Before the world was, so say the prophets and prophetesses, our spirits dwelt in a heavenly sphere. As the world was to be made, the two eldest spirits came before heaven’s host assembled and presented two grand plans for our future mortality. The vision of the first was one of unity, a chorus of souls bringing glory to God through perfect obedience, from which there could be no deviation of individual will. By contrast, the vision of the second appeared to be cacophony. Mortal souls, empowered by agency, would be free to act, in turns, more righteously, and less. But out of that cacophony would come true harmony of independent voices, and it was clear that the exercise of agency had the potential to bring glory to God far beyond what its abdication could ever achieve. In simple terms, the unity plan would produce only Terrestrial Glory. The harmony plan, by contrast, would result in multiple degrees. Unfortunately, in addition to Terrestrial Glory, a lower Telestial Glory would be introduced. But without the lesser, the greater Celestial Glory would be impossible. A war of sorts ensued, as the host weighed the visions. Ultimately the second plan prevailed, and through the eternal principles of angelic democracy, agency became the foundation of the future world’s constitution.
From this tale, we understand that agency is at the heart of our earthly experience. The plan of salvation and exaltation hopes that we individually will bring glory to God (becoming godlike) through our agency. While it is generally understood that agency can be judged on an axis of righteous to unrighteous, it is almost as frequently forgotten that agency must also be judged on a second axis. As the competing plans in the preexistence clearly teach, agency can either be exercised or abdicated. It is impossible to bring the highest degree of glory to God, no matter how righteous our action, if we fail to exercise our agency and instead abdicate it through perfect (and therefore blind) obedience to authority.
Thus among the three degrees, obedience brings Terrestrial Glory without regard to the righteousness or unrighteousness of our actions, since we have abdicated our agency to authority. It is only through the exercise of agency that individuals and leaders can participate in Telestial and also Celestial Glory.