But hold on to choice
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. 10 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad. 12 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
Leah bore children, Rachel couldn’t so she had Bilhah bear children, and now Leah has her maid Ziplah bearing children, too. As I mentioned before, Rachel had to adapt to the unknown, and now we have Leah changing tactics, too.
And as for Jacob, all he had sought was one wife but now he had four! No doubt his life was a world away from anything he expected it would be while he was still living in his father’s household.
And what stands out to me out of all this is the futility of human plans. It frankly doesn’t matter what any of us think is going to happen in our lives, what will occur is only what God has already laid out for us. Even those who deny God’s purposes for themselves end up playing into His larger plan anyway.
It’s a hard thing to fully give up the reins to God, in fact that’s something I realize I still struggle with to this day. But if He’s the one calling the shots anyway, then life will feel a whole lot smoother as soon as I give up the illusion of control and just go with God’s flow.
I’ve enjoyed doing this study. It’s a topic that I have already pondered on several times in life, and each time it has had new applications for me. First I wondered how to win the loyalty my younger siblings as a child. Then there was serving a mission, where I tried to proselyte the gospel message to others. Next there is my marriage, where my wife and I continually come to terms with our differences. Now I have children of my own, and the desire to teach them the things that matter most. There are also the daily interactions with friends, and the many different ideas and beliefs that we hold. And on top of all that are my efforts to convince my own self to live a higher life.
In all of these situations I want to be a voice for the things that I believe are important, but I do not want to become a tyrant. And even though this is a question I have considered before, there were absolutely new lessons waiting for me as I performed this study. The gospel is a well that can be drawn from many times over.
I am convinced that this topic is one our society as a whole needs to study, too. We will always have different opinions, and there is a lot of good that comes of this, but we need to know how to communicate and persuade in a way that is constructive, not divisive. Hopefully the principles I’ve learned can be useful to all of us.
You Cannot Convince an Enemy or an Inferior
First and foremost, if our intention is to make someone see what is right, we can never succeed. All we will accomplish is to entrench them more firmly in their original beliefs and make them resent us. Neither can we try to manipulate or coerce them into “seeing the light.” Passive-aggressiveness is just as ineffective as harshness.
Even a more academic debate is largely ineffective. There are very few who are going to separate reason from emotion. Thus, even if they see that you are technically right in your specific argument, they will still be convinced that you are wrong overall.
Appeals to authority fall short as well. If you have to explain to your subordinates why they should listen to you, then your actual authority over them is purely imagined. The more strongly you profess your superiority, the more you actively undermine any actual persuasion, because no one wants a tyrant for their mentor.
In short: brute force, invoked authority, and intellectual prowess are the most common ways we use to try and get people to believe and do what we want them to believe and do. Not only are these methods ineffective, they are each immoral in their own way.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:39- We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Moses 1:19- And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.
You Can’t Set Another’s Pace
Perhaps the greatest temptation to force another comes from the immediacy of want. We want someone to be a certain way, and we want them to be that way right now. Many of our wants can be immediately satisfied: when we are hungry we get food to eat and when we are tired we put ourselves to sleep. So when we want someone to do something, there is a strong inclination to just make them do it today. But even when done with good intentions, such as a parent that wants to make their child understand the right way to live, this method is ultimately ineffective.
Any behavior that is outwardly enforced will only continue so long as the force is maintained. If we teach others to be good by threats or bribes, then they will depend on those threats and bribes to maintain their virtues. Obviously this is far from the ideal. The ideal is for people to be motivated internally, by a personal desire that requires no external force to continue.
But how do we make that personal desire come alive in another? Quite simply we can’t. It is internal. It is out of our reach. We can love and we can set an example and we can be ready to receive their conversion, but we cannot make that conversion happen. For their transformation to be lasting, it can only occur when when they are ready for it.
Nehemiah 9:30- For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets.
Hosea 3:4-5- For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:
Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.
A Hope in Human Nature
And this might be a hard reality for us to accept. This seems to be the most unreliable form of influence imaginable. The most hands-off, uncontrollable, indirect way there could be. If we don’t make sure that things work out right, how can we be sure that they ever will? That question, however, only betrays a lack of faith in humanity. We ask it only because we fail to appreciate that if people truly are the children of God, then it is already in their nature to come to Him.
The fundamental desire to be good is already alive in us all. Human beings everywhere naturally seek the light. They do not need to be told that they should go to it, they just need to have it held high and they will make their way over on their own.
So how do we persuade and influence other people? We simply hold aloft our light. We be kind and good. We love them regardless of whether they’re willing to follow our example yet or not. We let them sort things out on their own terms, and know that they will come when they are ready. We prepare ourselves to forgive all their wrongs in the meantime. We keep answers for when they start asking questions. We store up grace and mercy for the day that they are willing to accept it.
And we do this for them because it was what He first did for us.
