Sunday, August 02, 2020

Book Review: Jacob - a brief theological introduction

Book Review: Jacob - a brief theological introduction, by Deidre Nicole Green. Published by Maxwell Institute.

This is the third book in a series that is covering each of the books in the Book of Mormon. The series is an attempt to share basic, but key, theological ideas with the average Latter-day Saint reader. My first two reviews can be found here: 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi.

Diedre Nicole Green earned a PhD in Religion at Claremont Graduate University, Master of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from BYU.



Review:

The Book of Jacob fills less than 19 pages of the Book of Mormon. So how can one write a 120 page book on so little, and provide so much to think about? That is one of the strengths of studying theology - the study of God. It is easy to skim quickly through this short book, and get a little understanding of what is going on. Green shows us how the various, seemingly disparate, teachings and events in the Book of Jacob and his previous teachings and experiences all connect.

The book is divided into 6 chapters:

1. Who is Jacob?
2. Suffering with Christ
3. Jacob's Social View of the Sacred
4. The Temple Sermon
5. The Love of God and the Allegory of the Olive Tree
6. Final Thoughts


From Green's book, we find Jacob is a very intense and caring person. His experiences in the wilderness, being taught by Lehi and Nephi, and terrorized by Laman and Lemuel on board the ship, have made him introspective and concerned for the exploited. Since Lehi taught him in 2 Nephi 2 about the atonement and importance of agency, we find that both concepts are deeply embedded in the entire book of Jacob.

While the book does speak of social justice, it focuses not on governmental nor political social justice or the social justice warriors of our day, but of a higher and more spiritual form of social justice, as experienced and taught by Jacob. Jacob experienced poverty, suffering, and struggles in the wilderness.

"Jacob knows firsthand that the unforeseen consequences of sin do not remain localized but surge outward in every direction. This gives the reader an early glimpse of Jacob's sensitivity to the systemic implications of sin: unjust actions lead to suffering that ripples outward with innumerable aftershocks." (pp 10-11)

 
He has experienced it in his own life. Just how deeply did Laman and Lemuel's sins and violence affect the young Jacob? What did he feel when his mother was too sick on board the ship to nourish him? What was it like to go through a physical storm, while inner turmoil bubbled over as he saw his protector Nephi helplessly tied to the mast? How much hunger had Jacob experienced in crossing the wilderness? Green helps us to understand how Jacob developed such an empathy as we see he has in his writings. She shows how Jacob used his own suffering to empathize with those now suffering.

"Any suffering can be wasted, but it is clear  that neither Jacob nor the God he worships does so. Instead, both allow Jacob's unique life experience to fully inform his theology and ministry." (pp 19-20)


For me, the usual Sunday School discussions on pride and chastity, as Jacob berates the men for their sins, often focuses on the sins or on the men. Sometimes there is even some kind of defense given for Brigham Young's style of polygamy. Green clearly shows that Jacob is focused on the feelings of the poor and the wives and children - the victims. She helps us to see how the actions of the proud are gravely affecting the nation as a whole.

Jacob reminds us that we are to seek the interest of those around us. Green calls it "neighbor love."  The proud seek riches to spend on themselves - often expressed in the Book of Mormon by the luxurious clothing the wealthy wear. For Jacob, one is to first seek God, and only after that to seek riches to benefit the poor. For us in the United States and elsewhere with very comfortable lives today, the points Green makes here hit home. Jacob is saying we must use our agency to bless others. We are not to infringe upon others' agency.

"What is labeled by Jacob as 'abominable' is not specifically the state of having riches or even the action of seeking after them. What he emphasizes as problematic is imposing human standards of worth and ascribing to riches a sign of divine favor and superior standing. Mistakenly viewing riches as indivative of divine approbation amounts to a form of self-deception that justifies withoulding material goods from those who have not. In order to stay in right relation with God, one must retain an understanding of one's own nothingness and equality with every other juman being regardless of the wealth one has amassed; in order to stay in right relation with all human beings, one must consecrate one's material goods so that the inherent equality of humanity is reflected in everyone's material lives, regarldess of who 'earned' what. One must empty oneself of a false sense of self-sufficiency to see that one has been provided for by God...." (p73)


Nephi saw the Brass Plates as the key to retaining a remembrance of the covenants of Israel. Here, however, the Nephite men were using the scriptures to justify their sins. David and Solomon had wives and concubines, so it must be okay to do it. Jacob gives little quarter to polygamy: only when God commands it. He focuses on the tender hearts of the wives and children, insisting that there is no justification one can find in the scriptures.

