Updated: Aug 3, 2020
In Alma 42:7, we see an interesting phrase. After recounting how Adam and Eve were cut off from the presence of the Lord, Alma says, "And thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will."
Subjects. A subject is one who is under the dominion or government of another, as in "we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." It's about allegiance or obedience to another, not oneself. So how did becoming subjects free Adam and Eve to follow after their own will?
The question begs another: to whom did the Fall make Adam and Eve subjects?
They were already subjects to Father in Heaven. Created by Him and in His image, they loved Him, communed with Him, and kept His commandments...until they partook of the forbidden fruit, which placed a strain on their allegiance. They gave obedience to His detractor, not only by eating the fruit but also by hiding themselves from the Lord when they heard His voice in the Garden. They had a new, competing allegiance, becoming subjects not only of their Creator, but also, as Doctrine and Covenants 29:40 explains, of their tempter. "It came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation."
Yet, somehow, in becoming subject to the will of the devil, Adam and Eve became able "to follow after their own will." How?
Here's what I believe. In order to be fully agents, we need the opposition of Satan's influence to counterbalance God's. Because God is almost irresistible. (I have to say "almost" because Lucifer obviously resisted Him and managed to pull away a third of the hosts of Heaven. But while I can acknowledge that intellectually, I can't comprehend it). I have felt God's love. It is committed, inextinguishable and combines with His goodness in a way that makes His nearness the sweetest and purest experience I have ever known, that makes my soul long to draw closer. Lehi describes that love as "desirable to make one happy...most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted...[and] white, to exceed all the whiteness that I have ever seen. And as I partook...it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy." (1 Nephi 8:10-12). Nephi says, "He has filled me with His love, even unto the consuming of my flesh" (2 Nephi 4:21).
I believe that God's love and goodness are so mighty that our souls are inexorably drawn to Him. We would blissfully spend eternity just worshipping, basking in His nearness, hanging on His every word. But our Father in Heaven loves us infinitely. He wants something even better for us, to see us grow from adoring children to exalted beings, like Him. And that demands that we make choices...our own, not His. It is for this that we had to leave His presence, to pass through a veil of forgetfulness. It was to become capable of developing our own will; a will that is responsive to but not overwhelmed by His.
Even in the Garden of Eden, where they continued to enjoy His presence, Adam and Eve weren't fully agents. The Lord placed the "forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life" because He designed for man "to act for himself" and "man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other" (2 Nephi 2:15-16). But the enticement of the forbidden fruit alone wasn't enough to get Adam and Eve to assert an independent will. The Lord had to withdraw and Satan had to persistently tempt in order for them to make a choice that was contrary to His instructions.
With the Fall, all of that changed. Our physical nature became carnal, sensual and devilish which means that we are now subject to opposing inclinations. One set springs from our divine parentage and our love and longing for God, and the other, from our fallen nature which is subject to the devil. By choosing which set of inclinations to follow, we claim our will and choose our master.
And here's the other thing: Satan is a pipsqueak compared to God. On Satan's side, he's waging a knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred war to take our agency captive and destroy our souls. But our Father in Heaven has no desire to take us captive. He loves us too much for that. What He wants is for us to claim Him. He could, with a word, push Satan back and surround us in a protective bubble. In my own experience of being "born again" and having a mighty change of heart, it felt just like that. It was a sudden and life-altering manifestation of God's power and goodness. It gave me a glimpse of the heaven He offers. But eventually, the bubble lifts. It has to, or we wouldn't be choosing. Then, God stands ready, counteracting the deadly blows, defending our ability to choose and choose and choose again, until that glorious day when His will becomes fully and truly our own. And then, we enter into His rest, and Satan no longer has any power in our lives.
So every struggle I have, every temptation, disappointment, blast of adversity, is simply an opportunity to choose. Satan cannot destroy me without my consent. And I have the Creator of the Universe on my side and at my back. If I'll trust and choose Him, I cannot fail.
That realization doesn't stop Satan from sending volleys of fiery darts at me. But it quenches their fire. Because my Heavenly Father is big enough to save me from everything that Satan has in his arsenal, and more. And every time I choose to trust and follow Him, I'm claiming my will and drawing closer to His.