One of the most precious of God's gifts to mankind - "our freedom, our agency, our inalienable and divine right to choose" - was the theme of President Howard W. Hunter's concluding address at the Saturday morning session.
President Hunter, president of the Council of the Twelve, quoted President Ezra Taft Benson in saying that the right of choice "runs like a golden thread throughout the gospel."" `[We] proclaim that life is eternal, that it has purpose. . . . [God has a] plan. . . . for the benefit and blessing of us, His children. . . . Basic to [that] all-important plan is our free agency.' "
President Hunter explained that the importance of free agency was established long before man's mortal birth.
"It happened in a great premortal existence where we developed our identities and increased our spiritual capabilities by exercising our agency and making important choices," he said. "We developed our intelligence and learned to love the truth, and we prepared to come to earth to continue our progress.
"Our Father in Heaven wanted our growth to continue in mortality and to be enhanced by our freedom to choose and learn," President Hunter explained.
He said Satan opposed the freedom of choice offered by the Father so violently that in Revelation, John described a "war in heaven" (Rev. 12:7). However, "the course of agency and eternal aspirations prevailed," noted President Hunter.
"To fully understand this gift of agency and its inestimable worth, it is imperative that we understand that God's chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long-suffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation," observed President Hunter.
"He acts by gentle solicitation and by sweet enticement. He always acts with unfailing respect for the freedom and independence that we possess. He wants to help us and pleads for the chance to assist us, but He will not do so in violation of our agency.
"To countermand and ultimately forbid our choice was Satan's way, not God's, and the Father of us all simply never will do that," President Hunter continued. "He will, however, stand by us forever to help us see the right path, find the right choice, respond to the true voice, and feel the influence of His undeniable Spirit. His gentle, peaceful, powerful persuasion to do right and find joy will be with us `so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved.' " (Moroni 7:36.)
Given the freedom to choose, individuals sometimes make wrong choices, President Hunter acknowledged. "That is where the mission and mercy of Jesus Christ come into full force and glory. He has taken upon Himself the burden of all the world's risk. He has provided a mediating atonement for the wrong choices we may make. He is our advocate with the Father and has paid, in advance, for the faults and foolishness we often see in the exercise of our freedom."