’t know there’s any ‘bad’ influence.

As we see here, Satan has had millennia of experience in leading away God’s children. As such, he has become expert. How can we, vulnerable and innocent as we are, overcome such power and knowledge? Two things stick out to me.

One, we have a body – Satan does not. Therefore, as powerful as Satan is, we have power over him; we decide if we will allow his temptations to sway us or not. Also, and even more importantly, we have the Lord on our side. With His support, help and guidance, nothing is impossible when it comes to overcoming Satan and his wiles. I know that Satan is real, I have felt his influence in my life (as I’m sure we all do). However, I too know that God is real – and His power and influence is much stronger. I have felt the Lord’s influence also and I can tell you that He is indeed much more powerful than Satan, and His power leads to much greater happiness. Satan may trick us with temporary pleasure, but that can never beat true happiness.