To understand agency requires an understanding of Gods Laws and how they are used and termed. The laws of man will not be addressed. For ease of teaching and common understanding I have found it beneficial to group Gods law into two categories. The first category is NATURAL LAW or GODS LAW. The second is COMMANDMENTS. The key to understanding natural law is that natural law cannot be broken. Let me say that one more time for absolute clarity. Natural law or Gods law cannot be broken. A helpful tool in understanding commandments is that they are changeable, situational, and can be broken.
The clearest illustrative examples of natural law come from the laws of nature (they are, in fact, the same). One simply cannot break the laws of gravity. It just cannot be done. We do not break the laws of gravity by flight; we are still 100% in compliance with them. A paper clip does not escape gravity by being lifted by a magnet, it simply is responding to the greater applied force. Lack of understanding of the law of gravity does not lessen its impact on us in the least. It is truth and exists independent of our understanding or lack thereof.
Commandments are sometimes referred to as law. They differ from natural law in that they can change, whereas natural law cannot, and they can be broken. So it follows that “thou shalt not kill” is a commandment not a law. They are often situational, such as building an ark, or storing 7 years of grain.
Natural law is made up of two components, action and outcome. This is very important to understand. Sometimes it is difficult to map the two to each other. In simple situations, we can usually see the relationship. Eat too many doughnuts (action) get fat (outcome). Study for test (action) pass test (outcome). In complex situations, it can be far harder to see all the laws associated. Thrust provides motion that creates high and low pressure systems that provide lift that can result in flight. Many laws must be complied with (actions) in order to achieve flight (outcome).
It can also be difficult to discern natural law because sometimes the effects (outcomes) are not always instant. Overgrazing will result in the destruction of the pasture, but not the exact second you put too many cows in the field. Years of improper management create depleted soils and dust bowls, not the same year you don’t rotate your crop. Planting a row of seeds will not result in a harvest in the morning.
There is a third area where it can be difficult to recognize a law vrs a commandment. This arises because they always overlap. The laws of Obedience and Sacrifice, are given by way of covenant but are clearly referred to as laws. Why would we covenant to obey something we cannot break? Think of being given the law as being given the keys to obtain what we desire. The laws of physics are what govern fire. If I give to you those laws, or make you aware of them, then you can use those laws to your advantage (action) to build or put out fires (outcome). The laws have not changed, nor can we break them, but we can now use them the same way we can use our understanding of the laws of physics to build computers and cars and skyscrapers. The laws always existed, but by our understanding them and coming into “compliance” with them, we are able to achieve the outcome we desire. The same is true of every commandment we receive. The outcome desired is our ETERNAL joy and happiness. This is the reason we have never been given a temporal commandment. This is also why we sometimes think we can break a natural law. Commandments are always based on natural law.
Some ask if God is unchanging how can he change his commandments. Let me share an example. In this case you are the unchanging parent who wants your child to grow up to be a fine self sufficient adult who can cook. At age 3 you give your child the commandment to stay out of the kitchen. Slowly over the years you change the commandments to suit your developing child’s ability to safely handle the responsibilities associated with the kitchen. They learn how to treat boiling water and how to open the oven without burning themselves. They learn how to properly use knives so they don’t cut themselves. There will be some accidents along the way as the “Laws” are found to be unbreakable. All the commandments you give along the way are so the child can learn the laws. Commandments from our Father change with our ability to understand and apply law as well.
Some of Gods laws we have been given. Mercy cannot rob Justice.
So, how does this apply to agency?
There are two things you need to understand here before we move into agency. first is that agency is simply the ability to choose between the action and the outcome of law, and nothing more.
Thomas Paine wrote: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods”
And what was the price placed upon agency? Nothing less than the Atonement.