Summary: It is common to hear people say, “It’s my life and I can do with it what I want.” In fact, the predominate philosophy of the world is to find yourself and become the kind of person you want to be. Among Christians, the doctrine of agency plays a major role, and in America, the idea of being free to do what we want is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. All of these statements express a common message which is that life is all about doing what we want. but is this true? This article examines the answer to this question.
In a great sermon to his people, one of the things King Benjamin told them was, “O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!… in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him” (Mosiah 2:19,23).
In the debate over abortion, it’s common to hear the slogan, “My body; my choice.” Among young people especially, it’s common to hear them say, “It’s my life and I can do with it what I want.” In fact, the predominate philosophy of the world is to find yourself and become the kind of person you want to be.
In the famous poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, the final lines read: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Although the message of this poem is that no matter what happens to us or how bad things may be, we can rise above our troubles and conquer them, but the way many people interpret these lines is that we are the ones who decide what kind of a life we want to have. If we want to become rich, or famous, or be influential, or become a powerful ruler, if we’re the captain of our soul, then we can become the master of our fate.
Among Christians, the doctrine of agency plays a major role, which says that God has given us the freedom to choose for ourselves what we want to do. In one of our hymns we sing, “Know this that every man is free to choose his life and what he’ll be.” In America, the idea of being free to do what we want is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence when it says, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The right to pursue whatever it is that makes us happy is the definition of freedom.
All of these statements express a common message which is that life is all about doing what brings us happiness. It infers that our bodies are our own personal possession and as such we can do with it anything we want. To illustrate this point, when we buy a car, it belongs to us and therefore we can either choose to wash and wax it every day and keep it is good running order, or let it fall into disrepair. And since the car belongs to us, and is our own personal property, then no one has the right to tell us what we can or can’t do with it.
However, that’s not the message King Benjamin taught his people. In fact, it’s the exact opposite
King Benjamin reminded his people that it is God who created us, and has not only given us life, but has even preserved our life by lending us breath so that we can live and move and do according to our own will and even supporting us from one moment to another (verses 20,21). He has provided us with food, shelter, and clothing, without which we could not survive for very long. He has given us a marvelous organ called the brain that allows us to think, reason, and create in ways that no other creation of God can do.
All of these things are gifts from God that can be taken from us any time God chooses. As such, all of these things don’t really belong to us but are temporarily lent to us from our loving Father in heaven for our benefit. This is why King Benjamin told his people, “Oh how ye ought to thank your heavenly King!”
But his message goes much deeper than this. He went on to say that “in the first place he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.”
We tend to think that our bodies and our very life belongs to us, but they don’t. King Benjamin taught that our bodies “were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it (our bodies) belongeth to him who created you” (verse 25). In other words, since our bodies were made from the dust of the earth, and that dust belongs to God, then our physical bodies belong to God, not us.
Instead of thinking of our bodies as being our own personal property that we have the right to do with any way we want, the correct understanding is that we are indebted to God for allowing us the privilege of using what he has created for our benefit.
This would be like a parent allowing their older child who has a driver’s license to use the family car. As long as the child is doing the driving, they can go wherever they want, even though the car doesn’t belong to them. But because it’s on loan to them from their parents, they have a responsibility to use the car in a responsible manner.
But perhaps we can gain a better understanding of this concept by using a different illustration.
Children who go to elementary, middle, and high school do so because they have to, not because they want to. They go not so much for a desire to learn but because state laws mandate that every child has to attend some sort of schooling. For most students school is not something they look forward to attending and is a place where they eagerly wait for the bell that announces they can leave class. School also requires students to do classwork and homework, which many students enjoy as much as having a dentist working on their teeth. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, taking tests is viewed even more unfavorably.
However, those going to college have a totally different attitude for three reasons. First, people who go there do so because they want to, not because it’s something they’re being forced to do. Even though college will require them to put forth a much greater degree of effort in studying their lessons, and the tests will be harder to pass, yet those wanting to go to college are willing to subject themselves to the increase demand on their time and efforts.
The second thing that is different about college is that a student has to qualify themselves to attend an institute of higher learning. For example, a person may want to attend a particular college, but they can only do so if that college accepts them. It’s not unusual for a student to apply to the college of their choice, only to have that college deny their application. Therefore, if someone wants to go to college, they first have to make themselves worthy of being accepted, and an important part of that process is by making good grades while in high school, which requires developing good study habits.
In addition to this, most colleges have entrance exams that test the applicant’s level of knowledge, and whether a college accepts an applicant or not can depend on the results of that test. Therefore, unlike high school, a student has to put forth a considerable amount of effort just to have a college allow them to attend
The third difference between public school and college is that going to public schools is paid for by taxpayers while it costs thousands of personal dollars to attend college. Not only is there a large tuition fee just to be enrolled, but there is the cost of textbooks, the cost of living on campus, and for some classes, there are supplies that must be purchased.
