John 6:22-71 — God already knows who will be saved, so why do we need free agency? — LeGrand Baker

If God already knows everything from the beginning to the end, then the question is, “Do we really have free agency or are we just acting out a script that is already written?”

The Savior’s sermon on the Bread of Life poses that question. Its context also provides the answer.

Our knowing that God already knows changes nothing. The conditions of salvation are still the same. The promise, replete in the scriptures, is that God will enable us to keep our covenants, but only if we choose to keep them. That help is there because the covenants are in place. That could not be so if God had not known what or who might seek to prevent us from keeping our covenants and what arrangements must be made in advance to counter those challenges. Nephi’s writing the Small Plates to offset Lucy Harris’s taking the 116 page manuscript of the Book of Mormon is a good example. God did not take away her agency by preventing Mrs. Harris from stealing the pages, but 2,500 years earlier he gave Nephi instructions that would make her duplicity irrelevant. {1}

We came into this life with three things: our agency, our personality, and our integrity. We have been working on our personality for eons, so that is not going to change much. It is our integrity that is challenged by this world’s environment and the experiences we have here.

We could have no integrity if we did not also have agency. Our agency is an integral part of what we are. Without it we would not exist.

29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light (D&C 93:29-31).

We are not puppets who abandon our will to God and let him pull the strings. We would have no value if we were. We can not give our agency to God because without it we would become a nothing. We came to this world to develop our Self in the full power of our individual personalities. As intelligent entities we not only have the power to distinguish good from evil, but we have the power to chose good or to chose evil. That power enables us to keep our premortal covenants and aline our present will with God’s wisdom. The more perfectly we aline our will and actions with his, the greater our power to be our Self. When we were children we were are taught to obey, not because we are expected to forfeit our agency, but so we could learn the advantage of doing things that are compatible with God’s purposes. After we have learned that lesson, then it is love, not compulsion, that drives our decisions. It was our “obedience,” powered by our own self-will and unfailing reciprocal love that generated those covenants in the first place. Ultimately, our keeping those covenants will give us full power to be all that we are capable of being. It gives us the insight to know our Selves and our relationship with eternity. That opens the way whereby we may come to know all truth, and knowing all gives one absolute freedom to BE. This is the promise:

26 The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth;
27 And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things (D&C 93:26-28).

9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell (Alma 12:8-11).

A covenant is based on the mutual ascent of two parties. In our eternal covenants, God is one party, we are the other. Just as God had to know the conditions of our this-world experience, we had to know and therefore agree to what those conditions would be. The difference is that we have forgotten the terms of our premortal covenants and must rely on the Holy Ghost to teach us how and when to fulfill them. Our greatest assurance is that God remembers. He knows our situation. Our purpose is to listen to the Spirit, follow its instructions, and act in the full power of our own integrity.

The question we came here to answer is the one Job’s wife asked,

9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10).

If we read in John 6:22-71 only those parts that show the Savior’s foreknowledge of whether his listeners would believe him, then this is what we get. (Italics added)

37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
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44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
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64 But there are some of you that believe not. [For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. – JST]
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70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?
71 He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.

So why can’t God just put us in heaven, if he already knows. The answer is, he knows, but it is left to us to find out. In that regard, the end of this story is as important as the beginning.

64 But there are some of you that believe not.
65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?
71 He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.

Jesus already knew which of his apostles would betray him and which would stay faithful. So why did he ask, “Will ye also go away?” Jesus was not seeking information or affirmation—he already knew the answer. He asked because it was important that they answer that question for themselves. They had the right to be asked that question just as we have a right to be asked similar questions when we sit in a temple recommend interview. The account says that Peter answered for all of them, but he spoke with the authority of their individual integrity.

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FOOTNOTE

{1}For Mrs. Harris’s story see Joseph and Moroni under “published books” on this website.

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