September 13th, 2015

What is Your Agency?

A tragically large number of God’s children decided to reject His plan and follow Lucifer. This “war in heaven,” which continues today, was triggered by a cunning, counterfeit proposal that seduced many.

We know that Lucifer’s supposed plan would have, if implemented, destroyed the agency of man. This scriptural signal conveys to us the importance of agency, for if the enemy of all righteousness attempted to undermine it, we should therefore value it. But in my experience, it seems that while many Saints understand its importance, few understand its purpose.

We often talk about the things necessary for agency to exist—commandments, choice, consequence, etc.—but the analysis often ends there. This would be like talking about what the process of birth entails without addressing the miracle of procreation or the purpose of life. Things are defined not by their circumstances, but by their characteristics. Even then, descriptions often fail to convey intent. Agency is more than its environmental elements, and even more than the inadequate synonyms often used to define it, such as “choice” or “free will.” 

We’re taught that agency is “The ability and privilege God gives people to choose and to act for themselves.” I’d like to show why I think this misses the picture.

What is agency? Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary—giving us a snapshot of the contextual interpretation of the word at the time it was used by Joseph Smith—defines it both as “the quality of moving or of exerting power” and the “business of an agent entrusted with the concerns of another.” It’s this second definition (though the first is also quite relevant) that takes us to a clearer understanding of what our agency is.

An agent is a person who represents another; we are familiar with how they work in the world of sports, music, writing, and other industries. To help an individual see to the affairs of their business, agents are empowered to transact this business on behalf of their employer. The same relationship exists when using the synonym steward. In either case, the representative’s authorized and commissioned work becomes their agency or stewardship. The creator or employer holds this person accountable for the work performed in his name and with his authority, in an effort to ensure that it was done as directed.

This relationship is abundantly clear in scripture. For example, in Christ’s parable about the unjust steward he taught:

There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

Speaking to the Saints in Corinth, Paul employed the same analogy to describe our relationship to God:

Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

By now it’s likely apparent where I’m headed with this. You and I are God’s agents, or stewards. This agency we speak of so often is not merely “the ability and privilege… to choose and to act,” but rather, the specific things we are directed to do. Yes, we have the discretion to obey or disobey, as any earthly agent does, but it’s clear that we have something to do. We will be held accountable for our agency. It means more than that it simply exists; how can we fulfill our stewardship if it’s not even clear to us what it is, and that it is actionable?

So again, what is our agency? What does God want us to do? And for what things will we be held accountable?

I believe that our agency is closely tied to the greatest commandment. Our stewardship is to love God’s children—our fellow brothers and sisters—acting as representatives of God, who is not with us in person to bless and support His children. Of course, this makes functional sense; if an employer told his agent, “this is the most important thing I want you to focus on,” it readily becomes clear that the agency pertains to that specific thing, first and foremost. So, too, with us and God’s commandment to love Him and our proverbial (and literal) neighbor.

One might say that the Pharisees were obsessed with understanding and defining their agency—though they were, as we know, way off the mark. Their desire to rank the importance of certain mandates over others, and badger fellow Jews into compliance, provides the backdrop for a famous Biblical scene in which a lawyer from the group asked Jesus, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” The question was designed as a trap; the Pharisees had debated the question exhaustively, identifying more than 600 commandments after categorizing, dividing, and subdividing the Mosaic law. If erudite scholars in their sect struggled to sort through hundreds of laws to pinpoint the most important, then surely the unlearned son of a mere carpenter would be exposed to the people as a fraud.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” Jesus replied. “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In one simple response, the fundamental precept of Christianity was established: love. Jesus had penetrated the purpose of the law that had for so long been mangled and manipulated. “On these two commandments,” he concluded, “hang all the law and the prophets.”

This meant something to the Jews who heard it. It was a common phrase that referred to the entirety of God’s teachings—the law, meaning the five books of Moses at the beginning of the Old Testament, and the teachings of subsequent prophets who followed Moses. What Jesus was teaching his disciples is that love is the entire purpose of the gospel.

