“Free to Choose” | Neal A. Maxwell | 2004

Though we are free to choose our actions, we must weigh them against eternal consequences. Agency is a gift from God and we must treasure it.

This speech was given on March 16, 2004.

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"Thank you so much, President Samuelson. You’re blessed to have this wonderful man as your president. But I miss him at Church headquarters—greatly and personally! It’s always easy to praise Sharon because she represents, as does my wife—as do so many others—the faithful women of this dispensation, without whom this work simply could not be done. They are the kind of souls who are high yield and low maintenance.

I appreciate the special rendering of Merrill Bradshaw’s composition, having had the privilege of spending a little time with him just a couple of hours before he died. I appreciate, likewise, Steve Cleveland’s prayer. This is a man who cares about what happens on the basketball court, but first he’s a disciple. For that I love him the more.

Unsurprisingly, I have become more keenly conscious of the passage of time. Several evenings ago a 13-year-old granddaughter was on her way, all made up, to be in a school play, and I found myself saying, “Kansas, this isn’t Dorothy anymore!” I am unresentful of the passage of time and am still well within the sound range of the kettle drums representing the cacophony of mortality. Yet I sometimes seem to hear, ever so faintly, the distant sounds of beckoning trumpets as these waft in upon me.

I plead for the Spirit to help me. But you must help, too, because of the format of this presentation, which will feature a conversational style and which assumes you will be active, though inward, responders. I hope the Spirit will arc between us so that there is a rapid and shared understanding (see D&C 50:10). In any case, I hope you feel my love and openness and forgive in advance my falling short.

The vital revelations about the agency of man—the freedom to choose—inevitably and simultaneously portray the perfect generosity and perfect justice of God. In the key words that soon follow, we see how deeply serious God is about human joy. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (Teachings, 343). In no respect, brothers and sisters, is this more true than with regard to comprehending God’s mercy and justice and His commitment to our freedom to choose.

The doctrine of our freedom to choose is set forth sparsely and is not fully presented in the precious Holy Bible. But we have key phrases that have been given to us in the Restoration scriptures:

1. “I [have given] unto man his agency” (Moses 7:32; emphasis added; see also D&C 101:78; Moses 4:3; JST, Genesis 3:4).

2. “Thou mayest choose for thyself” (Moses 3:17; emphasis added).

The gift sounds reassuring and really good, doesn’t it? I am free to choose—just as things ought to be! Certainly you and I can handle it—almost effortlessly!

3. “That ye may live and move and do according to your own will” (Mosiah 2:21; emphasis added).

The granting of agency is so complete and personal, isn’t it? So breathtaking! Thus there is initial exhilaration. But a disquieting and accompanying realization also emerges:

Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man,” bringing on the war so vigorously fought in the premortal world (Moses 4:3; see also Revelation 12:7).

But never mind, you and I are still free, though admittedly we’re on a path requiring daily decisions as we

4. “act according to [our] wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good” (Alma 12:31; emphasis added).

Do my viscera feel a catch coming? Otherwise, why does the divine candor seem so stern? Including in these next words:

5. “Whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free” (Helaman 14:30; emphasis added).

Evaporated by now is the earlier “no-hands” naïveté about how “I am free to choose.” Still, I am free to choose, even if I can neither be immune from the consequences of my wrong choices nor avoid accountability (see Romans 14:12; D&C 101:78)..."