The term "concubine" usually means a slave-wife. That the Nephites were beginning to enslave others (probably other groups that already dwelt upon the land) is apparent from Jacob's phrasing. Green again discusses the importance of agency to Jacob. When we abuse others (sexually, physically, emotionally), we are infringing upon their agency. We prevent them from finding God and from having hope and peace in God. We cause suffering. Nephite men imposed their will upon others, so that they could benefit in their pride and wealth.

Green explains that our suffering can benefit us. Jacob understood the atonement of Christ as a very painful and difficult task. In suffering, we can begin to understand the struggles Jesus went through. We become one through suffering with Christ, and we become one with each other. She explains:

"...we cannot fully understand ourselves as human beings apart from our relation to God, knowledge of the divine and knowledge of the self are inseparable....Jacob's hortatory insistence that followers suffer Christ's cross, which entails experiencing the needs and vulnerabilities of all." (p 23-24)

As with Jacob, we learn empathy through suffering. We learn to be one with God and man as we share in suffering. It is a universal experience that is embodied in Christ. Green notes that "all need the atonement as much as anyone else." (p 26)

To make our suffering of value, we must allow it to teach us to love, neighbor love. Green writes,

"Jacob teaches that love is not an unruly, uncontrolled or elusive feeling; instead, it is the result of decision. On Jacob's account, every sin in Nephite society results from the failure to see all human beings as equals.The prevention of sin, therefore, requires one to make a mental commitment, to view all others as equals and to give them their due." (pp 37-38)

Speaking of the Lamanites, Jacob notes that those without scripture were following the commandment of having one wife and loving their families, while the Nephite men were using scripture to justify their sins against others in society. In this case, the women, children and Lamanites become the righteous example that needs to be considered equal to the Nephites.

Green treats Sherem, skin color, the temple covenant and other points from such interesting perspective as well. Sherem unwittingly becomes Jacob's ally in professing Christ. The temple covenant promotes equality and consecration.

Sadly, as Jacob notes and Green explains, many "want to be misled." (p 85)  Jacob said that the Jews in Jerusalem "looked beyond the mark" and now sees his Nephites doing the same thing as they justify their sins using scripture. God wishes to bring us fully unto Christ, but will allow us to be led in other directions, as he will not force away our agency. We see this in the example of the Lost 116 Pages, where God allowed Joseph Smith and Martin Harris to be misled by their own desires.

An important discussion Green has is concerning the difference between "chastity" and "sexual agency." When a woman is molested or raped, she has not lost her chastity. As long as she keeps her covenants, her chastity is always intact. What has happened is that the man has forced himself upon her, taking away her sexual agency, to choose for herself. For Jacob, agency is extremely important, as his father, Lehi, impressed it upon his young mind decades before.

"That this respect for another's agency is an inextricable component of love cannot be emphasized enough. For anyone whose agency has been compromised in the name of  'love' or 'desire,' for those who have had their bodies commandeered and exploited, for those who have been forced to 'receive love' and 'give love' against their will, there is solace in knowing that God does not demand or even ask that of us. Moreover, for those who have had the experience of having their agency compromised in any way by another, including in traumatic experiences, enacting agency positively to enter into relationship with God can be healing and empowering." (p 92)

In regards to Zenos' Allegory of the Olive Tree, Green notes that it can be interpreted on various levels. The covenant of Israel and the Nephite trek into the wilderness are easily seen as one such level. Often we view it from the human/tree level.  Green looks at it from the stance of God and Christ, tirelessly seeking to reclaim their loved ones. She explains that God always seeks a relationship with his children, but

"This relationship is not inevitable but ont he divine side remains perpetually available. Collapsing the space between God and a person, Jacob images the God relationship itself as one that brings the two face-to-face." (pp 97-98)

The allegory explains the lengths and depths God will go to save his children in a loving relationship. He digs, prunes, fertilizes, and works long and endless hours, always ready to try again and give one more chance. It further explains to us the atonement of Christ:

"...far from a trite or superficial notion, the scope of the atonement must be cast, encompassing the breadth and depth of human suffering and sin." (p 98)

Green further explains that the atonement must deal with every human disaster: personal sin, structural sin, suffering, oppression, genocide, mass trauma.

