June 11, 2013

Agency: Every Soul is Free

One of the key doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. Mormons, is agency, or the right of every person to make decisions and choose between good and evil.
Good and evil isn't always the choice, though. Sometimes the choice is between good and better, or better and best. But we still get to choose.

On Sunday, the music director in church picked a song for the opening number that I didn't even recognize. Maybe I've heard it before, but I can't recall that occasion if I have.

The hymn was #240, "Know This, That Every Soul Is Free".
Though a relatively short one, it conveys some deep lessons and its message struck me.

If you're an auditory learner, this is a men's choir singing the hymn: 

And for visual learners, here are the lyrics from the lds.org website:
1. Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.
2. He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.
3. Freedom and reason make us men;
Take these away, what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well
The beasts may think of heav’n or hell.
4. May we no more our pow’rs abuse,
But ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love.
Interesting, no? That 3rd verse is a little strange, even though it's technically true.
I especially like the line "God will force no man to heav'n" and the whole second verse.
But I'm really loving the set-up right now.

"To choose his life and what he'll be;"

We make decisions, and then we have to live with the ramifications and results of those decisions. We can't choose the outcomes, especially when the agency of other people comes into play.

Sometimes the decisions others make will hurt us or change our world completely. Drunk drivers, terrorists, and those sorts of individuals will affect us, and we may not be able to avoid their poor decisions.

But we can choose our reactions to the situations we are in. Whether to become bitter or resentful or closed-off from the world and those around us who want the best for us. We choose how to react to everything in our life.

That is our agency.

If you've never read "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl, you need to. ASAP.
Go get it at the library this week, and read it cover to cover.
He'll bring you to tears with his heartbreaking story, but also he'll convey the power of choosing your reactions to tough situations in a much better way than I probably ever could.

We make decisions, and hopefully we'll choose good over evil. And then outside forces will act on us, but we make the choice of how to react. My new goal is to focus on the positive and try to learn from tough situations, so I'll be better prepared to help others and cope with difficulty going forward.


  1. I hope you don't mind a complete stranger commenting. I'm a friend of your sister's (LOVE her). I also love this hymn. I was the ward music chair and ward organist for long time in my former single's ward, and I would choose this songs from time to time. Thank you for posting this. Like you, I think it is the perfect explanation of how agency works. I also believe it is a good answer when people question how Heavenly Father can allow so much misery in the world without stepping in and doing everything for us.

    1. I don't mind at all! In fact, I love having new readers, especially ones who are interested in my post topics and comment :) Yes, that hymn is a great answer for why the Lord doesn't just make everything easy and pain-free in our lives. Thanks so much!