Our Own Reality- Acts 26:26-29

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.

COMMENTARY

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.

Free Will vs God's Control- Summary

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.

Free Will vs God’s Control- Personal Example

There are those that fall into sin, and then wonder how they were ever expected to prevail given the hand that they were dealt. There are also those that have remained faithful while those around them fell into sin, and then feel a sort of survivor’s guilt for it and wonder why they were kept hedged safe.

Predicaments such as these serve to test our faith in free will. It is far easier to say that you were made to be good or made to be bad, rather than to take responsibility for your actions. On the one hand you don’t want to be boastful, and on the other you don’t want to condemn yourself, and so you assign the responsibility elsewhere. But false modesty and false accusation are still false, and ultimately get us nowhere.

We do ourselves a terrible discredit when we deny our own power. Any time we fail to take ownership for our own actions, we cut our feet out from under us. I have certainly done myself that disservice, both in terms of not wanting to accept responsibility for my sins, nor for my obedience. A large part of my discipleship has been learning to give myself my fair due.

And so, I have done things that I am ashamed of, and I have done other things that I am proud of. It is true that I was enticed towards each of these. In fact the thoughts to do them did not necessarily originate in me, on the one hand being inspired by Satan and on the other inspired by God. Thus one can say that those beings are the authors of my choices, but they are still my choices. I take full ownership of them. Neither God or Satan has ever wrested control from me. I have only ever done what I have done.

Free Will vs God’s Control- 2 Nephi 2:5, Moroni 7:16

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

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.

COMMENTARY

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil
Another way that God intervenes for our liberty is in giving us commandments and instruction. These include those written within the scriptures, of course, but also the ones written in our hearts. For into each of us God placed the spirit of His Son, commonly referred to as the conscience, and because of it we can innately perceive when we have done something that is right, or something that is wrong.
If there were was no law given, and if there was no conscience to direct us, then there would not be any moral choices to be made. For example, we would not be able to perceive the difference between helping or hurting another, and thus could not make any conscious, intentional choice about which act to perform.
This would not be freedom, this would be the bondage of homogeneity. One can be made a slave by not being allowed to make their own decisions, but one can also be made a slave by not being able to have their decisions mean anything. For even if one can choose what they do, if those choices carry no moral weight they still cannot choose whom they will become.
Thus our freedom actually depends upon the control of a God. We require Him to place rules in our books and in our hearts so that we can choose meaningfully. He comes into our vacuum and gives us something to either push off of or pull into, and thus we begin to have movement.

Free Will vs God’s Control- Psalm 74:17, Exodus 23:31, Job 2:6

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.

And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.

COMMENTARY

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth
And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines
Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life

God is a God of boundaries. In the Bible we see how He defined the limits of the earth and the seasons, set the physical borders for the Kingdom of Israel, and even placed restrictions upon Satan. This is significant, because within boundaries there is freedom. We cannot pass certain borders, but we can move between them as we please. The Summer may be powerful or it may be mild, the Israelites may pitch their tents here or there, Satan may tempt us in one way or another. The choices are open, so long as they do not over-reach.
Thus is God in control? Yes, of course. What else would you describe the being that defines the limits of everything in the universe? But are we also in control? Yes again. Relatively speaking, the bounds that God has set on our lives seem as wide as an ocean, and we are free to steer ourselves within it.

Free Will vs God’s Control- Question

There has long been an argument that if God is all-knowing, and is in complete control of this world, then is it possible for us to have free will? If the universe has been setup as a giant clock, then are we not just revolving along a gear in its predetermined motion?

I’ve also seen this same idea described in a different way, when some disciples question why they were able to hold steady, while other loved ones lost their faith. What experience or strength did God give to me, they wonder, that He didn’t give to them? And why did He give it to me and not to them? And if it wasn’t something that God gave to me, then how in control is He really?

With this study I would like to examine the extent of God’s control in our lives, and how our free will is maintained. How does God preserves our opportunity to choose, without making the choices for us? I would also like to examine scriptural accounts of people that chose one path, when clearly they might have gone down another.

In the meantime, have you ever felt like your life was predestined for you, or that it could not have played out any other way? Have you wondered whether you could have remained as faithful if given a different hand in life? In what ways have you seen God move back to let you take your own steps forward?

Service to Others- John 13:4-8, 12-17

He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

COMMENTARY

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
He who is a master has great freedom, that is obvious. Once again, the scriptures here are stressing that we are intended to use that freedom to serve others. The more power one has, the more they are expected to use that power for the good of others.
The thing about being a master, though, is that there isn’t anyone else to subject you to service, you have to submit to it by your own volition. True service is something that can only be imposed on the self by the self.
Most churches that I know of teach their parishioners to performs acts of service, but rarely prescribe exactly in what way or to what extent. I believe this is extremely appropriate, as otherwise it would start to feel like compelling people. After all, who made Jesus wash his disciples’ feet but himself?

Service to Others- Matthew 5:42-46

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?

COMMENTARY

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?
Yesterday we observed how giving charitably is to give unfairly, or in an unbalanced way. It is giving where it is not deserved. And yet God is a fair God, and so if we give excessively, then justice must demand that we receive excessively in return. Thus by giving charitably you have simultaneously blessed the life of another and also tipped the balances in your favor. Everyone is lifted together.

That ye may be the children of your Father
God is the freest being we can conceive of, a personage entirely able to do as He pleases. His intention is for us to be as free as He is. The way of the world, is not this freedom. As mentioned yesterday, the way of the world is a pattern of choosing selfishly, followed by a predictable retaliation from another, followed by a predictable counter-retaliation, and so on forever. Thus begins a dance whose steps have been chosen for you. There is no freedom in this.
The only way to be an actor, and not one that is acted upon, is to do something entirely unnatural and unpredictable…like loving an enemy. One must receive a wound, be entirely justified in retaliating, and instead say “no, I’ll just take it.” It is the only way to liberation.

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you
One is not only made free in this manner, they are also made the most empowered. If you can only love those that love you, then they have the power to make you love them or not. They can steer your behavior by their influence. Even if they were to steer you into a rage that destroyed them, they still steered you. But if you do one of these unnatural acts of freely giving and freely forgiving, then who is in charge of your actions but yourself? To act by no other compulsion than your own, even if it is to act in subservience of another, is to be a true master.