Continued from part nine.
Faith is not power
In part two, I erroneously wrote “faith is power” in one of the sub-headings. After catching the error, I decided to leave it up as a teaching point.
Many people equate faith with power, just as they equate faith with hope. Part two explained that faith is not hope and that hope comes after one has faith. The present article (part ten) seeks to likewise explain that faith is not power and that power comes after one has faith.
Two types of power
Free agency is one of the two types of power. Agency is the ability to act and not to be acted upon. (See 2 Nephi 2: 26.)
The other type is the ability to act upon something/someone against its/his/her will. There is no scriptural name (that I know of) for this kind of power, but we use descriptive words such as coercion, compulsion, force, enslavement, control, domination, manipulation, captivation, enchainment, etc., to describe its exercise. I suppose it can be termed “anti-agency” as it is diametrically opposed to an individual’s agency, but I will refer to it as coercion.
Coercion and agency both accomplish work or get things done, but free agency is only obtained through faith, whereas coercion is experienced in the absence of faith or with the permission of the free agent.
Another purpose of this article
When I wrote The role of free agency in political systems, I talked about the link between faith and agency (power) in two small paragraphs, which I hope to expound upon in the present article:
The precursor to agency is faith, another gift of God. It is faith that allows agency to be possessed, even faith centered in God. The more faith we possess, the more agency is granted, the less faith possessed, the less agency. If we lose all faith, we lose all agency and thus become like Satan, who is devoid of both faith and agency. If we gain all faith, we gain all agency, and thus become entirely like God.
Faith and agency are heavenly principles and the entire kingdom of God operates on them. This is why all things are done (the action or power to do being agency) according to the faith of men and why God works (the action or power to work being agency) according to the faith of the children of men. (The role of free agency in political systems)
However, before talking of faith, I must expound upon agency.
Free agency alone is the power of God
One of the common misconceptions among LDS is that God, our heavenly Father, uses the principle of coercion to accomplish certain things, such as punishing the wicked. The truth of the matter is that he doesn’t. Coercion is the power under which Satan operates. Free agency alone is the type of power that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost use.
There are scriptures (see D&C 19: 1-20 and especially verse 7) that conjure up visions of God forcing men to do certain things that they don’t want to do, but these scriptures are written “more express to work upon the hearts of the children of men.” For example:
Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; and he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4: 3-4)
LDS are often quick to point out that Jesus (the Father’s Only Begotten) was the champion of free agency, whereas the devil wanted to destroy it and force us to obey his will, but they don’t bat an eye when they read the above scripture and think that Jesus used the satanic principle of force to cast Lucifer down out of heaven. As a people, we have conditioned ourselves to believe that coercion is okay if God does it, but evil when used by Satan. In other words, that force is merely a tool, it is neither good nor evil, but can be used for good in the hands of God and for evil in the hands of Satan. They will often quote the following scripture with emphasis on the words in bold:
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121: 37)
Had the verse merely said, “in any degree” there would have been no further discussion, but as the modifier “of unrighteousness” was added, many LDS think that this means that when it comes “to exercising control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men,” there are both righteousness and unrighteousness degrees. Therefore, by their interpretation of this scripture in this way, there is a way to righteously exercise dominion, compulsion and control upon men.
In this line of thinking, if God or his servants are doing it, it is righteous. If Satan or his servants are doing it, it is unrighteous. The rules of English grammar do, in fact, allow this interpretation and as long as you eliminate the following verse in the same section, it might make sense:
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121: 46)
However, when the two verses are taken together, they paint a proper (and different) picture, namely that the righteous dominion of God is based upon free agency, not coercion, whereas unrighteous dominion is based upon control or compulsion. Leaving mortal humans out of the equation, who routinely compel their fellows and/or allow freedom of choice by turns, and addressing only God himself, the Father’s everlasting dominion flows unto him without any compulsory means. In fact, the very reason why the scepter of God is righteous is because no one is compelled to obey him. All are given free agency. So, as it applies to God, there is no such thing as righteous compulsion. That would be a contradiction in terms.
God uses free agents
When Nephi was commanded to slay Laban, the Spirit said to him, “The Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.” Yet, who slew Laban, Nephi or the Lord? Nephi did. And also the Lord, vicariously, through Nephi, one of His free agents. Did Nephi have to slay Laban? Was he forced to do it? Of course not. The Lord gave Nephi the law written in D&C 98: 23-32, which has a spare clause: “and then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation” (verse 30). Nephi chose to use his free agency to justifiably slay Laban, but he could have equally spared him.
The power of Jesus Christ is free agency
In Moses 4: 3-4, quoted above, when the Lord says, “by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down,” the power being referred to is free agency. Jesus used free agency to “cast Lucifer down.” He did not use coercion or force. Jesus, like the Father, both has free agency and also works through free agents.
