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.