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Obedience & Freedom… Quotes from Church Leaders

I have been pondering about freedom and obedience for a long time, so I welcomed the opportunity to do some research and learn some more about it for a sacrament meeting talk in my home ward, the Hickory Flat Ward of the Marietta Georgia East Stake. Here are some quotations from LDS Church leaders on the subject.

F. Enzio Busche, “Freedom ‘from’ or Freedom ‘to’,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 83–84

My dear brothers and sisters, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many new members, specifically when they come from countries other than the United States, learn for the first time the true dimension of the word freedom. Freedom for most people of the world means “freedom from” the absence of malice or pain or suppression. But the freedom that God means when He deals with us goes one step further. He means “freedom to”—the freedom to act in the dignity of our own choice.

What then does it mean to be free? Freedom means to have matured to the full knowledge of our dangerously many responsibilities as a human being. We have learned that everything we do, and even say or think, has consequences. We realize that too long we have believed that we were victims of circumstances. In the Gospel of John, 8:32, we read the following: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

F. Enzio Busche, “Freedom ‘from’ or Freedom ‘to’,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 83–84

… I want to tell you of a faithful brother who was a member of the same branch in my home country of Germany in the early years of my membership.

He was living in humble circumstances and felt very blessed to have recently begun a job in a small, privately owned company. He told me about an upcoming event where all of the employed people were invited to participate in a traditional company dinner party. He was concerned because he knew that there would be a big beer party at the end of this meeting, with the boss being probably the heaviest beer drinker of them all. But he also knew that it would be considered very impolite if he did not attend the dinner at all.

When I saw him again, after that dinner event occurred, I saw him with a most happy, deep inner glow, and he could not wait to tell me what had happened. Because he was new in the company, the boss had sat right next to him, wanting to get to know him better. As the evening progressed, the brother saw his wildest fears confirmed because the boss would not tolerate that he would not drink beer with him, and he said, “What kind of church is that that would not permit you to drink even a glass of beer with me?”

The fear of my friend did not grow into panic as he was able to calmly answer his boss that the reason he was not drinking had nothing to do with the church that he belonged to, but that he himself had made a sacred covenant with God that he would not drink. If he would ever break this covenant, how could he continue to stay true to that which he would ever promise, and how could he be trusted, even by his employer, that he would not lie or steal or cheat.

According to my friend, the owner was deeply touched by this statement, and he hugged him, speaking words of profound admiration and confidence.

Robert M. Wilkes, “Some Thoughts about Personal Freedom,” Ensign, Jul 1985, 12

On my street lives a little boy known as the Sidewalk King. This little boy cruises the neighborhood on his black and gold plastic racing trike, living in his own world of make-believe and heroic deeds. One of his favorite things to do is to back that little vehicle up against his father’s garage door and then—revving up all the power and energy at his command—shoot down the driveway, through the gutter, and out onto the street. Then, cranking the front end around, he pedals up the driveway again. If you are within a house or two, you can practically hear the engine throb.

His parents, understanding more than he does about the perils involved, have warned him and pleaded with him. Not long ago, his father found it necessary to give his young son a little spanking to help him understand how dangerous it is to ride out in the street. As he ran into the house he sobbed to his parents, “You just want to ruin all my fun.”

To the mind of a four-year-old, that is exactly what it appeared. But, oh, how wrong he was. His parents weren’t trying to ruin his fun; they were trying to keep him from harm, perhaps even death. Freedom to him was largely doing what he wanted without restraint and interference.

2 Nephi 2:25-27

 25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
 26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
 27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they 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; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

F. Enzio Busche, “Freedom ‘from’ or Freedom ‘to’,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 83–84

One thing, of course, we know: having “freedom to” means that we have the potential of making wrong choices. Wrong choices have their merciless consequences, and when they are not stopped and corrected they lead us into misery and pain. Wrong choices, if not corrected, will lead us to the ultimate possible disaster in each person’s life: to become separated from our Heavenly Father in the world to come.

When we have received this life-enabling message, we begin to understand that in our earlier life we were like a football player standing in the middle of the field, totally depressed because we did not know the purpose and the rules of the game. We did not know which team we belonged to, and we didn’t even know who was our coach. Only in the awareness of the restored gospel, our game plan becomes clear, and we comprehend that Jesus Christ and His restored Church and priesthood are the only way for us to succeed in our earthly experience.

Robert M. Wilkes, “Some Thoughts about Personal Freedom,” Ensign, Jul 1985, 12

I know of another little boy who came home from school one day long ago to find a new rented piano in the living room. “What’s this piano here for?” he asked his mother.

“It’s for you,” she replied.

