'God means us to be free'
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In 1957, all of north-central and northeast Texas and much of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana received 20 to 36 inches of rain, leading to widespread flooding from April into June.
During BYU's commencement ceremony on May 31 of that year, noted film producer Cecil B. DeMille spoke of the freedom that comes through obedience to God's laws. To make his point, he said, "We have been reading about the terrible, destructive floods in Texas and Oklahoma — the lives lost and property ruined by the awful, unbridled power of water when it is unchecked and unchanneled. But the power of that same water, channeled between strong levees or stored behind a great dam, could have given light and warmth and health and joy to ten thousand homes. The Law of God is the dike and the dynamo that channels and converts the power of human freedom for human good."
He illustrated that concept by describing the scene of "the orgy of the Golden Calf" in his production of the movie, "The Ten Commandments." He assured the commencement assembly that his film version was "rather milder than the Bible's," as recorded in the 32nd chapter of Exodus.
"The children of Israel had been freed from the bitter bondage of Egypt," Mr. DeMille said. "They had seen the wonders of God in the desert and the divided sea, as His strong hand led them forth. They were free, they thought. Then Moses left them, to go up the mountain and receive the Law. No sooner was he gone the short space of forty days and nights when, in spite of all his teaching, in spite of all the marvels they had seen God work, the children of Israel became slaves again — not this time of a tyrant like Pharaoh, but slaves of their own passions and their own fears.
"Some, who do not know either the Bible or human nature, may see in the orgy of the Golden Calf only a riot of Hollywood's imaginations — but those who have eyes to see will see in it the awful lesson of how quickly a nation or a man can fall without God's Law.
"If a man will not be ruled by God, he will certainly be ruled by tyrants — and there is no tyranny more imperious or more devastating than man's own selfishness, without the law."
Then, Mr. DeMille made a declaration, a portion of which has been quoted by prophets, apostles and other Church leaders: "We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them — or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God. God means us to be free. With divine daring, He gave us the power of choice" (Brigham Young University, "Speeches of the Year," 1957).
Not only does God want us to be free, but He also wants us to have joy. "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:15).
Alma, as he counsels Helaman, one of his sons, distinguishes between the pain that came through his transgressions and the joy that followed his repentance and obedience to God's law:
"Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy (Alma 36:21).
Alma tells another son, Corianton, that while repentance from sin is possible, happiness comes through righteous living and obedience to the commandments. He says "the decrees of God are unalterable," and counsels Corianton, "Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness" (see Alma 41:8-10).
President Thomas S. Monson said of the Ten Commandments, "These are the laws of God. Violate them and we suffer lasting consequences. Obey them and we reap everlasting joy" (First Presidency Message, Ensign, March 1988).
In an April 1996 general conference address, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve said the commandments are not a burden or a restriction. "Every commandment of the Lord is given for our development, progress, and growth. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: 'God has designed our happiness. … He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed'" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256).
In his BYU commencement address, Mr. DeMille said, "We are too inclined to think of law as something merely restrictive — something hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception."
A loving earthly parent establishes rules to keep a child safe; our Heavenly Father has given us commandments for the same reason. May we see the "shalt nots" as doorways to freedom, safety and happiness rather than barricades that restrict us. And may we incorporate in our daily lives all the "thou shalts" He has lovingly given us to help us, truly, to be free.