"As Jacob variously engages his listeners and readers to turn toward atonement, he is not merely seeking to show how it can cover some minor imperfection or impropriety. Much more expansively, he endeavors to uncover how the atonement can heal and redeem experiences of suffering and evil that remain nearly unfathomable to the finite minds of human beings. It is fitting that Jacob introduces the term 'infinite atonement' to the Book of Mormon, since he is the one who has seen with his own eyes not only Christ but also the depths that Christ's atoning work must plumb." (p 99)

Finally, the allegory shows us that "God is vulnerable to the world" as he desperately seeks to save his vineyard. He also becomes vulnerable as he depends upon humans and others to bring about his great work. Again, agency is key here. God does not force the trees to produce good fruit. Instead, he provides every opportunity for them to thrive and turn to him.

As you can see, I found Green's treatment on Jacob to be an amazing experience. It showed me that Jacob was careful in choosing these experiences and teachings from his life, in order to explain key gospel concepts: agency, sin, atonement, covenant. Jacob ached inside, as he saw his people sin, and was willing to anything necessary to shake their sins from his garments. In the stories regarding the poor, polygamy, Sherem, and the vineyard, Green points out that God demands us to use agency wisely, to treat each others with neighbor love, and that God works tirelessly to save. We get a deeper appreciation of our own suffering and the depths of Christ's atonement.

I will never read the tiny book of Jacob in the same light again. Suddenly, it has much more texture and meaning, thanks to Green's excellent treatment of the text.

Now available:








Come Follow Me: Alma 43-52

Come Follow Me: Alma 43-52


Having finished sharing his testimony with his sons, Alma and his people now look to many years of war.  One major thing to note: most of the Lamanites are not interested in having a war with the Nephites.  We shall see that the wars are almost always caused by Nephite dissenters.

In this and the next lesson we find a lot of war, strategy, and bloodshed.  I will not discuss much on these, but refer you to an excellent volume, “Warfare in the Book of Mormon” by William Hamblin and Stephen Ricks.

As we discuss these chapters, ask yourself why the great author Mormon felt it necessary to include so much violence and bloodshed in the Book of Mormon. What do we learn from the many war stories and events? What are the dangers of war? What leads to war? What are the appropriate feelings towards one's enemies we should have? How do we prepare for war, and more importantly, how do we prepare for peace?


Zerahemnah, Moroni and Lehi

In this first major war that introduces Captains Moroni and Lehi to the reader.  The apostate Zoramites are angered because Alma has “destroyed their craft” of plundering the poor and turning them into slaves.  As with American history, some of our biggest wars were fought over freedom and slavery.  Alma liberating the poor Zoramites caused a similar reaction to that of the American South during and after the Civil War, in regards to the Underground Railroad, freeing of slaves, and limits being placed on future expansion of slavery (specified in the Confederate constitution).  Feeling that their "rights" were being threatened, both Zoramites and Southerners felt they had no other recourse than to fight back.

In the case of the Zoramites, they quickly gained power, because they recruited the Lamanites to fight with them.  A captain was called, Zarahemnah, who chose hardened  Zoramites and other apostate Nephites to lead the armies against the Nephites.

The name “Zarahemnah” may simply be the word Zarahemla with an alternate ending, or perhaps was pronounced differently by either the Zoramites or Lamanites, and so was spelled as it was pronounced.  It does show a distinct connection to the city of Zarahemla, and therefore the Mulekites.  The Mulekites were descended from the kings of Judah and Israel,  They may have felt they had the right to rule over the Nephites, being descended from King David.

Interestingly, Moroni does not see a problem in using strategy to defeat the oppressors.  Have previous Nephite captains and leaders struggled with this issue in the past?  His strategy includes using spies, seeking guidance from the prophet, and using an ambush to surround the Lamanite army.  Why would Mormon note that Captain Moroni did not have a problem with such strategy, when it does not seem outlandish?

In chapter 44, Zerahemnah is about to surrender, but rejects the demand of Moroni to make an oath to never invade or attack again.  Zerahemnah realizes that either his people or their children would some day break the oath, something too important for him to do, as oath keeping was a very serious thing to do in the Ancient Near East.  Only when he sees his men about to be completely destroyed, does he agree to make such an oath.  

We see Zerahemnah as the “bad guy”, and yet oaths are important enough to him that he would rather fight than to risk breaking it later.  Also, the oath was important enough for Moroni to ask of it, and then accept it from Zerahemnah.  Clearly, the characters involved are more complex than we often consider, and the culture is very different than ours today.  Would you accept a promise from someone who was trying to kill you? Moroni was not interested in killing, but in having the enemy go home and live in peace.