“For me?” he asked. “Why for me?”

“Because,” she said, “you are going to take piano lessons.”

He said he didn’t want to take piano lessons. But she had already vetoed that decision. In fact, she had already arranged for a teacher.

Well, this little boy began to miss a few lessons. One day his mother asked, “How was your piano lesson?”

He said, “Fine. I’m doing pretty well.”

“That’s interesting,” she said. “I just talked to your teacher, and she hasn’t seen you for a while.” He had been caught. He didn’t know what the punishment would be, but he knew it would be bad. Then his mother said, “Just for that, you may not take piano lessons.”

He tried to look punished, but inside he was an inferno of joy. Mother, he thought, you have hit on the perfect punishment. I hope you use it often. Within his heart he felt that he had just been liberated. He was free from practice, free from lessons, free from discipline, routine, and regimentation—free from all that seemed to limit his freedom.

When he grew to be a man, he was sitting one day in a church meeting during which a woman was to sing a solo. When her time to perform came, she walked up to the podium and announced, “My accompanist could not come today. I need someone to accompany me.” Looking over the congregation, she saw a man who used to teach piano. “Will you accompany me?” she asked him. The man came forward, and she handed him the music.

As he watched this transpire, my friend who had avoided music lessons thought, What would I havedone if she had asked me? If she had asked me, I would have been free to do only one thing: to say no. Suddenly, he realized that what he had assumed to be one of the great liberating moments of his life—when his mother said, “You may not take lessons any more”—was in fact a moment of bondage, not freedom. As he sat in that church meeting, he might as well have been handcuffed, for he could not have played the piano if he had wanted to. The other man was free; he could choose to play or not to play. Ultimately, then, freedom is more a matter of capacity and ability than of permission.

Robert M. Wilkes, “Some Thoughts about Personal Freedom,” Ensign, Jul 1985, 12

Very often, too, freedom means packing a burden. Sometimes we want to escape the burden, thinking that freedom would lie in that. A few years ago, I took my four-wheel-drive pickup into the mountains to get some firewood one late fall afternoon. The road up the canyon was covered with snow, and the higher I went, the deeper the snow. Soon I was far up, and the snow was deep. I pulled off the road into the brush and promptly got stuck. I moved several logs that were in front of the wheels, but I still couldn’t go. By this time it was getting dark. “Maybe someone will come along,” I thought. “While I’m waiting, I might as well cut up a little wood.” Soon I had a whole load of firewood, but still no one had come. “Well,” I thought, “I’d better start walking.”

Before I did, I decided to try just one more time. I put my truck in gear, and it just crawled out of that thick brush back onto the road. The load of wood had given the truck traction. What it could not do empty, it could do full.

We must not run around empty. Often we spend too much energy trying to escape our burdens. You can be married and be the elders quorum president and work—and change diapers. It is a misconception that too much work always destroys our freedom. Sometimes it’s not that we have too much to do, but that we don’t have enough and therefore are barely in gear and have no traction at all. Actually, freedom comes with the load.

 Boyd K. Packer, “Agency and Control,” Ensign, May 1983, 66

Several weeks ago I had in my office a four-star general and his wife; they were very impressive people. They admire the Church because of the conduct of our youth. The general’s wife mentioned her children, of whom she is justly proud. But she expressed a deep concern. “Tell me,” she said, “how you are able to control your youth and build such character as we have seen in your young men?”

I was interested in her use of the word ‘control’. The answer, I told them, centered in the doctrines of the gospel. They were interested; so I spoke briefly of the doctrine of agency. I said we develop control by teaching freedom. Perhaps at first they thought we start at the wrong end of the subject. A four-star general is nothing if not a disciplinarian. But when one understands the gospel, it becomes very clear that the best control is self-control.

It may seem unusual at first to foster self-control by centering on freedom of choice, but it is a very sound doctrinal approach.

While either subject may be taught separately, and though they may appear at first to be opposites, they are in fact parts of the same subject.

Some who do not understand the doctrinal part do not readily see the relationship between obedience and agency. And they miss one vital connection and see obedience only as restraint. They then resist the very thing that will give them true freedom. There is no true freedom without responsibility, and there is no enduring freedom without a knowledge of the truth. The Lord said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32.)

The general quickly understood a truth that is missed even by some in the Church. Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God.

We are the sons and daughters of God, willing followers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and “under this head are [we] made free.” (Mosiah 5:8.)

Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel. There is an obedience that comes from a knowledge of the truth that transcends any external form of control. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see. The best control, I repeat, is self-control.

D&C 58:26-28

  26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
  27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
  28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

As always, your comments are welcome.

~~Matia Bryson

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