Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Beatitudes and Free Agency

3 Nephi 12

As I was reading this chapter last night (click here for full text), a chapter I've read many times before, something struck me with such force that it entirely changed my way of thinking. Christ has just called and ordained the twelve apostles who will have the authority to lead the church in the Americas when Christ leaves, and then He speaks the Beatitudes, just as he did for the Jews in the Holy Land (see Matthew 5).

What He is saying in the Beatitudes is that He has fulfilled the Law of Moses (verse 17), something the Nephites and righteous Lamanites understood much more clearly than the Jews did. The new law He brings is not the taskmaster of outward symbols and signs that the Law of Moses was, but a control over the self, an inward acceptance of what it is to be a disciple of the Savior, a personal choice and a desire to follow Christ.

What struck me so forcefully is in verses 38 -- 41. I've often puzzled over these verses, wondering what was the significance of going beyond what you have been compelled to do. Then it hit me: it's all about free agency. When we are compelled by some outward force, be it a person or government, we lose our agency to act. The examples the Savior gives are situations wherein we are obligated to bow to the force of evil because our very freedom or life may be at risk. In that moment of losing our free agency we become a slave to someone else's desires. Slavery is directly opposed to Christ's plan, which is that every person gets to choose which path he or she will follow.

When our actions are controlled by others, we run the risk of becoming slaves in mind as well as slaves in body. Christ wants us to always be free. Free agency is one of the greatest gifts our Heavenly Father gave to us, and free agency is the thing that Satan wishes to remove forever. Satan's plan creates a world of slaves in both body and mind, which is why he is always working to set up governments that control every aspect of a person's life, from birth to death (Communism and socialism, for example). Heavenly Father, on the other hand, will never impose His will on any of His children.

2 Nephi 2:27: "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given unto them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."

When reaching for the light, the first action is always ours. Because of our agency, we must choose to reach toward Christ, who will then reach back to us. "Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matt. 7:7) Never will the Lord compel us to do anything.

When reading the scriptures, I always remember that the Lord never commands us to do anything that is not for our best benefit. So why do we need to give the bad guy more than he asked for? What is the benefit for us? The benefit is that we cease to be slaves and again become the individual, free-thinking and free-acting person we should be. When we consciously take back our agency, we thwart the plan of Satan. Our minds and bodies become our own again, despite our surroundings or situation. We have now freely chosen to give that which was previously taken by force, whether it is the other cheek, our cloak as well as our coat, or another mile of labor. It is the act of choosing that reinforces our status and identity as a child of God. It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.