Is Agency a Negative Concept?
A few days ago I heard someone at church talk about agency as a “gift” but that got me thinking if it really was or not. Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, of course it’s a gift, doesn’t everything good come from God?” That’s one way of looking at it but let me share a quote from Frédéric Bastiat that slipped into my mind at that moment that got me thinking about it differently.
As a friend of mine once remarked, this negative concept of law is so true that the statement, the purpose of the law is to cause justice to reign, is not a rigorously accurate statement. It ought to be stated that the purpose of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is injustice, instead of justice, that has an existence of its own. Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent. (Bastiat, The Law)
I’m going to change that up a little and substitute God for the word law, agency for justice and captivity for injustice and we’ll see how it reads.
…this negative concept of [agency] is so true that the statement, the purpose of [God] is to cause [agency] to reign, is not a rigorously accurate statement. It ought to be stated that the purpose of [God] is to prevent [captivity] from reigning. In fact, it is [captivity] instead of [agency], that has an existence of its own. [Agency] is achieved only when [captivity] is absent.
It’s an interesting way of looking at it but it appears to ring true in my mind. Let’s explore it as if it is… We didn’t fight for agency before this world, we fought to eliminate captivity and this is why Satan and his followers had to be made absent or cast out. Whatever Satan’s motivations or intentions were, the ends would cause captivity to reign and God could not allow that or it could have had the same effect as allowing mercy to rob justice:
What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God. (Alma 42:25)
God cannot allow mercy to rob justice and it may be safe to say that he cannot allow captivity to rob agency as well or he would cease to be God. How can we prevent captivity from reigning in our fellow brothers and sisters?
Many are in physical captivity due to crimes, debt, or health, while others are in a psychological captivity like depression, sorrow, addiction, etc. and then there is spiritual captivity due to sin, apathy, anger, unforgiving, doubt, or fear. I believe that our current placement in the world is sufficient enough to do great things among the people around us as we utilize friendships, callings, social networks, and awareness to act in a manner that helps to liberate captive souls from their respective prisons.
In this effort, the gift is not agency (at least not directly), the gift is liberation from captivity which then creates a state where agency can be achieved.