When LDS hear the words “cast down” they envision a forceful banishment, using coercion. But D&C 121: 37, quoted above, states that exercising compulsion causes “the heavens ” to “withdraw themselves.” It doesn’t state that it causes the individual to be banished from the heavens. Yet, the heavens moving or changing location, from where you are to a location above and beyond your reach, has the same result as if you were cast down or fallen from heaven. Again, these scriptures are written more express.
All of the saints and prophets of God are free agents of Jesus Christ. They voluntarily obey his will. As does all the spirit and physical matter that make up the created universe. It is through free agency and free agents alone, that Jesus accomplishes his work.
The power of the Holy Ghost is free agency
The power of the Holy Ghost, likewise, is free agency. The Holy Ghost forces no one to convert to the Lord. The Holy Ghost forces no one to believe. Those who desire to believe on the word of God invite the Holy Ghost to come and deposit the gift of belief. Those who believe on the word of God invite the Holy Ghost to come and deposit the gift of faith. Those who exercise that gift of faith invite the Holy Ghost to come and deposit other gifts and powers, such as sanctification, purification, justification, wisdom, knowledge, visions, prophecies and the like. Nothing is ever forced. Everything is done according to the desires of the children of men, according to their beliefs, according to their faith, they being free agents capable of choosing to invite the Spirit in. When faith is manifest, the Spirit brings additional manifestations of its power, meaning that the individual receives greater free agency. Remember, the scriptural definition of free agency is the ability to act and not to be acted upon, therefore, for example, a person with the gift of tongues has an additional ability to act (greater free agency) than one who doesn’t possess that gift. The same can be said of all other gifts, powers, fruits and signs of the Holy Ghost. They are all abilities to act and not to be acted upon in certain ways, meaning, they are all manifestations of greater free agency (the power of God) bestowed upon the individual.
Faith determines agency
Again, keep in mind that agency is the ability to act and not be acted upon. The greater your agency, the more ability you have to act and also the less you can be acted upon by others. It is the amount of faith you possess that determines how much agency you possess. If one has sufficiently great faith, nothing can act on you without your say so. The following scriptural examples demonstrate this principle.
Ammon could not be acted upon—due to faith
Now Ammon seeing the Spirit of the Lord poured out according to his prayers upon the Lamanites, his brethren, who had been the cause of so much mourning among the Nephites, or among all the people of God because of their iniquities and their traditions, he fell upon his knees, and began to pour out his soul in prayer and thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his brethren; and he was also overpowered with joy; and thus they all three had sunk to the earth. Now, one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon, to slay him; and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead. Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said unto Mosiah, his father: I will spare him, and it shall be unto him according to thy faith—therefore, Mosiah trusted him unto the Lord. And it came to pass that when the multitude beheld that the man had fallen dead, who lifted the sword to slay Ammon, fear came upon them all, and they durst not put forth their hands to touch him or any of those who had fallen; and they began to marvel again among themselves what could be the cause of this great power [which is agency], or what all these things could mean. (Alma 19: 14, 22-24)
Alma and Amulek could not be acted upon—due to faith
When the saints were being burned by fire in front of them, Amulek turned to Alma and said something remarkable:
And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God [which is free agency] which is in us, and save them from the flames. (Alma 14: 10)
Amulek’s words indicate that he knew he and Alma had power to act (agency) to save the saints. Alma’s words also indicate that he knew he had such power:
But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; (Alma 14: 11)
In addition to ability to act, Alma and Amulek also had the ability not to be acted upon. After allowing the Amalekites to afflict them for many days, they finally decided to use their agency and stop their persecutors from acting upon them.
And it came to pass after they had thus suffered for many days, (and it was on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, in the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi) that the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah and many of their teachers and their lawyers went in unto the prison where Alma and Amulek were bound with cords. And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God [which is free agency] deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words. And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God [which is free agency] was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet. Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them. And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power [which is free agency], according to their faith which was in Christ. (Alma 14: 23-26, 28 )
You know the rest of the story. The chief judge, teachers and lawyers all thought their power of coercion (forcibly imprisoning Alma and Amulek and torturing them) was greater than the power of agency. It wasn’t. Agency is a greater power than coercion, but agency only exists where there is faith.
