Chapter 11: The Agency of Man

Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, (2011), 39–40


Introduction

  1. Take to class a chess set, and invite two students to set up the game at the front of the classroom. As they set the chessmen on the board, ask them why they must arrange the pieces a certain way on the board. Ask them to name the pieces and explain to the class how each chess piece moves.

    Have each student make a couple of moves to begin the game. Ask them why they chose to move where they did. Why didn’t they move at random? Why is each move important in chess? Why is an overall knowledge of the game important in determining the moves?

    Ask the class how mortality is like a game of chess. The following are possible parallels:

    1. 1.

      Certain rules are already determined.

    2. 2.

      A wide variety of moves, or choices, is possible.

    3. 3.

      Each move, or decision, carries consequences and helps determine future moves, or choices.

    4. 4.

      Our knowledge of certain principles and conditions influences our ability to make successful choices.

    5. 5.

      We must consider the future consequences of present decisions.

  2. You may want to introduce the theme of agency by distributing copies of the following statement:

    “There is an old man up there ahead of you that you ought to know. … Whether he is miserable or happy, depends on you. For you made him. He is you, grown older.” (Author unknown, in Richard Evans’ Quote Book, p. 37.)

Ideas for Teaching

  1. A.

    Agency is the eternal right of independent choice.

    1. Write on the chalkboard the word agency, and ask the students to define it. The following points might help broaden the class’s definition:

      1. 1.

        Law creates alternatives.

      2. 2.

        We must understand the law and the alternatives it provides.

      3. 3.

        We must understand which alternatives constitute God’s will for us.

      4. 4.

        Agency gives us absolute, unfettered freedom to choose between alternatives.

      People often say, “I have a right to do anything I want!” What restraints are placed upon the use of agency by society? By God?

    2. The Lord has given us laws and wants us to realize fulfillment by exercising agency and obeying his commandments. Read and consider with your class some of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statements concerning the gifts and blessings of obedience to God’s law (see Supporting Statements B on p. 31 of the student manual; or Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 187, 256).

    3. Read Helaman 14:30–31. According to this passage, freedom includes at least two elements. What are they? (The right to act for ourselves and accountability for our actions; good or evil is restored to us depending on our choices.)

    4. Read Doctrine and Covenants 29:36. Point out that even as spirits we had agency and that agency was the key to progress in the premortal life just as it is here.

  2. B.

    Satan seeks to destroy our agency.

    1. Read Revelation 12:7–8 and Moses 4:1–4. According to the scriptures, what happened in the premortal council in heaven? What were the key issues? Discuss the implications of the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith:

      “The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.” (Teachings, p. 357.)

    2. Discuss with the students 1 Corinthians 10:13. Read the quotation from the Prophet Joseph Smith in Supporting Statements B on page 31 of the student manual (see Teachings, p. 187).

  3. C.

    We are accountable to God for the use of our agency.

    1. Write on the chalkboard the word accountability opposite the word agency. Ask the students to explain the relationship between the two words.

      The following questions could be written on the chalkboard to help the students understand the principle of accountability. Have the students look up the scripture references, read them, and discuss them as a class.

      1. 1.

        To what extent is everyone accountable? (see 2 Nephi 9:25–26; Moroni 8:22).

      2. 2.

        How is accountability measured? (see Romans 2:5–8; Alma 4:3–4).

      3. 3.

        Can one person transfer the accountability for his sins to another? Why or why not? (See Articles of Faith 1:2; Galatians 6:4–5.)

  4. D.

    Our eternal destiny is determined by the use or misuse of our agency.

    1. Study with your students President John Taylor’s remarks in Supporting Statements D on page 31 of the student manual (see The Gospel Kingdom, p. 341). Emphasize that we have the privilege of determining our own happiness or misery in the world to come by what we do now on earth.

    2. Read Doctrine and Covenants 58:26–29, and discuss how this passage of scripture relates to our eternal destiny. Can anyone really plead that he is caught in such a bad web of circumstances that he cannot do good?

    3. Why would it be impossible to be justly rewarded or condemned for our thoughts, words, and actions without agency? (see Mosiah 4:30).

Conclusion

Discuss the validity of the following statements:

  1. 1.

    We are the result of the use of our agency.

  2. 2.

    We are what we have willed to be.

  3. 3.

    We choose those alternatives that we want —that we love.

  4. 4.

    In the final analysis, we will end up in the kingdom we choose.