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Monday, December 22, 2008

Agency in the Eternities

Q. Why didn't God create all His children to be like Christ?

This is a very good question, if we are all God's children and He has created us, why do we have imperfections and Christ did not have any? Also related to this question is another we received, "Do Mormons believe that some people are better than others?" To answer these questions, I would like to go far back to before this world was created, when we all lived as spirits in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

To the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord said, "Before I formed thee in the belly, I
knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 That is to say, the Lord knew Jeremiah even before his birth. He knew his strengths, his weaknesses, his personality and his potential. That also means that Jeremiah, as all the rest of us, had developed those traits by that point.

Bruce R. McConkie wrote the following about how we came to be as we are:
“All the spirits of men, while yet in the Eternal Presence, developed aptitudes, talents, capacities, and abilities of every sort, kind, and degree. During the long expanse of life which then was, an infinite variety of talents and abilities came into being. As the ages rolled, no two spirits remained alike. Mozart became a musician; Einstein centered his interest in mathematics; Michelangelo turned his attention to painting. Cain was a liar, a schemer, a rebel. … Mary and Eve were two of the greatest of all the spirit daughters of the Father. … And so it went through all the hosts of heaven, each individual developing such talents and abilities as his soul desired.” (The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. (1979–81), 1:23.)

It then follows that each individual chose a path before this life and through diligence and care to follow our Father's guidance, each individual grew to varying degrees. The reason, then, that Christ is perfect and was able to fulfill His Father's will perfectly in carrying out the Atonement was because He used his agency, or ability to choose, more wisely than others. He became like His Father.

The Book of Abraham gives a rare description of Jesus in the pre-earth life:
"And there stood one [Christ] among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." Abraham 3:24-25
That ability to choose is still available for us in this life and is the very reason that we are here. Every day we have the choice between following our Savior, Jesus Christ, and otherwise. Thus, through our choices, one person can excel in music, another in athletics, another in science and another in kindness, love or patience. Others can choose not to excel or to develop traits of laziness, procrastination and anger. Our options and potentials are limitless in either direction and everyone has parts of both.

The atonement of Jesus Christ plays the greatest part in our development. It is through His grace that we can correct our faults and that He can heal our wounded hearts. And then through His guidance, we will be able to grow and choose the good, better, and best things in our lives.

See also: Our Moral Agency by Elder L. Lionel Kendrick


Anonymous said...

"...because He used his agency, or ability to choose, more wisely than others."

Ok, so why didn't God create all people so that they would use their agency wisely?

It seems like the question was actually dodged rather than answered.

dave said...

Individual agency, by definition, is entirely in your own hands, not controlled by God. That's the point.
God "creating people so that they use their agency wisely" is another way of saying God not giving us agency at all.

Ben said...

Dear Anonymous:

Great question. I think that Bret answered the question well, but I hope to provide a little more background. Please understand that I am presenting what is our doctrine, not philosophical arguments. Also, please read carefully.

It is our belief that God is the father of our spirits. Our spirits are composed of some material, which is called intelligence. This intelligence was not created or made by God, rather it has always existed (D&C 93:19). In some way, which we don’t understand exactly (just as we don’t understand exactly how God organized the earth), God organized this intelligence into individual spirits (Abraham 3:22). In order for the intelligence to exist it has to be free to act (D&C 93:30). Thus, God couldn’t and cannot make any spirit want to become like him. At all times they are able to choose good or evil.

So, now that I have laid the foundation of what we believe, let me answer your question directly. God didn’t create the spirits out of nothing; they were organized from an independent material, which has its own eternal properties that God has to respect. Just as parents here on earth can't create perfectly obedient children (because they are housing an already established spirit/personality), God can't "create" perfect spirits because He is dealing with an eternal and established material. But, what He can do is take the intelligence and organize it into a spirit, and set it on the path that if followed properly, will allow that spirit, when coupled with a physical body, to become like Him. God didn’t create his spirit children to use their agency solely for wise purposes, because he can’t.

Anonymous said...

Dave, please tell me (because I'm on the edge of my seat) why would Jesus choose wisely and I would choose unwisely?

Ben: I'm trying to read carefully. So you're saying that God made our spiritual innards of intelligence material, right? And you're saying that material determines how we act?

Ben said...

Dear Anonymous:

Thank you for reading carefully, I just don’t want to be misunderstood. I appreciate that. First, yes our spirit is composed in some way of intelligence material.

Regarding the second question, what do you think determines how we act?

Jane said...

To "Anonymous",

"why would Jesus choose wisely and I would choose unwisely?"

It's not hard to understand...Jesus loves his Father very much and is willing to be obedient to Him. That's about it. (John 14:31)

To say we choose unwisely is because we tend to make mistakes or bad choices, etc. We are human after all...this is part of our learning experiences. We have yet to learn to love God as much as Jesus do.

Anonymous said...

OK. Jane, you seem to think this is all obvious so surely you can help me with this question: why does Jesus love God more than we do?