Abinadi could not be acted upon—due to faith
And now when the king had heard these words, he said unto his priests: Away with this fellow, and slay him; for what have we to do with him, for he is mad. And they stood forth and attempted to lay their hands on him; but he withstood them, and said unto them: Touch me not, for God shall smite you if ye lay your hands upon me, for I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver; neither have I told you that which ye requested that I should tell; therefore, God will not suffer that I shall be destroyed at this time. But I must fulfil the commandments wherewith God has commanded me; and because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. And again, because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad. Now it came to pass after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord. And he spake with power [which is free agency] and authority from God; and he continued his words, saying: Ye see that ye have not power to slay me, therefore I finish my message. Yea, and I perceive that it cuts you to your hearts because I tell you the truth concerning your iniquities. Yea, and my words fill you with wonder and amazement, and with anger. But I finish my message; and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved. (Mosiah 13: 1-9)
Although the text doesn’t specifically say that Abinadi obtained the Spirit of the Lord through faith, other scriptures teach this principle. (For example, see D&C 42: 14.) Despite having the power to resist these men, Abinadi later allowed them to slay him.
Now Abinadi said unto him: I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true; and that ye may know of their surety I have suffered myself that I have fallen into your hands. Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day. (Mosiah 17: 9-10)
Jesus could not be acted upon—due to faith
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power [which is free agency] to lay it down, and I have power [which is free agency] to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10: 14-17)
All, therefore, that happened to Jesus was allowed by him to happen, as he had a fullness of free agency and thus none could act upon him unless he allowed it.
Enoch and Melchizedek could not be acted upon—due to faith
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire. And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, it being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; and it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name. For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power [which is free agency], by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; to put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. (JST Genesis 14: 26-32)
Translation is the ultimate manifestation that great power not to be acted upon (free agency) has been bestowed, due to one’s faith, as the coercion of death itself is broken. Not every prophet or saint that reaches that level, though, is translated. Some, like Abinadi, choose to allow themselves to be killed, to seal up their testimony in the blood of the innocent.
The Three Nephites could not be acted upon—due to faith
Others choose translation. No matter how much coercion the wicked used against the Three Nephite disciples of Christ, it had no effect on their agency, because of their faith.
Therefore they did exercise power [coercion] and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison; but by the power of the word of God, which was in them, the prisons were rent in twain, and they went forth doing mighty miracles among them. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these miracles, the people did harden their hearts, and did seek to kill them, even as the Jews at Jerusalem sought to kill Jesus, according to his word. And they did cast them into furnaces of fire, and they came forth receiving no harm. And they also cast them into dens of wild beasts, and they did play with the wild beasts even as a child with a lamb; and they did come forth from among them, receiving no harm. (4 Nephi 1: 30-33)
And they were cast into prison by them who did not belong to the church. And the prisons could not hold them, for they were rent in twain. And they were cast down into the earth; but they did smite the earth with the word of God, insomuch that by his power they were delivered out of the depths of the earth; and therefore they could not dig pits sufficient to hold them. And thrice they were cast into a furnace and received no harm. And twice were they cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts as a child with a suckling lamb, and received no harm. (3 Nephi 28: 19-22)
Agency is the supreme power, which trumps or frees one from the power of all other things, including the power of death, if one’s faith is sufficient. This is one of the reasons why it is called free agency, because it gives you freedom or liberates you from the power of coercion. It gives you the power to choose life (translation and exaltation) or death (physical and spiritual death.) Those who obtain enough faith, are given by God the agency to overcome all things, including death, meaning that nothing can act upon them without their say so.
And now behold, as I spake concerning those whom the Lord hath chosen, yea, even three who were caught up into the heavens, that I knew not whether they were cleansed from mortality to immortality—but behold, since I wrote, I have inquired of the Lord, and he hath made it manifest unto me that there must needs be a change wrought upon their bodies, or else it needs be that they must taste of death; therefore, that they might not taste of death there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world. Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them. (3 Nephi 28: 36-39)
How this relates to God’s faith
The scriptures teach that agency alone is the power of God; that coercion is the power of the devil; that agency is greater or more powerful than coercion; that agency is granted only when faith is present; that agency and coercion cannot co-manifest in the same circumstance, either coercion exercises its power to the reduction of agency (or with the permission of the free agent who chooses not to exercise his agency), or agency exercises its power to the elimination or reduction of coercion; that agency is linked to faith; that faith precedes agency; that agency comes of faith; that the amount of agency possessed is determined by the amount of faith possessed; and that if one loses faith, agency is also lost (see Matthew 14: 25-31 for Peter’s faltering faith.)
As we know that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), meaning that he has a fullness of agency, he must have gotten his agency through the only mechanism given in the scriptures for obtaining it: faith. And as God remains almighty, he must not have lost one iota of his faith, for to do so, according to the scriptures, would remove a portion of his agency. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude, based upon these scriptural evidences and teachings of the relationship of faith to agency, that God does, indeed, possess faith.
Next Faith of God article: The faith of God, part eleven: Why knowledge doesn’t save
Previous Faith of God article: The faith of God, part nine: the ingredients of faith