Matthew 5:16- Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Luke 15:20- And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Nehemiah 9:31- But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant
Yesterday I examined some verses that spelled out the divinely approved method for obtaining influence over others. And they were full of words like persuasion, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, and kindness. Which honestly sounds like a great deal of work! In fact it doesn’t sound like the work of a leader at all, but that of a servant.
And as it turns out, this is exactly the same methodology that Jesus taught to his disciples. It seems a paradox, but his process for gaining power over others was to just serve them. He assaults us with love until at last he wins our hearts.
Thy dominion shall be everlasting, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee
And going back to those verses from yesterday, after they conclude detailing the service we ought to employ as our means of influence, they then provide a promise. We are told that our dominion will just flow unto us. After we have sown love, loyalty will flow back to us of its own accord. It will come without “compulsory” means.
Maintaining power is the exact opposite for tyrants that rule by intimidation and force. Nothing flows to such leaders, they must go out and hunt for every ounce of control they have. They must domineer every servant at all times, and if ever they slack off then their power is gone.
Virtuous leaders invest themselves in their people. They plant their own goodwill, and reap the loyalty that naturally grows from that seed. There is no domineering and no forcing, just service flowing out and then flowing back in, pulsating, like the rhythms of a heart.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile
It is the nature of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, to exercise unrighteous dominion
It has been said that one of the best ways to really know a person is to see how they treat their inferiors. When they are in a position of power (whether it be a boss over their employees, a parent over their children, or a pet-owner over their pets) how do they behave towards them?
I was the middle child growing up, and there was definitely a difference between how I interacted with my older siblings and how I treated my younger ones. I felt subservient to my older siblings, and I would try to please them so that they would include me in their games. Meanwhile I felt superior to my younger siblings, and to them I’m afraid I felt the same tendency described in this verse: “to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood
Primarily this dominion took the form of “you should do what I say because I have authority.” Not priesthood authority in this particular case, just an “I’m older” authority. I felt that I was entitled to their obedience because I was bigger than they, and I was not okay if they challenged that belief.
Only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness, and pure knowledge
Of course my younger siblings did not care for this arrangement. And who could blame them? I didn’t want to be lorded over by my older siblings in that way, and neither did they didn’t want to be lorded over by me.
We all wanted older siblings who earned our respect. Siblings who didn’t take our obedience for granted, but who put in the time to care about us, help us, and play with us. When an older sibling did that, then they could ask a favor and easily receive.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
You who were dead in trespasses and sins; ye walked according to the course of this world,
had your conversation in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath.
Yesterday I considered how ineffective forcing people to obey you is in the long term. In this verse Paul describes those of us that have been wrapped around Satan’s finger for years, doing all manner of soul-wrenching sins due to the anxiety, fear, and addiction he smothers us with. And we might confess that we hate what we do, yet feel doomed to continue doing it all the rest of their lives.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ
And yet, for all that control Satan seems to have had over us, one day, on a whim, we will say that they have had enough and leave him for something better. God simply walks by and offers to take us somewhere new and we say “Yes, please!” And just like that the power and control and dominion of Satan is shattered.
And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;
And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.
And the king answered the people roughly, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
I finished my previous post by mentioning that Satan’s methods of influence are designed around getting immediate results. Fear and intimidation are powerful motivators, ones which cause people to do what is wanted in the moment. No doubt this was Rehoboam’s desire when he spoke so roughly to the Israelites and promised a harsh hand as their ruler.
And he is far from the only tyrant that has been willing to employ these methods. I am sure that each of us can recall times that these same methods have been used on us, forcing us to bend to another’s will. I am sure that we can also recall times that we used these methods ourselves at the expense of another.
The temptation to use fear and intimidation is powerful because they really can be effective at getting what we want for ourselves in the moment.
The people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David.
But those “in the moment” results come at a great cost. So long as the will of another is bent to your own they will hate you, and in return for their momentary obedience you sow their eventual rebellion. Rehoboam saw this firsthand.
I am reminded of an experience I had with a mother on my mission. She explained to me that she knew the church spoke against beating one’s children, but she was seeing much better results ever since she had resumed the practice. I can absolutely believe that her children fell in line for the moment, but long-term she was sowing hatred in the hearts that should love her best.
So many of us are willfully selling the love and loyalty of those we care for, simply because we have to have something right now.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
Thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself
The Lord said I gave unto them their knowledge; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency
God made stones that lack any freedom of will, and therefore obey His commands completely. But for His children He did not want mindless rocks. He wanted people that lived, and acted, and chose. And He wanted that, even if it meant they would not obey His will completely. Even if it meant they would use that ability of choice to choose against Him.
In the Garden of Eden He made His will perfectly clear to Adam and Eve, but He also made it perfectly clear that they could ignore His will and do the exact opposite. And sometimes this seems baffling! A part of us may want to shout out “Well of course they went astray! You should have put in more safeguards and controls! If there isn’t anything keeping us tied to you then we’re all going to leave you sooner or later!”
