General Authority Seventy James B. Martino emphasized the importance of agency and gave BYU students three tips for righteous decision-making in his devotional address Sept. 15.
His counsel to students was to keep an eternal perspective, do not underestimate the enemy and repent when mistakes are made.
His words, especially timely against a backdrop of racial and political unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasized personal responsibility in decision-making and the ultimate happiness that comes from living the gospel.
In his discussion on keeping an eternal perspective, Elder Martino echoed the words of J. K. Rowling’s fictional character Albus Dumbledore, who said that it is choices, not abilities, that define people.
“Keeping an eternal perspective means not allowing a sorting hat — or chance or luck or circumstances — to set our destiny,” Elder Martino said.
Elder Martino said while many Latter-day Saints would like to compare themselves to Book of Mormon heroes Nephi and Sam, sometimes they are more like Laman and Lemuel, choosing to be victims of circumstances rather than agents who act.
“Do not be deceived by the sophistry of the devil,” he said. “Inappropriate actions by some should not be answered with violence.”
Elder Martino taught that people have responsibility for their own destinies, regardless of birth, nationality or even decisions made by parents. He encouraged students not to see God as a Santa Claus figure, who manipulates people with rewards and punishments, but rather as a loving parent who wants people to make their own choices and grow from facing opposition.
He also told students to remember that the adversary is real and this tendency to divert responsibility for one’s choices in one of his tricks. “Satan does not want us to believe we can change; he wants us to think we are victims.”
Elder Martino reminded listeners, however, that Christ differs from Satan in that Christ respects our agency.
“There is one thing Christ and Satan have in common,” he said. “They both want us to become like them. But Satan wants to trick us into it. Christ wants it to be our choice.”
He ended his address by inviting students to come unto to the Savior and encourage others to do so as well, because repentance and faith in Christ is “the only true way to change hearts.”
“Many of you have served missions, but there is so much more to do,” he said. “Do not let Satan lull you to sleep. This world needs you.”