This article was previously posted on Latterdaysaintwoman.com
A new study shows that people who have their confidence in free will reduced are less likely to make use of it. According to Wired Science:
“To lose confidence in free will seemingly introduced a lag between conscious choice and action.
Earlier psychological studies of free will have found that discrediting free will seems to trigger an increase in cheating aggressiveness, encourage people to be less helpful and generally sap motivation.
The latest findings extend the effects of disbelieving to a more basic physical level. Whether there’s a relationship between free will, motor activity and more complex behaviors is yet to be determined, but “abstract belief systems might have a much more fundamental effect than previously thought,” wrote the researchers.”
Mormons are big fans of free will, which they term as agency. We believe God gave this to us as a gift and that it is critical to our life on earth. In fact, it started clear back before we were born.
Mormons consider life a three-part play. Act one happened before we were born. Did you ever wonder what some of these verses meant?
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding….“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7)
Here are two verses that talk about two mortal beings in a time before they were born. God knew Jeremiah before he was born and knew him so well he knew the man would grow up to be worthy of the role of prophet. And Job…God asked him where he was when the earth was being created. There is no reason to ask unless Job was somewhere, and since God didn’t tell him where he was, it’s clear God knew that Job already knew the answer. And who are the sons of God who shouted for joy?
Well, they were us. We were the sons and daughters who shouted for joy when the earth was created. God told us we are his children—sons and daughters of God. And if Jeremiah was somewhere before he was born, so were we.
Where were we?
We were living with God. He created our spirits, which is how we came into existence. Then we lived with him, gaining experiences, learning the gospel, developing our personalities and talents…becoming ourselves. We had agency there. We could become the person we wanted to become.
If you’re a parent, you know children are born with personalities. Even in the womb, they seem to have distinct personalities, some wiggly, some quiet, some playful…and after birth, well, every baby is different. This is because we brought with us who we already were. Now, our environment after birth will impact that, but something of who we’d already decided we are will always be there. This is why quiet, bookish parents can unexpectedly find themselves raising an social, outgoing and noisy child.
Back to agency. After a while, children need to leave home. No matter how great home is, kids learn something when they move out and are on their own. That is, really, when they decide who they are really going to be. God, being the very wisest of parents, knew we needed to leave home, too. Our time away from home would be something of a final exam.
He called all of us together and told us we were getting a new home and we could choose to take turns going there.
However, there was a price to be paid for that home. There were rules and goals. By going to Earth, we’d get a body and a family. (We might not end up keeping that first family, but we’d get one.) However, we’d forget our time in the pre-mortal world for a while, other than vague half-remembered moments from time to time. Our mission, if we chose to accept it, would be to seek and find the gospel on earth and then to choose to live it. We’d have complete agency. We could live our lives as we chose, but we could not choose the consequences of our actions and all actions have consequences.
The laws of justice would require us to live a perfect, sinless life in order to come back home. God, being very smart, knew that was not possible. He didn’t want to doom us to certain failure, so He promised to send us a Savior who would voluntarily (agency, again) take our sins on Himself and then die for us. This would allow us to repent of our sins so we could come back home.
There is more to this story. Come back tomorrow to find out who wanted to hijack the plan and take away our agency.
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.