Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 8:32, 1 John 2:21

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

COMMENTARY

The truth shall make you free
Yesterday I considered how the truth wants to be spoken and urges us to utter it. However it is not the truth that needs us so much as it is we who need the truth.
Truth is not some fragile being that we must protect or else will fade away. It is not Tinkerbell who will die if we stop believing in it. Truth just is. It exists independently of our involvement. Truth does not need to be stated to be true.
So when we speak the truth, it is not for truth’s sake, but for humanity’s. As Jesus attests in this verse, it is the truth that makes us free. Thus to know the truth and to not say it is to leave your brother in chains.

Ye know it, that no lie is of the truth
And this is yet another reason why those that have found moral truth must speak up, even to a world that doesn’t want to hear it. Just as it is wrong to see someone walking into physical danger and not call out a warning, it is also wrong to not call out a warning of moral dangers.
When one has found the truth one knows the truth and one knows what is not of the truth. And when one knows that what they hear is not truth, it would be an act of abuse to leave one’s fellowman so blinded. Even if the other will not hear, the one that knows the truth is still obligated to speak it so that the other can have his chance for freedom.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Matthew 7:7-8, John 7:37, John 6:66-67

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

COMMENTARY

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth
If any man thirst, let him come unto me
We must always remember that this is a gospel of invitation, not of force. It is a gospel where the disciple is meant to seek after, not be pushed ahead. It is opt in, not opt out.
When we can share the truth we should do so with passion and commitment, we should leave no question about the importance of what we are saying. But never should we try to make someone accept it and never should we punish them for ignoring us.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

Jesus boldly renounced sin. Jesus reproved his own disciples. Jesus chased away those who corrupted the place of worship. He was very clear and very firm in his declaration of truth. But the decision to follow him was always left to the disciple. If they wanted to leave then they could, and some of them did. But if they wanted to stay then they knew where to find him and they knew what he expected of them. It was just up to them to choose it.

The Epic Life- Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28, John 14:2

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
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.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

COMMENTARY

Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.
Tied in with our desire for a life that is epic and meaningful is a desire for a life that is independent. We want to be an agent unto ourselves, not to be someone else’s pawn. And to be clear, freely electing to be a servant to my God is not at all the same as being some manually-controlled pawn. I can choose to be a servant and still retain my individuality.
And as we see in this verse, God’s intent is for us to have that independence. He wants us to freely choose many good works for ourselves. Our deepest spiritual joy does not come from sitting back and just idly thinking about God, it comes from receiving a charter and giving our all to to fulfill it!

In my Father’s house are many mansions
The world would try to convince us that being God’s servant is restrictive, destroys individuality, and turns us all into identical robots. But nothing could be further from the truth. There are many mansions in heaven, many different domains of good, many paths within His garden. The ways to champion God’s will are legion, and He intends for us to freely choose our own corner of the field to work in. Thus my great adventure of good works is very distinct and unique from your own, but both of them are still good. And when we find the good path that uniquely calls to us and give ourselves to it with all the power we have, then we find ourselves walking the truly epic life.

Influence and Persuasion- Luke 15:18, 20, Hosea 3:4-5

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
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.

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, 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.

COMMENTARY

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee
The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a sacrifice

I have just recounted how God is committed to preserving our agency, and because of that has given us the very power with which we all abandon Him. And at times I find that very incredulous. Of course we will go astray if given so much freedom! The scriptures are full of stories of people that did exactly this: Adam and Eve, Cain, Judas, King David, and Samson to name a few. Each of these people used their agency to depart from God. Each of them were near to him, but then they chose to leave.
And this pattern is inevitable. So long as we have no reason to stray we will stay, but all of us do have reasons to turn faithless at some point or another. And then we have verses like the above. Verses of people lost and far from their God.

And he arose, and came to his father
Afterward shall the children of Israel return

But it is shortsighted to suggest that that is the end of the story. For every tale of departure is open to a sequel of return. And while some will not come back, many do. And so the scriptures also have stories about Jonah, Peter, Saul turned Paul, Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, and the Israelites when they rebuilt the temple and committed to follow the Lord anew.
And when people come back to God, they do it with that same freedom that they used to leave Him in the first place. The freedom that is given and preserved by God. They do not return because He made them do it, they do it because they chose to. And this was His intention all along.
When I feel cynical that all the world will forever abandon God I realize that He has greater faith in humanity than I do! Where I hold doubt in my brothers and my sisters and myself He believes. Where I believe that one who is lost is lost forever He says, “let us wait and see.”

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 3:17, Moses 7:32

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;

COMMENTARY

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.

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 7:33, Helaman 14:30

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

COMMENTARY

I have given commandment that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father
But behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood
God has a problem of us not choosing Him, and of us not choosing to love one another. We really ought to choose those, they are intended for our own good. I believe each of us knows we would be happier if we did choose them, but still we find reasons not to. Instead we hate and turn away from our own source of light and life.

For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free
Very interestingly, though, God’s dilemma here is one of His very own making! He gave us the very tool of our disobedience! He gave us knowledge and He gave us agency, and that agency is exactly what we use to choose against Him.
In the above verses we learned what agency was given to us for, in what way we were intended to use it, but it also opened up the option for us to betray God, and that is exactly what humanity has chosen to use it for since the very beginning!
Let’s look at this more closely tomorrow, and afterwards we’ll consider how this dilemma of God’s is actually by divine design!

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- 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- 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.

COMMENTARY

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.
Yesterday we discussed how God sets bounds on our lives, and within those bounds we can freely make our own choices. We often think that this freedom is inherent to our human experience, that for earth life to exist it must necessarily include agency. But this is not the case at all.
As seen in the story of the first creation, our agency is actually explicitly designed for by God. God planted a garden for Adam and Eve, and in it put many trees that they were sanctioned to eat from. More importantly, though, he also put a tree in the garden which they were not sanctioned to eat from. They could eat from it, but they were not supposed to.
Of course God could have created a garden populated only with trees that were appropriate for the couple to eat from, but then there would have been no freedom within those bounds. The couple would have remained good, but only because they had no other choice. They would not have had any agency.
The example of the Garden of Eden shows that forced obedience is not God’s agenda for us. He values our freedom so much that he will intentionally place a tree of knowledge within the reach of mankind, just so that they have the power to choose. So do we have free will? Absolutely. But it isn’t our default state, in truth we only have it because God is in control and He designed for us to. Thus God’s involvement in Earth life does not create a paradox for free will, it is what even makes it possible.

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.