In addition to this, most college students live far from home and have to purchase needed living expenses, including food, clothing, personal items, entertainment, and in most cases, the expense of maintaining a car. Therefore, unlike high school, going to college involves investing a significant amount of money into getting an education.
After making that kind of a concentrated effort to get into college, imagine a student telling the school administrators that no one has the right to tell them what to do. Imagine what the result would be if such a student decided they don’t have to follow the school rules or don’t want to attend their classes or study their lessons. Despite all the effort and money that was spent to get into college, such a student could face the real possibility of being expelled, and losing much, if not all of what it cost them to be accepted.
If the parents were completely funding their child’s college education and providing them with spending money so they could have the things they needed, imagine how the parents would feel if their child wasted their time at college instead of learning their lessons. If such a child didn’t change their ways, in all likelihood, the parents would no longer fund their child’s college education, which would ultimately have the same effect as being expelled from school.
We take life on earth for granted, but we didn’t arrive here by accident, nor were we forced to come here. As spirit children of God, we were offered the opportunity to experience mortality so we could learn how to become like our Father in heaven. When that opportunity was presented to us, we shouted for joy because we wanted to come here, and no one was forced to participate in this educational process.
However, there were some who didn’t want to follow the plan of God, and as a result, a war in heaven was fought between two opposing camps. Those who fought against our Father’s plan were cast out of heaven, while those who fought to support our Father’s plan were rewarded by having the privilege of coming to earth, where we would be taught the lessons necessary to become like God. In other words, we were allowed to participate in God’s divine learning process because we had qualified ourselves and were found worthy to attend.
Just like leaving home to attend college, we left our heavenly home and came here to earth. In that sense, we can think of our earth as being the college campus we live on while we’re attending our classes on increasing our spirituality and on becoming divine However, this earth was built by God and he stocked it with everything we need to survive, including food, clothing, and shelter. When we lived in heaven, we had a spirit body, but when we came to earth, as a loving and generous parent, God clothed our spirit with a wonderful physical body. However, this body doesn’t belong to us because when we die, we leave it behind and no longer have any access to it.
When viewed from this perspective, we see we met the three qualifications for attending this special college. First, we wanted to come here. Second, we put forth considerable effort in order to be accepted into mortality, and third, our Father in heaven has paid the full price needed for us to gain a divine education. All he expects is that we be serious about learning what he wants to teach us.
Knowing this, imagine how foolish it is sounds for someone to say, “It’s my body and I can do with it what I want. I’m the master of my fate and the only one who has the right to decide what I want to do with my life. I want to be myself, not what someone wants me to be.”
When people turn their back on God and use their short time on earth to pursue happiness as they define it, rather that studying the lessons they came here to learn, they’re no different than the college student who uses their freedom to have fun instead of making the effort to prepare themselves for the career they once said they wanted to have.
However, unlike college, our Father in heaven doesn’t expel us because we violate his rules. For this reason, all of us will graduate, however each of us will receive the grade we deserve or worked for. Those who spent their time seeking to learn how to become like God, will receive a higher grade than those who only put in a minimal effort, and they will receive a better grade than those who put forth no effort to become more spiritual.
But there is another aspect of college that we haven’t discussed, which is that the courses someone takes depends on what career they want to go into once they graduate. For example, if someone wants to become a doctor, they will take different courses than someone who wants to become an engineer, who will take a different set of subjects than someone who wants to become a lawyer. A student who just take nothing more than general courses has not qualified themselves for any career.
However, graduation doesn’t happen when we place our mortal body in the grave. All that happens then is we move to another class where our education continues. Graduation happens at the resurrection, which is when we are assigned to work in the career we’ve qualified ourselves for.
Those who have taken the courses that qualifies them to work in the celestial kingdom, and who graduated with good grades can be liken to people who are capable of managing large corporations. Those who were good people, but who took the easier courses, or who weren’t diligent in studying for their divine management courses, have only qualified themselves to work in the terrestrial kingdom. We can think of them as white-collar workers who are accountants, store clerks, customer service representatives, and similar types of hourly paid jobs. Those who wasted their time on earth by pursuing their own course of learning and neglected their spiritual growth have qualified themselves to work only in the telestial kingdom. We can liken them to those who work on roads, park maintenance workers, fast food employees, etc.
This illustration is not meant to belittle or demean any kind of work but shows the level of skill and knowledge necessary to perform certain jobs, and the greater the skill the more money someone can make, and the more money someone makes the higher quality of life they can enjoy.
For example, in a large corporation, the amount of money that the CEO makes is far greater than that of the accountant who works for the CEO, and they make more money than the person who works on the factory floor, who makes more money than the janitor who cleans the building.
Even though all of us will graduate from God’s college, the quality of life we will enjoy after graduation depends on how diligent we were in our studies. To say that our life is our own and that we can do anything we want with it exhibits an attitude that not only is a sign of gross disrespect to God who allowed us the privilege to come here and provided everything we need so that we can someday live a happy and successful eternal life, but worse yet, we will have squandered the glorious opportunity we fought so hard for. And if we were to do that, then our time here on earth will have all been in vain.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Man