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Friday Minute: Out of darkness into the light the gift of agency

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

For those who choose good over evil, the gift of agency is a visionary step out of darkness into the light.

Three days blind

After a World War II Navy enlistment, my father gradually lost his eyesight to shrapnel. By the time he was 40, Dad could no longer compose his beloved music without a scribe, or do the simple things that sighted people take for granted.

When I was a child, I learned firsthand what it means to lose the precious gift of sight.

One day at pre-school, Kathy Cook tossed a toy pot from the sandbox at my forehead, blasting my face with sand. After flushing my eyes, the doctor bandaged them and instructed my mom to leave the dressing in place for three days.

To a sighted child, three days in the dark is an eternity: no sunlight, no cartoons on TV, no romping through my house or neighborhood. I couldn’t even eat without forking my face.

When the dressing was removed from my eyes, I experienced the joy of sight in a way I never before appreciated. In like manner, the gift of agency — the right to choose — is a gift of renewed vision for those who choose to follow God.

Faith and agency

Faith in God is a choice requiring action that experience can’t yet prove.

A friend of mine is an avid motorcycle rider and an avowed atheist. He often condemns religious faith, yet hopes for better weather over Sturgis next year. Without realizing it, his faith in his lifestyle is as unscientific as religious faith, yet both are choices within agency that motivate conduct.

To illustrate faith’s requirement to act, consider my choice to apply to law school. I had no assurance that going to law school would result in achieving my goal to become a competent trial attorney. I took it on hope, then acted in faith. My faith required many steps in the dark, including law school, the bar exam and a willingness to suffer the wrath of judges in my first few trials as an inexperienced litigator.

Faith in God also requires action before the assurance. If you ask my atheist friend what proof of God would satisfy him, he admits there is none. Like my atheist friend, if we refuse faith in God for "lack of proof," we lose the very proof or spiritual witness promised to the faithful.

Just as science cannot prove love, faith cannot reveal God until we commit to him.

Agency and bad choices

Some reject God when bad things happen to good people. They assume that a loving God would never allow such pain. It is precisely because God loves us that he will not interfere with our right to choose good and evil, even at the expense of the pain caused by the bad choices of a few.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, "God does not intervene to forestall the consequences of some person's choices in order to protect the well-being of other persons. ... He will bless us to endure the consequences of others’ choices, but he will not prevent those choices" (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Love and Law," Ensign, November 2009).

Agency and light

I learned the value of sight as a little boy when I was temporarily blinded in a schoolyard mishap. When we exercise our faith to choose the right, the gift of choice, or agency, removes the blinders of unbelief and opens our view to heaven.

As hope sparks faith and faith motivates us to act on God’s word, the gift of agency illuminates the soul, which "light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

When we trust our carnal senses, we risk self-deception. When we trust in God, we grasp a loving hand in the dark that lifts, inspires and guides. Like all loving hands, its touch is never forced. When we choose faith, God’s loving caress leads us "out of darkness, into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the QC Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran.

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