One important tenant of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that of agency. We believe that God granted each of us the right to make choices for ourselves. Just as a wise earthly parent allows his children to make certain decisions alone and to face the consequences of those choices, Heavenly Father also allows us to choose.
This is not always easy, especially for parents. Lehi, the first prophet we read of in the Book of Mormon, had, at the beginning of the book, four sons. The two oldest were not truly converted to the gospel. When they had to leave Jerusalem because God had instructed Lehi to do so, they complained. They tormented their faithful younger brothers, even to the point of attempted murder. Can you imagine the sorrow Lehi and his wife, Sariah, faced as they watched their sons consistently make poor spiritual choices?
These parents never gave up on their children. They taught, counseled, set a good example, and prayed. In the end, however, Laman and Lemuel, the two oldest sons, had to decide for themselves what to believe and how to live. Lehi and Sariah didn’t give up on their children, and God didn’t give up on the parents.
In 1 Nephi 7, we learn that Laman and Lemuel, along with other members of the party, are complaining about the journey in the wilderness to the new homeland chosen for them by God. Nephi chastises them and tries to remind them of God’s teachings. In verses 16-18, we see that the older brothers don’t take correction well, especially from a younger sibling:
16 And it came to pass that when I, Nephi, had spoken these words unto my brethren, they were angry with me. And it came to pass that they did lay their hands upon me, for behold, they were exceedingly wroth, and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts.
17 But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.
18 And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.
Soon after this traumatic family crisis, Lehi was given a vision from God. While the content might not have been exactly what he’d hoped for, it taught him an important gospel principle concerning his rebellious sons and helped him to understand he was not responsible for their decisions, having done all he could do for them. In this well-known vision, Lehi sees a man in a white robe who summons Lehi to follow him. He is taken to a field:
10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
12 And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.
When Lehi looks for his family, he finds his wife, Sariah, and his two valiant sons, Nephi and Sam. He calls them to join him, which they promptly do, and take their share of the fruit. However, Laman and Lemuel refuse to join the rest of the family. They have no desire to enjoy the fruit, which represents the love of God.
When Lehi tells his family of this vision, he shares the sad lesson he has learned. “And behold, because of the thing which I have seen, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam; for I have reason to suppose that they, and also many of their seed, will be saved. But behold, Laman and Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of you; for behold, methought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness.”
He came to understand, through this vision, that accepting God’s love into your life and doing whatever is needed to enjoy the blessings that come from this is a choice. It’s a choice each of us must make for ourselves. We can invite others to partake and we can encourage, plead, and pray, but each person has agency and must choose for herself whether or not to accept the gospel, Heavenly Father, and the Savior as the center of our world. Those who accept will receive blessings beyond measure for eternity. Those who don’t often struggle through life without that guidance, and must cope with the consequences of what comes in the eternities.
We have agency, but it’s our responsibility to use it wisely and with an eye toward eternity.
This post was originally published in May 2008. Minor revisions have been made.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.