Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Three Rs of Choice

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Three Rs of Choice, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I always seem drawn to talks that discuss agency (or choice) for some reason; it's as if I have no choice on the matter. . .

I was asked to give a talk years ago on agency and adversity. I had a great time preparing the talk, but decided to leave a chunk of the talk out because it was too opinion-based; I thought it would be more appropriate in Sunday School, to throw the class off on an irreparable tangent. Because this is a blog, I thought I would revisit the omitted portion of the talk. It turns out that I found it in less than ten seconds! Here are/were my thoughts on agency, which I share to give some explanation to my fascination with the topic:

Before this life, while in the premortal council, Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3) with a proposed amendment to Heavenly Father's plan for His children. Agency is central to that plan, being requisite “otherwise there is no existence” (see D&C 93:30-31); the destruction of agency would ultimately make salvation impossible. While we do not know exactly by what means Satan sought to destroy agency, theories abound.

Many maintain that Satan’s idea was to force all the children of our Father in Heaven to live righteous lives, and somehow he (Satan) would have all of the glory. Personally, I feel that this idea is not in harmony with the many manifestations of Satan’s methods currently being employed to lead us astray. Rather, I propose that Satan wanted to somehow eliminate the negative consequences of agency. I imagine that his idea was that he would suffer—yes, there would be a Savior who would take all of the glory to himself—but he wanted somehow to alter the prescribed rules of the universe such that with him as Savior, his role would be sufficient to save all, regardless of their actions. This idea is seen too prevalently in today’s societies. Here are two examples:
  1. Many religions teach that all that is required is to confess the name of a savior, yet give no standard of living in everyday life (e.g. consequences of wrong choices cannot keep us from our salvation); and,

  2. Too often we try to somehow pass the blame of our actions to others; somehow trying to eliminate the consequences of our actions. This reminds me of the young man who came home with a quite pitiful report card. He finally shared the results with his parents and asked where they thought the blame lied, “What do you think the cause is: heredity or environment?”

I cannot understand how someone (Satan) who was so gung-ho about righteousness that he was willing to ultimately leave the presence of the Father with a third of the hosts of heaven could immediately begin teaching us on earth to:

Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Ne 28:8)

To me, this sounds more like the result of someone wanting to get rid of consequences, rather than force others to do right.

In his talk, President Monson categorized the various aspects of agency/choice into three categories:

The Right of Choice
This aspect was referred to earlier: agency is central to Heavenly Father's plan. In fact, President David O. McKay's famous quote reminds: "Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God's greatest gift to man." When Lucifer proposed his amendment to the Great Plan of Salvation, "he seemed not to recognize—or perhaps not to care—that . . . none would be any wiser, any stronger, any more compassionate, or any more grateful if his plan were followed."

Because the Plan includes the Atonement of Christ, this great universal gift of agency (or choice) is operational; "within the confines of whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we will always have the right to choose."

The Responsibility of Choice
President Monson is known for being well-read and using sometimes-humorous references in his talks. Such is the case with the responsibility of choice. Funny as the reference is, it is spot-on.

He reminds of the classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which many may be familiar because of the film adaptations (I am). When lost and at a crossroads, Alice meets the Cheshire cat and asks the cat which path she should follow. You'll remember the rest:

The cat answers, “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”

President Monson provides the connection:

Unlike Alice, we all know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for by choosing our path, we choose our destination.

Decisions are constantly before us. To make them wisely, courage is needed—the courage to say no, the courage to say yes. Decisions do determine destiny.

The Results of Choice
Life can be thought of as one choice after another. Some have more significance than others. President Monson reminds of what is really important:

May we keep our eyes, our hearts, and our determination focused on that goal which is eternal and worth any price we will have to pay, regardless of the sacrifice we must make to reach it. . . Eternal life in the kingdom of our Father is your goal. Such a goal is not achieved in one glorious attempt but rather is the result of a lifetime of righteousness, an accumulation of wise choices, even a constancy of purpose. As with anything really worthwhile, the reward of eternal life requires effort.

Despite what some individuals and societies may believe, decisions do have consequences, and we cannot escape them. Please note, however, that the use of the word consequences does not necessarily carry only negative implications; eternal life is a consequence of a lifetime of righteousness!

I'm grateful for agency and choice. While we may sometimes wish we could escape the immediate results of our mistakes or bad decisions, there is comfort in knowing that forgiveness comes through Christ, and that because of Him we can ultimately obtain eternal life through the right, responsibility, and results of choice!

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