And yes, that is exactly what happens with each of us, isn’t it? So long as nothing pushes us to disobey we’ll stay innocent, but eventually Satan comes and tempts us with the fruit. We’ll look at that temptation, then look over our shoulder to see if God really isn’t going to stop us. And He’s really not going to. And we’re gone.
“You had us, God,” we sadly think. “But you didn’t make us stay so you lost us!” But as we will see tomorrow, this isn’t the case at all.
For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
We do not know all that went through King Agrippa’s heart during Paul’s sermon, but this passage suggests that he could have become a believer…if he would have let himself. For some reason he felt that he couldn’t, though. Whether it was lingering personal doubts, the pressure of his country, or some other influence that we do not know, he could have accepted this reality, but a part of him would not allow it.
Very often we don’t consider the reality we believe as being a choice. We say that we just believe what we believe, and don’t believe what we don’t, and there is no conscious decision in that. But if we aren’t in charge of our own paradigm, then who is?
Certainly we are subject to predispositions and influence and conditioning for our beliefs. Certainly there are some paradigms that are too radical for us to accept right away. Certainly it is far easier to maintain our current view of reality than to adopt another. But none of this denies the fact that we can choose what we believe. And King Agrippa could have chosen to be converted.
The question of how we are able to maintain free will while also acknowledging God’s control has never been very bothersome to me. For whatever reason, I was comfortable that that was simply the case, even though I didn’t have any specific answers for why. I believe each of us have some elements of the gospel that we understand, others that we don’t understand but aren’t bothered by, and others that we don’t understand and are bothered by.
A gospel study can be conducted to answer the questions that you personally find prickly, but it can also be conducted to answer the ones that others do. In a healthy religious community, members will be able to express their sincere concerns, and then the whole will reason it out together.
I hope the points that I have gone over in this study may be helpful to someone out there. I would love to hear any other counsel that you might be able to add to it. For now, here are the main points that I discovered through my study.
God’s Control is Necessary for Free Will
It is very easy to take the common things in life for granted. The fact that something has always been a certain way makes us believe that things must be that way by their inherent nature. We are so accustomed to the dawning of each new day, that it almost feels like that is just the way suns and planets must work. But of course, this is actually often not the way that they work at all. There is nothing inherent in a planet which says it must have a stable orbit, smooth rotation speed, and an ideal placement from a sun. None of it had to be this way for us.
Furthermore, why did it have to be that the laws of physics are such that gravitational forces keep a breathable atmosphere around us? Or that water would continuously cycle and remain fresh? Or that carbon-based life would return itself to the earth and thus perpetuate further generations?
And even beyond all that, why did it have to be that we have a conscience that drives us toward good and a carnal nature towards evil? Why is it that we are able to distinguish good from evil, and also possess the ability to choose whichever we please? Why are we able to be intelligent, moral beings, and not robots carrying out programmed orders?
The answer that this is just how things are now, and so they always had to be this way, is insufficient and unfounded. That such freedoms and opportunities are integral to our earth life is the result of conscious design.
Genesis 2:15-17- And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Moroni 7:16- For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
God Will Not Let Any Other Overpower Us
To be given a world that allows for free will is not enough, though. For a system cannot only be created once, it must be maintained. We are told that an object in motion will remain in motion, but that assumes that the object will never encounter any other force. In our world of entropy and friction, that is not only unlikely, it is impossible.
In fact we see that human nature itself is one of the greatest forces opposed to free will. For as far back as we know, it has been the intention of many men to suppress the will of others. This pattern has not ceased in modern days. Satan also works to change us from self-governed actors into puppets dangling from a string. And yet, never has any individual, nation, or temptation ever been able to gain the dominance of the world that they seek. No matter how powerful any of these oppressors seems to become, they have always fallen. It is as if some higher being is faithfully measuring the balance of the world, and disrupting it as needed when it tips too far to one side.
Furthermore, that higher being seems to be the only one exercising any personal restraint. If God is powerful enough to upset all who would control us, surely He is also powerful enough to control us Himself. And yet He does not. God is governed by God alone, and He exercises His own free will to preserve ours.
1 Corinthians 10:13- There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
God’s Plans Can Survive Our Freedom
It is understandable that we would consider God’s plans as posing a threat to our free will. The fact is that every other person we know is able to have their plans overrun by the choices of others. “The best laid plans of mice and man often go awry,” and usually because the other mice and men were free to throw a wrench them!
But while free will usually trumps any plan that crosses what, what if the plans were concrete and immutable? What if they were not man’s plans, but God’s, and therefore could not be denied? Then naturally we conclude it is man’s freedom that must turn instead, and so our lives must be predestined for us.
But I submit that God’s plans, while undeniable, are also adaptable to our choices. God will achieve what He must achieve, but most often He is able to achieve it whether you travel down the left path or the right. Perhaps there are a few times that He may disrupt us into the path that He has chosen, such as mentioned above when an oppressor grows too strong, but these are rare occurrences.
Never forget that of all the points in God’s plans, one of the highest priorities is that man should have free will. His plan isn’t going to stand against our agency, then, it is going to maximize it!
Alma 41:7- These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.