Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. One of the most urgent needs today is the preservation of individual liberty. Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift to every normal being. Whether born in abject poverty or shackled at birth by inherited riches, everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency—man’s inherited and inalienable right.
Free agency is the impelling source of the soul’s progress. It is the purpose of the Lord that man become like him. In order for man to achieve this it was necessary for the Creator first to make him free. “Personal liberty,” says Bulwer-Lytton, “is the paramount essential to human dignity and human happiness.”
References in the scriptures show that this principle of free agency is essential to man’s salvation; and may become a measuring rod by which the actions of men, of organizations, and of nations may be judged.
I do not know that there was ever a time in the history of mankind when the evil one seemed so determined to strike at this fundamental virtue of free agency.
I am not one of those who see in the world catastrophes the hand of God as their cause. I do not believe that God has caused the misery in the world today. I do believe that the conditions of the world today are a direct result—an inevitable result—of disobedience to God’s laws.
With free agency there comes responsibility. If man is to be rewarded for righteousness and punished for evil, then common justice demands that he be given the power of independent action. A knowledge of good and evil is essential to man’s progress on earth. If he were coerced to do right at all times, or were helplessly enticed to commit sin, he would merit neither a blessing for the first nor a punishment for the second. Man’s responsibility is correspondingly operative with his free agency. Actions in harmony with divine law and the laws of nature will bring happiness, and those in opposition to divine truth, misery. Man is responsible not only for every deed, but also for every idle word and thought.
Freedom of the will and the responsibility associated with it are fundamental aspects of Jesus’ teachings. Throughout his ministry he emphasized the worth of the individual and exemplified what is now expressed in modern revelation as “his work and his glory.” (See Moses 1:39) Only through the divine gift of soul freedom is such progress possible.
Force, on the other hand, emanates from Lucifer himself. Even in man’s pre-existent state, Satan sought power to compel the human family to do his will by suggesting that the free agency of man be inoperative. If his plan had been accepted, human beings would have become mere puppets in the hands of a dictator, and the purpose of man’s coming to earth would have been frustrated. Satan’s proposed system of government, therefore, was rejected, and the principle of free agency established in its place.
There is another responsibility correlated and even coexistent with free agency, which is too infrequently emphasized, and that is the effect not only of a person’s actions, but also of his thoughts.
Man radiates what he is, and that radiation affects to a greater or less degree every person who comes within that radiation.
Force rules the world today. Individual freedom is threatened by international rivalries and false political ideals. Unwise legislation, too often prompted by political expediency, if enacted, will seductively undermine man’s right of free agency, rob him of his rightful liberties, and make him but a cog in the crushing wheel of regimentation.
It is well ever to keep in mind the fact that the state exists for the individual; not the individual for the state. Any form of government that destroys or undermines the free exercise of free agency is wrong. Liberty becomes then license, and the man a transgressor. It is the function of the state to curtail the violator and to protect the violated.
God is standing in the shadow of eternity, it seems to me, deploring the inevitable results of the follies, the transgressions, and the sins of his wayward children, but we cannot blame him for these any more than we can blame a father who might say to his son:
There are two roads, my son, one leading to the right, one leading to the left. If you take the one to the right, it will lead you to success and to happiness. If you take the one to the left, it will bring upon you misery and unhappiness and perhaps death, but you choose which you will. You must choose; I will not force either upon you . . . .
The power of choice is within you—the roads are clearly marked. In making the choice, may God give you clear-seeing, strong wills, courageous hearts!
Source: David O. McKay, 1962, Improvement Era Magazine 65:86. David O. McKay (1873–1970), served as Ninth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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Called Unto Liberty is a project of Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.