I would just like to know what Mormons believe about this. There seems to be disagreement: Ben says our acts are due to "Intelligence Material" and Dave says it's due to "Wisdom", and Jane says it's due to "Love."

Anonymous said...

If you would give me resolve to this question, then I would give you my forever gratitude. I really haven't been able to figure it out, and I can't go to sleep at night.

dave said...


There’s no disagreement. We’ve established that there is some immutable, eternal part of us all that is not created or controlled by God. (This is the only solution that make sense; otherwise, as you hinted earlier, God would be creating some children with the intent that they disobey him, and then punishing them for it.) Whether you call this part of you your intelligence or your self or whatever, it’s different from everyone else. It just is. Eternally.

We don’t concern ourselves with the metaphysical properties of intelligence, because we don’t really know anything about them. But it isn’t something that “determines how you act,” it’s just you. It’s the part that acts. You have love, you have intelligence and wisdom, and most importantly you have agency; you can choose to become whoever you want. As you make choices, you increase or decrease in love, intelligence, wisdom, etc. That’s what agency is all about.

Hope you sleep better tonight.

Anonymous said...

So Mormons believe that we all have the same ability to choose right? Even if you have crappy parents or a personality disorder?

Thaddeus said...

We all are influenced by our environment, and we certainly acknowledge that trials and challenges (such as birth defects and poor parenting) are common to everyone. Perhaps your particular obstacles aren't as visible, but you face them. Were it just up to us to deal with them, we'd all be sunk.

This is the reason for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If we use our agency to trust Him and follow Him, He has promised to take us out of the circumstances that bind us down. The situations we think are hopeless. He literally healed people with genetic disorders, and He can give those who had a traumatic youth a new, forgiving heart.

For most of us, this is a gradual process, given in increments as we are able to receive them. The first step forward is to ask Father in Jesus' name for His help. Will you do this, Anonymous?

Anonymous said...

Thaddeus, I've watched friends and family cry tears of despair and hope to a God that doesn't seem to hear. I've seen the same fruitless results across several religious traditions.

I've previously tried out what your asking me to do with a couple Mormon friends. After saying prayers and experimenting, it seems we are just as maladjusted as we were last month; maybe even worse in some cases. But we'll be OK. The main point: the "binding down" doesn't go away much differently than when I talked with good friends and mentors. If you try hard, sometimes you overcome your appetites for a negative thing by nourishing your appetite for a good thing.

I assume you feel Mormonism has worked for you, but why does it work for some and not others? Is this simply proof that they didn't use the Mormon-formula properly? It could also be considered evidence for it all being another variable or set of variables that is responsible for lasting peace. Which would corroborate the reality of many religions.

We're just doing the best that we can; mainly that involves clinging to traditions. Tradition is just all the truths societies have wrapped together over the thousands of years. People that reach for tradition are backing away from rougher waters.

Thaddeus said...

why does it work for some and not others?

I really believe the gospel of Christ can work for everyone. Part of the reason it doesn't produce immediate results may be misapplication, like you suggest, but other likely culprits are impatience, ingratitude, and pride. Or maybe there are important lessons still to learn from one's suffering. There is a time to wound and a time to heal. This time is the Lord's prerogative.

Faith is not truly faith unless it has been tried.

Beetle said...

Bret wrote this into his blog: "The atonement of Jesus Christ plays the greatest part in our development. It is through His grace that we can correct our faults and that He can heal our wounded hearts."

A lot of pain and suffering exists in our world and in our lives. I know that I am as important to God as Moses, Jeremiah or Abraham and that He knew me before I was born. We also read in the scriptures that God will not give us more than we can bear, but He does give us trials to test our faith and help us grow. The "maladjusted"-ness (in all of us and the world as a whole) we experience is a tool that can make us better, more Christ-like people.

For example, if I pray to Heavenly Father for an increase in patience, charity, humility, etc. He will probably bless me with a challenge that I can respond to patiently or impatiently, kindly or rudely, humbly or pridefully.

I've often wondered why certain people have "harder" situations than I do, and honestly, I don't think I could handle them. God works with us individually as we build our relationship with Him. He is merciful. He cares. He knows our trials, but its up to us how much we let Him help.

Tradition is a good strength to cling to, but it is not the best. Lean on God rather than the arm of flesh and you will see Him work in your life. He knows you better than society does.

Anonymous said...

I've seen God absent in too many sincere people's lives to conclude that "well, all non-Mormons are just not asking for God's help with the right attitude and with the right timing. Lots of them are impatient pricks trying to prove that religion is a sham!"

I believe there is truth, but I think our evolving human traditions are the closest we humans come to touching the universal truth. Traditions (religious and otherwise) rise and fall with their real soundness.

So could I make an argument for why a person should be religious? Let's say that I believe I'm weak alone. If left to myself, I wouldn't learn from others; my character would stagnate. But if I pretend to believe in Mormon theology, then I can publicly learn valuable principles and privately reject aspects of the religion that I consider wrong. So I acknowledge my weaknesses, and the institutional weakness. Of course, I can't trust myself to be a huge reformer. One human can only evolve tradition so much before a "roll the of dice" and *bam* you guess wrong.

