“Who is the most free person in the universe?”
This was the question posed by my mission president, President Hawkins, while I was a missionary serving in Hawaii. It wasn’t exactly a fastball, though, so when my mission president asked the question I, the smart little Mormon that I am, knew the answer.
“That’s right. But God has to obey the commandments, right? He cannot lie, for example. So isn’t he, in a sense, not free?”
Dang it. That one was harder…. God is omnipotent, I know that. But I also know that for me, commandments sometimes feel restrictive.
I had nothing to fear, though. President Hawkins came to the rescue. He explained that God has given us commandments, or in other words, has taught us commandments that conform with self-existent eternal principles. These commandments refine us until one day we become completely free. It’s like getting squeezed into the tiny end of a funnel until one day, *POP*, and then everything opens up.
I didn’t get it at first, but as I’ve matured I’ve come to understand how commandments don’t tie us down. Instead, they really do free us! Perhaps the illustration will help you understand quicker than I was able to.
Haiti and Chile
There are quite a few differences between the consequences resulting from the earthquake in Haiti and the earthquake in Chile. Jeneen Interlandi, a reporter for Newsweek, posted an article about a number of these differences, but I’d like to focus on just one.
“Of course, as many will undoubtedly point out, Chile and Haiti are sort of apples and oranges. Yes, both countries sit atop active fault lines. But compared to Haiti, Chile is rich. Chile has the money to buy decent concrete, and the institutional power to enforce its use. Chile can purchase and store heavy equipment and other tools to respond quickly in the wake of a potentially city-leveling disaster. Haiti is too poor to do any of those things.”
Big deal. Chile has money, and Haiti doesn’t. Why is that such an important point? Well, it’s not. So what is this point then? Interlandi continues,
“The same things which enable a country to police its construction industry and implement basic disaster preparedness plans, can also lift that country out of poverty and help its people thrive – namely, law enforcement, education and some semblance of accountability. After the 1960 tremblor, Chile started getting serious about building codes and earthquake resistant engineering; The attention ultimately bolstered the construction industry, which now factor’s heavily in the country’s economic fortunes. More economic development meant more money and further improvements. It may be a bit of a chicken-and-egg tangent, but I think it’s worth considering.”
As Interlandi points out, the important point is in asking why Chile has more money than Haiti. The answer she gives is (at least in part) that Chile started to follow some rules it wasn’t following before. This not only bolstered the economy, but prepared it to combat the devastation that an 8.8 earthquake can create. Because of the way Chili followed the rules, it’s people have thrived.
Commandments, Building Codes, and Earthquake Resistant Engineering
One good lesson to learn is precisely the lesson I saw in the tidal wave that was heading for Hawaii (but luckily turned out to have more bark than bite). If we have built our lives on the deep foundation of faith and a solid testimony of truth like President Monson exhorts, we will be able to face devastation in our lives much better.
The major lesson behind this post, though, looks at the question of why Chile was so prepared. They made sure to be accountable to building codes and laws of physics. While many might have thought this restrictive, it ultimately allowed them to remain free, even after this debilitating earthquake. They prepared such that they were able to “(decline) offers of assistance and (manage) the crisis well enough on (our) own” (see Interlandi article).
This is why God is still omnipotent, and why we can still be free, even though we are both subject to eternal, self-existent principles. Being obedient to these principles will ultimately allow us greater courses of action because we will have full control over each situation we may find ourselves in. Because of that, I’m now glad for the commandments that I used to think fenced me in. Rather then fences, they’ve become my guardrails, and I am thriving.