Action over Permissive Passiveness
Agency is something that all men are born entitled to receive. Yet, it seems that with the temptations, noise, “counsel, advice, and promotions” (Richard G. Scott) that plague our Facebook feeds, we as God’s children can unknowingly fall under the tidal wave of sidetracking influence. We fall so unknowingly that in distraction’s subtle nature, we fail to recognize that we are being acted upon, not acting for ourselves at all. I have pondered this idea for an extended period of time and I propose that this concept of action over passiveness discussed in 2 Nephi 2:14, 26-27 can lead to personal growth, progression, and self-control.
“And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning;” (2 Ne 2:26) As college students, it is easy for myself and others to fall into the influence of breaking good habits due to lack of time, a heap of tasks, and the pressures of social commitments. We desire for “profit and learning” yet find ourselves at times smitten with the scroll of a telephone or the constant stream of entertainment numbing our brain synapses. The concept of acting over being acted upon, (“these things”, as Lehi calls them) however, is meant to help develop personal growth, rising above these loud noises and distractions all battling for our attention. Lehi continues, “…for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.” In this, Lehi begins a “father’s last will” sermon to his sons: There are things to be acted upon and those (people) to act upon them.
With our spiritually inherited gift of discernment, we find ourselves able to distinguish for ourselves in which category we should be, knowing our entitled position of stewardship over the earth. Lehi details in chapter two the fall of Adam and Eve, leading to a responsibility of taking care of the earth—they were given the task of “tilling the land” by the sweat of their brow. The earth was not meant to have dominion over man- but rather, man over the earth.
With this portion of the verse it is also important to note that God created all things, both in heaven and in earth. That means that our Heavenly Father is foremost the creator of spiritual things. With faith, as Gene R. Cook says, “Any idea that has ever had any value that I know of, was first created spiritually in the mind. Then, because of his exceeding great faith, he brings it about temporally. He literally causes it to happen.” This concept is a key distinguisher in recognizing when we are acting and being acted upon. Are our actions faith-filled? Are they spiritually stimulating? If they are not, we can know that we are being acted upon and we are allowing circumstance, challenge or even the influence of other people to take away our ability to make our own decisions towards personal growth.
Because faith and works go hand in hand, personal growth is a result of righteous endeavors of directional action. When a college student like myself will act, setting the alarm thirty minutes earlier than usual in order to make time for daily scripture reading, the blessings that are entitled to one who consistently feeds their spirit rain down. Those who allow themselves to fall into sluggish passiveness and permissiveness allow themselves to be acted upon by circumstance, not the other way around. In fact, this phenomenon creates the opposite of the desired effect, where in reality our spiritual growth diminishes from lack of action. Thus, faith without works can really truly be deemed “dead.” (Holy Bible; James 2:20)
From personal experience, I can tell the difference between when I am acting and when I am being acted upon due to these reflections. In the last week, the time spent acting felt progressive, as if moving forward, time un-wasted and well-allocated. Where-as the fruits of being acted upon are passive regret and temporary pleasure. For example, those mornings used for an early run and scripture study began a much more productive day and uplifting spirit than the days spent falling out of bed ten minutes before class with no breakfast both spiritually and physically. As the day progressed ever longer, fatigue settled in and a domino effect of consistently allowing to be acted upon at each decision point surfaced. I no longer had dominion over the “things to be acted upon,” but they most certainly had control of me.
From my experiences pondering these verses in 2 Nephi 2, I have come to learn that the gift of choice leads to hope. “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.” We can choose to be liberated from sin, to avoid addicting behaviors, and to move forward. Not only that, but, “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.” Knowing that “the future is as a bright as your faith” as President Thomas S. Monson always says, we are able to live the life of “decisions determining destiny.” Our hope grows as we anxiously strive to choose God’s will, because this strengthens our faith in Him and His plans for us. He wants our progression more than we do, and He has given us a way to get there.
The Savior is the enabler and the source of our ability to progress. He gives us the knowledge of consequences to the law and allows us the choice to either follow that knowledge and improve or ignore it and perish. Adam and Eve, in the context of these verses, experienced a fall that was their own choice. God the Eternal Father had given them an explicit law: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Holy Bible; Genesis 2:16-17) It became their decision to act and receive consequence, or to remain unchanged and unable to progress in their immortal sanctuary of the Garden of Eden.
When Adam and Eve stood before the Lord, they continued to progress through built character, taking the responsibility for their transgression, saying, “I did eat.” Or in other words, the ‘decision was mine.’ This action led to their ability to leave into the mortal world and develop as a family unit, now having the capacity to have children. In their immortal state, they could not progress any further in the Lord’s presence before this action. It was only after the consequences were evaluated and an action was taken that they were able to keep “all” of God’s commandments and begin a family- the greatest progress possible. In this we see the reality of Christofferson’s quote: “It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama.”
If it were not for the reality of fixed and immutable truths, the gift of agency would be meaningless since we would never be able to foresee and intend the consequences of our actions.” says Elder D. Todd Christofferson. ABeing acted upon means somebody else is pulling the strings,” but righteous use of agency and action leads to a soul-satisfying self-control.
Consistency is a key in self-control, I have found. So those days that I wake up to read my scriptures and connect with my Heavenly Father only become habitual as I do this on a regular basis. In his talk “Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Richard G. Scott says, “We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.” I know that this testimony is true. Just as Adam and Eve took responsibility for their lives and their actions, D. Todd Christofferson adds, “We must defend accountability against persons and programs that would (sometimes with the best of intentions) make us dependent.” The two apostles together support one another’s claims: It’s true that we become what we consistently do- so if you are consistently being dependent on things to act upon you, you will become stuck, addicted, and unable to progress. The future becomes what is consistently acting upon you, not what you are consistently taking into your own hands to make right.
Christofferson continues, “I am under no illusion that this can be achieved by our own efforts alone without His very substantial and constant help.” 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.”
I know that faith without works is dead. The controllable actions of our daily lives lead to the destiny to which our Heavenly Father so desires for us. He loves us. He is aware of us. He knows us. He knows what acts upon us “best”, so to speak, and He knows what it takes to remove that influence in our lives. I know from personal experience that “acting” in faith leads to personal growth, hopeful progression (even when all is not right in the world), and the ability to control our appetites through righteous self-control. Lehi’s last plea to his children was just this: to act and not be acted upon, as he says: “Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity.” This invitation is to all- may we take it, and rise.