In my course on Business Organizations, I teach the law of principals and agents. Under this body of law, the notion of “free agency” is nonsensical, since a person becomes an “agent” only by attaching himself to a principal, at which point the person is no longer free. By contrast, in religious studies, the term “free agency” (or just “agency”) connotes free will, which is a complex and deeply interesting topic, though not the topic of this post. In this post, I want to use the law of agency to propose a different way of thinking about ourselves as agents.
One of the foundation stones of the law of agency is consent. Indeed, it is often said that a principal-agent relationship must be consensual, even if it is not contractual. What does the agent consent to do? Two things: (1) act on behalf of the principal, and (2) act subject to the control of the principal. As you might imagine, once lawyers get ahold of these ideas, they become fairly complex, but just take the common understandings as a base point: to act “on behalf of” someone is to act primarily for the other’s benefit, and to subject oneself to another’s “control” implies a willingness to follow instructions.
In my view, when we commit to God through baptismal and other covenants, we are giving consent, just as an agent consents to a principal. We agree to work “on behalf of” God for the purpose of building up His Kingdom, and we agree to subject ourselves to His command. Having consented to be His agent, we need not deliberate about each commandment to determine whether we are willing to obey. This decision has already been made.
The formation of an agency relationship in law has two important consequences: (1) the agent becomes a fiduciary for the principal, meaning that the agent must “act solely for the benefit of the principal in all matters connected with his agency”: and (2) the principal becomes liable for authorized acts of the agent (Priesthood sealing power?). Perhaps I am a simpleton, but thinking about my relationship to God in these terms helps me to understand the deep level of commitment involved and inspires me to be more complete in my obedience and devotion.