Ben said...

Dear Anonymous:

I have been reading the conversations that you all have been having on this comment section with interest since my last comment. I want to say that I do agree with a majority of what you say about tradition. Tradition is a major part of my life. It is how one grows up, and what one is taught. “My dad did it this way, so it must be right.” We all have those experiences. As we progress though, we come in contact with new “traditions” that others have. If we are wise, we accept what others can teach if that new “tradition” is sounder and truer. However, I am not led blindly or solely by tradition in my religious beliefs. Joseph Smith himself tried diligently to break down tradition where it conflicted with the restored Gospel. You see tradition can be a good thing, but it can bind us down too. If what we are doing is solely because of tradition, then we aren’t necessarily improving.

I do want to make one comment about prayer and having prayers answered. Mormons don’t have the corner market on getting prayers answered. We don’t have a more perfect way to pray so that our prayers will be answered quicker or more efficiently than others. God is willing to answer anyone’s prayer, if it is sincere and the person is willing to comply with the answer, regardless of whether the answer is what the person wants or not. He is kind, but more importantly He loves all of his children the same and wants to help them all, not just His children who are members of his Son’s church. Love is different than kindness. If a parent is kind, their sole intention is to keep their children happy. If a parent loves, then their sole intention is to do what is best for their children, despite the fact that from time to time the children may not like what their parent says.

The last thing is that God doesn’t always answer immediately, even though we may want him to. Once again, it goes back to love. Anonymous, if you are having trouble getting answers to your prayers, I want to pose three questions. First, do you believe that God is hearing your prayers and will answer them? Second, are your prayers sincere? Third, are you willing to act on the answers to those prayers?

Anonymous said...

"First, do you believe that God is hearing your prayers and will answer them?"
I did before I began doubting humanity's ability to talk to God and receive divine guidance.

"Second, are your prayers sincere?"
When I pray, I'm definitely not doing it for any other reason for hoping for divine help and to develop a relationship with God. I would call that sincere. Again, this probably happened more when I thought God was there.

"Third, are you willing to act on the answers to those prayers?"
If God wants to guide me, then I would absolutely accept help.

Anonymous said...

And, Ben, let me say I value the level of respect that you've shown me.

Ben said...

Dear Anonymous:

It makes me happy to know that you have prayed sincerely in the past and still want God’s divine guidance. I wish that I could tell you that I am able to pray and get clearly recognizable answers within a reasonable time frame, but it usually doesn’t happen that way for me either. I want to share a few things with you about prayer that I hope will help. I have been praying for you that God would help you recognize answers to your prayers and that you would be willing to accept them.

First, how does God answer our prayers? Probably, the most quoted scripture in the LDS church on how prayers are answered (D&C 9:8-9) states that if we study things out and ask God, He will cause our heart to burn within us, but if it is not right, then we will feel a stupor of thought. This is definitely true; however, this is only one way God answers prayers. For me, the answers always come along the lines of what is stated in the last line of verse 8—I feel that it is right. I don’t necessarily have a burning in my heart. Other times a particular thing weighs on my mind, such that I have trouble falling asleep. The point is I have had to learn how God answers my prayers. As I have listened to some of our Church leaders, talk about prayer, they have expressed that have stayed up all night praying and supplicating God for an answer. I particularly remember one leader, Elder Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, stating that he had been praying so long and so diligently that he finally got to the point that he didn’t care anymore what the answer was, he just wanted to do what God wanted him to and that is when the answer came. The thing that I want to point out is this, Henry B. Eyring is an apostle and even he has trouble getting answers to prayers. However, once he submitted himself fully the answer came. Even Joseph Smith felt that his prayers weren’t being answered, see D&C 122.

Anonymous, I can assure you and tell you that I know God hears your prayers. Please don’t give up on Him, because He will never give up on you. I encourage you to look at your life and if there is something that is amiss in your life, change it. Do everything that you can to be worthy of receiving an answer. Pray diligently as you have in the past, believe that God hears your prayers and will answer them. I don’t know how your answers will come, they may come through another person or something you read, or a song on the radio, but you will know. I don’t know how to tell you what it will feel like, but for me it is oftentimes like a light switch has turned on in my mind. When that comes, have the faith to move forward with the answer you received and don’t hesitate to act.

Some of the contributors to this blog have written some great posts on prayer and also how some of their prayers have been answered. To access these, on the main page on the right-hand side, under the label cloud, click on prayer. Might I recommend, “Ye receive no witness until. . .”, “Prayer”, “Testimony: How can you really know?”, and “An answered prayer.” Another great resource on prayer is found in our Bible Dictionary ( One last thing that I want to share is a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland about adversity. While I know that we have been discussing prayer, I have a feeling that it may help you as well ( I am glad to know that you know that I have nothing but respect for you. Thank you for telling me that. Please know that you will continue to be in my prayers. Have a wonderful evening.