Some choices in life are easy and some are much more difficult. In this video, John Hilton III talks about the invitation given by Samuel the Lamanite to “choose life or death.”
If you were to survey 100 people and ask them this question: “What’s better, to give a child a lollypop, or to steal a lollypop from a child?” what do you think the results would be? My guess is most people would vote for giving a child a lollypop over stealing one.
Or what if you were to survey 100 people and ask, “Which would you prefer—swimming in the open ocean with dolphins or sharks?” Again, the answer is obvious. Some choices are easier than others.
That’s why I’m so intrigued by what Samuel the Lamanite taught in Helaman 14: “Ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves. . . . [God] hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death” (Hel. 14:30–31). In saying these words, Samuel seems to echo the words of a previous Nephite prophet Jacob, who said, “Ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Ne. 10:23).
Choose life or death. The answer seems pretty obvious to me!
But we rarely are offered a clear choice between life and death. Satan is skilled as making choices that lead to spiritual death seem appealing and fun, and choices that lead to eternal life seem dull and tedious. That’s why Samuel’s word are so important—God has given to us the knowledge of good and evil—it’s our responsibility to see through Satan’s sophistries and choose the way of eternal life, not the way of death.
Both Samuel and Jacob connect the idea of choosing life over death with the fact that we, in Samuel’s words “are free; [we] are permitted to act for [ourselves]” (Helaman 14:30). While I love the idea of being free, it does come with a string attached. Because you and I are 100% free to make whatever choices we want to make, that means we are 100% responsible for our decisions. Samuel taught this, saying, “Remember…whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free…” (Helaman 14:30). In other words, because we are free to choose, we don’t have anybody to blame but ourselves if we make poor choices.
Elder Dale G. Renlund taught, “Blaming others, even if justified, allows us to excuse our behavior. By so doing, we shift responsibility for our actions to others. When the responsibility is shifted, we diminish both the need and our ability to act. We turn ourselves into hapless victims rather than agents capable of independent action…. Instead of making excuses, let us choose repentance” (Ensign, November 2016).
All of us will make mistakes. From time to time Satan will make evil look good and we will fall into his trap. When this happens, remember we’re not stuck! We are free to choose repentance. We can, as Samuel said, “Choose life.” And remember, Jesus Christ taught, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We can choose that life.