It was their agency, and it is ours.

Satan sought to destroy this agency—and he seeks to do so now. In our day, “he rage[s] in the hearts of the children of men, and stir[s] them up to anger against that which is good.” He is the “father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger,” which is inconsistent with our agency. Satan works tirelessly to harden our hearts, so that we fight and hate one another. He’s trying to undermine our agency, and too many Saints don’t even realize it’s happening.

Jesus, our perfect example of love, understood that he was given an agency, and went about his Father’s business. So should we.

10 Responses to “What is Your Agency?”

  1. Enki
    September 13, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Connor,
    There is another interesting take on love. I got interested after watching the video “Love and Above’, by Christie Marie Sheldon. There is the idea that there are ‘vibrations’ associated with various emotions and emotional states. Would it surprise you that there are levels above love? Perhaps that is something mentioned in LDS philosophy, but just isn’t on the table for teaching at this time. If I remember from the video the general consciousness of the average american is at around courage. Not bad, but lower than love. I strive to practice ahimsa, which I believe to be a higher state beyond love.

    This webpage has rated various philosophies, and books associated with them. I am surprised that in the Christian category the LDS faith has higher vibes than fundementalists by far. But below amish, unity and modern protestantism. The book of Mormon comes in slightly ahead of the KJV of the New testament. But far behind the Lamsa version of the Bible. The old testament in any translation seems to vibrate at an extremely low level. The highest vibration books appear to be all the ancient Hindu texts. I think I found a new reading list, and some new mantras to practice to bring my vibrations up. For you consideration:
    http://www.innermichael.com/author/admin/page/11/

  2. Dave
    September 13, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

    Thought-provoking and extremely well-written, as always.

  3. Branden
    September 15, 2015 at 12:35 am #

    Nailed it. My wife is tired of me talking about the impact of stewardship on the science of economics. A new, and powerful dimension appears in the study of human action when actors recognize that they are not property owners, but property stewards. It also bridges the self-ownership gap. Ownership implies transferability of title. Stewardship, like our relationship with ourselves, is non transferable. I’m glad to see there is overlap in our thinking.

  4. Matthew Pilling
    September 15, 2015 at 5:16 am #

    Very well written.

    This line of thinking makes so much of the gospel make more sense, or deeper sense. Satan peddles the notion that we are free. And, in our under-studied understanding of the gospel, we often buy into that notion (to some degree). But if we are truly free, why are we subject to punishments for the ‘wrong’ actions we choose or offered rewards for the ‘right’ ones? There are natural consequences for our actions, but the punishments (to some degree) and the rewards (to a much greater degree) go well beyond what would be natural.

    We are not truly free, but are highly enabled subjects and servants of a Master. He has tasked us with His work and trusts us to use His Good Name in doing that work. We will answer to Him with either joy or apprehension regarding how we’ve fulfilled that task. This is why President Eyring (and the Doctrine and Covenants) say that the choice isn’t to repent or not repent, but to repent or suffer. Our presence on earth shows that we’ve already committed to the Master that we will act as His agents. As mortals, we all fall short in that commission. He therefore offers us repentance as a way to bridge that gap. When we report to Him, we will either have made things right, through repentance, and will stand as trusted agents before Him, or we will suffer for not having fulfilled our promises unto Him. In the latter case, our agency, the position of honor that He offered us, will be removed because we couldn’t be trusted with it.

    In the long run, His goal is to make us truly free. But, in His wisdom, He doesn’t bestow that gift on beings that aren’t yet ready for it. Instead, as a loving parent, He allows us to work under His guide, choosing to do things as He would do them, choosing to become as He is. And, when the day comes that all of our following His perfect example has reformed, changed, and polished us to the point of having become like Him, He will make us truly free.

  5. Joe Evans
    September 15, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    With all respect of your well-written article, Connor, I think you have taken a very simple gospel principle and tried to unnecessarily complicate it. While it is true that effective stewardship requires a good use of our agency, stewardship does not define agency. Everyone is given their agency by God, but not everyone is given the responsibility of stewardship for others. Of course, in our agency, one might correctly say that we have stewardship over our own souls.

