What Is the Relationship Between Obedience and Agency?

Agency – the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power (Merriam-Webster, 2nd definition).

Obedience – Compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority (Oxford English Dictionary)

The terms “agency” and “agent” do not appear in the Book of Mormon, but the principle is pervasive: We are agents. God has endowed us with the freedom to make our own choices:

  • “Because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given” (2 Nephi 2:26).
  • “Cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Nephi 10:23).
  • “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free” (Helaman 14:30).

Another principle that is pervasive is that happiness comes by choosing to obey the commandments of God:

  • “If there be no righteousness there be no happiness” (2 Nephi 2:13).
  • “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God” (Mosiah 2:41).
  • “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

God wants us to be happy, and so He gives us instructions for finding and sustaining happiness. But He does not compel us to follow those instructions. The word “commandment” might suggest compulsion, but in the case of God’s commandments, obedience is entirely voluntary:

Whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come, but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds (Alma 42:27).

Why is God’s plan set up that way? Because God wants us to help us become good people who choose wisely, not robots who mindlessly comply with orders. In the words of Spencer W. Kimball:

The very first thing before beginning our world here, the Lord said, “I’m going to give you your free agency. I want men and women that are strong because it is right to be strong. I don’t want weaklings who are righteous only because they have to be righteous” (Brisbane Area Conference 1976, 19, quoted by Elder Dale G. Renlund in “Choose You This Day,” General Conference, October 2018, footnote 3).

Today, I will be grateful that God has given me agency: the freedom to choose for myself. I will also be grateful that He has given me commandments: instructions on how to find happiness. I will remember that God’s goal is my happiness, but that I must choose it for myself; it can’t be forced upon me. He will encourage me, instruct me, and try to persuade me. His Son willingly suffered and died so that I can overcome the effects of my wrong choices. But ultimately, the choice of whether or not to follow His commandments, and therefore my fate, is entirely in my hands.

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