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.

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.

Service to Others- Moses 7:32-33, Galatians 5:13-14

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;
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.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

COMMENTARY

They are the workmanship of mine own hands…and also gave commandment, that they should love one another
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

These verses suggest that our selfish indulgences are misappropriations of the freedom God gives us. All people at all times have been given an inherent freedom in the form of being able to choose for themselves. Yet that freedom was give to us for a purpose, there is a reason to our liberty.
That reason, it would appear, is to “love one another” and by that love “serve one another.” In other words, because we are free we can then bind ourselves to whatever we choose. God’s hope is that we will choose to bind ourselves to Him and to our fellowman. Unfortunately, we all too often bind ourselves back to our own selves instead. We consider our own pleasure before all else, and resort to serving others only when we have something to gain by it.
I am supposed to be free and then make myself a servant to others, not make myself a slave to my appetites. So long as I fail to fit this part of my creation, I will feel incomplete. A hole inside that no amount of self-indulgence can ever fill. It is only in the giving of myself that I can ever find the full me.

Our Dual Nature- Summary

The notion of a dual nature has long existed in many different cultures and religious beliefs. One side is generally considered to be good, while the other is not. The way that “bad half” is viewed varies greatly, though. Is it something to be ashamed of and to wish we could be rid of? Is it something to give in to by letting go of all our inhibitions? Is there some sort of balance that has to be maintained between the two, neither allowing ourselves to become “too” good or “too” bad?
Alongside of these questions is the one of basic human nature. Evidently we have a good and a bad part, but which represents the real us. Are humans fundamentally good or evil?
I hope this study has been helpful to any seeking answers to these questions. I have been touched in this research to find that God’s opinion of our good-but-flawed selves is one of care, patience, and understanding. He wants us to embrace our best selves, but He also knows it is beyond us to do on our own.

Imperfection is Necessary for the Pursuit of Perfection

The existence of both good and evil is essential, so that we may define ourselves in relation to those two. Each of them presents certain pros and cons. On the one hand we have to exercise patience but will receive eternal joy, on the other we receive instantaneous gratification but will suffer for it afterwards.
Though to the rational mind the correct decision may seem obvious, our mortal shell’s are deeply swayed by the promises of carnal pleasure. This sets the stage for inherent conflict. There is no way to progress down a path of good without being beset by attacks from our own body. There is no way to progress down a path of evil without being panged by the pleadings of our own conscience. We are locked in the most difficult war possible: the war with ourselves. To reach either potential destiny requires overcoming one side of our nature or the other.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
Moses 6:55- They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good

The Struggle Protects Our Freedom

This natural opposition that exists down each path ensures that each step is made consciously and intentionally. Not a one of us will accidentally fall into our own salvation, not a one of us will be forced into damnation against our will. When we stand at judgment we will be able to appreciate that what we have become was our own decision.
To remove the struggle would be to remove our agency. It would mean our destiny would be the result of either random chance or another’s will being imposed upon us. God’s desire is not for His children to be good, it is for them to choose to be good, for them to want to be good, for them to prioritize being good over all other ways.
Moses 6:66- And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves

Free Will Comes at a Cost

Necessarily our freedom comes with terrible pain. Not a one of us fights against our evil nature except through great effort, and also moments of defeat. By our struggle we are all made intimately familiar with failure, shame, unworthiness, and isolation. The weight on us is heavy, indeed, but we are not the ones taxed most heavily by it.
If we were left to our own devices, we would indeed gain the knowledge we required, we would learn the value of virtue and the foolishness of sin, and we would ultimately decide that happiness was the path we wished to pursue…only to now find that that way was closed to us forever. Having paid the price to understand, that understanding would be futile if not for an atoning sacrifice to make up for the mistakes we made during our learning experience.
Though at times our lot is hard, God has given the greater sacrifice by far: the life of His perfect Son. The atonement of Jesus Christ not only makes succeeding in this earthly trial possible, it even allows us to hold a miraculous peace and joy while in the midst of it.
Psalm 23:4-6- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.