    The underlying principle of man’s agency is found in Abraham 3:24-25, wherein the Lord explains the purpose of giving men their agency:

    “And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;”

    The principle of agency has to do with obedience, pure and simple. In other words, the choice of doing what the Lord has commanded (obeying His will), or following one’s own will. In the words of Nephi, we are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil;” (2 Nephi 2:27).

    In simple terms, agency is all about the ability to chose right from wrong; good over evil. There is really nothing complicated about it.

  6. saxoclese
    September 15, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Passages in the Old Testament that many believe to be “allegorical” being interpreted as literally true by participants on this blog make for some fascinating and entertaining reading. Please keep the discussion going.

  7. Kelly Taylor
    September 15, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    This is the best article ever written!!! This author is phenomenal!! I have never understood agency until now!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

  8. Thomas
    September 25, 2015 at 3:04 am #

    What I find interesting in Connor’s essay is the emphasis that he places on the idea that agency implies that we have something to do. In this sense, agenda (which originates from the same Latin root that agency is derived from and means: a plan, list or outline of things to be done) could be interchanged with the word agency in Moses 4:3, so it reads— “Satan… sought to destroy the agenda of man, that I, the Lord God had given him…”

    While it should be obvious that the word agency is better suited in that verse for its broader implications and application, agenda does work when considering that God has given us commandments as to what to do and what not do with a certain end goal in mind. As the prophet Joseph Smith wrote— “God has designed our happiness— and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has— He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances” [TPJS pgs. 256-257]. And certainly Lucifer sought to, and still seeks to, destroy this agenda.

    As for the two great commandments précised by Christ in St. Matthew 22:35-40 and Connor’s effort to correlate that doctrine to the War in Heaven/agency— I’m not sure exactly how it is inferred that Lucifer sought to eliminate mankind’s ability to love, or even the specific directive to love, but I did see another correlation relevant to Christ’s teaching.

    It appears from the scripture record that Lucifer’s plan was one of self-aggrandizement. In short, he sought to excel without excelling others with him. Or as from the book of Isaiah puts it— “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” [Isaiah 14:13] The stars of God being the intelligences (spirits) that were to become mankind. [see Abraham 3, Revelation 12:4, Job 38:7]

    On the other hand, God’s plan is one of divine condescension resulting in joint-heirs [See 1Nephi 11:16-33 & Romans 8:16-19]. While Lucifer requests an exaltation to be the Son of God [Moses 4:1], Christ as the Son of God, fulfilling the will of the Father, exalts all the faithful as the Sons and Daughters of God thus making them heirs [Doctrine & Covenants 76:20-24, 54-59; 2 Cor.6:18]. The goal of the Father is the aggrandizement of His kingdom (specifically those within the kingdom). The specific plan is concerned with an agency that ultimately is enlarged upon. God’s plan is truly one of progression, advancement, and enlargement with the promise that “he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things” [Doctrine & Covenants 78:22]. Lucifer sought to limit the progression of mankind, thus destroying what God had offered to all as heirs.

    Where Lucifer’s plan seemed to be primarily concerned in exalting himself, Christ does just the opposite allowing us to be joint-heirs (Romans 8:14-18) and as the prophet Joseph Smith revealed:

    “And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion. [Doctrine & Covenants 76:92-96].

    The concept of ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself’ is never more perfectly fulfilled then Christ making us equal to Him. Thus, Christ’s ‘merits, mercy and grace’ [2Nephi 2:8] that makes us equal to Him, and His complete obedience in suffering ‘the will of the Father in all things from the beginning’ [3Nephi 11:11, Moses 4:2] fulfills the two commandments that ‘hang all the law and the prophets.’

  9. Chris
    November 6, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    The posts on here are great without exception. But this one is especially well done and inspiring. Thanks.

  10. Pierce
    December 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    Where is Connor Boyack? There is so much going on right now.

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