In refusing to make the covenant, Zerahemnah attacks Moroni and is quickly stopped by Moroni’s guard.  The guard scalps Zerahemnah, places the scalp on the tip of his sword, and threatens the Lamanites with utter destruction if they do not surrender.  The “sword” which was used to scalp Zerahemnah was probably a “macuahuitl”, a wooden sword with obsidian blades, used as a slashing weapon. It could easily remove a person’s scalp with little effort.

Over the years, many LDS have thought this was the beginning of collecting scalps by Native Americans.  However, the evidence suggests it is not the case.  First, the Book of Mormon’s geography is most likely in Central America, around Guatemala and Honduras, etc.  The people there were not known for collecting scalps of any kind.  Second, this was not an intentional scalping, but occurred in an attempt to disarm the enemy.  Third, the Book of Mormon does not mention anymore scalping incidents.  It was likely a notable event, but nothing that started a trend toward scalping one’s enemies.

Chapters 45-49

Alma turns the records and his position as chief priest over to Helaman, his son.  He asks a series of believing questions: Do you believe what the records state?  Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Will you keep the commandments?

Helaman answers completely in the affirmative:  Yea, I believe all of thy words. Yea, I will keep thy commandments with all my heart.

Because of his belief, Alma told Helaman that he would prosper in the land.  Again, this directs us back to the original teachings of Lehi, where if we keep the commandments, we will prosper in the land of promise.  

Alma then shares some secret things with Helaman.  The Nephites would be visited by Christ, but would eventually reject him.  Within 400 years of Christ’s visit to the Nephites, they would rebel against the perfect light of Christ they had received.  

“But whosoever remaineth, and is not destroyed in that great and dreadful day, shall be numbered among the Lamanites, and shall become like unto them, all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct. And now, because of iniquity, this prophecy shall be fulfilled” (Alma 25:14).

Interestingly, Mormon shares this secret telling between Alma and Helaman at a time when the young chief captain is called, Moroni.  Mormon’s own son, Moroni, would be one of the few disciples of the Lord, who would be pursued until he was extinct.

Alma blesses Helaman, the land for the righteous’ sake, and the Church.  Then he curses the wicked, who have ripened in iniquity, so that only destruction will be left them.  Why? Because the wicked will bring the destruction upon themselves.  They are not wiped out by plagues, volcanoes, or earthquakes, but by the sword and their intense hatred.

Alma then walks into the wilderness and never returns. Mormon speculates that Alma may have been “taken up by the Spirit” or translated, which he believes also happened with Moses.  To be translated means to be changed from a mortal existence to something more.  The body can no longer be hungry, tired or sickened.  One can be saddened by the sins and iniquities of the world.

The Great War

The wars do not end with the promises made by Zerahemnah.  It isn’t that the Lamanites want to return to war, but new players, who have not made an oath of peace, enter in.

Amalickiah sought to be king of the Nephites.  He flattered the lower judges, bribing them with positions of royal power, if they would support him as king.  As I mentioned before when Mosiah created the reign of judges, the lower positions were given out to satisfy the various groups wanting power.  It is very likely that many Mulekites were elected as lower judges, and were eager to gain more power.  When King Mosiah II found them, the Mulekites were a people who had dwelt among the Jaredites for centuries, and had lost their language and religion.  When they escaped the final wars of the Jaredites, the Mulekites brought with them to Zarahemla all of secret combinations and intrigues of the Jaredites.  Amalickiah was their chance to gain more power.

Here we get a true contrast between two men: Amalickiah and Moroni.  Amalickiah uses flattering words to deceive and get gain.  Moroni writes a few words upon his cloak and uses it as an ensign and Standard of Liberty to the people to call them to  fight for their freedoms, family and God.  Amalickiah has to offer positions of power and gain.  Moroni only asks the people to defend their rights and families.  Amalickiah seeks to use and abuse power.  Moroni uses power to tear down power, and will retire immediately after the war is over.  

Unlike Amalickiah, Moroni quotes scripture from the Brass Plates.  The patriarch Jacob received a remnant of the coat he made for Joseph.  While he believed his son dead, Jacob still believed that somewhere was a remnant of young Joseph’s seed that would be blessed by God.  As Moroni likened the scriptures to the Nephites, he proclaimed that they were to defend their faith and freedoms against tyranny.

Moroni obtains a covenant from the Free Men, to fight for those things God had given them.  Meanwhile, Amalickiah seeks a new strategy and flees to the Lamanites.

In chapter 46, we read of the Title of Liberty.  Realize that while Moroni promotes liberty that he is not beyond selective freedom.  He takes free speech away from those who would have Amalickiah as their king.  In fact, those who will not defend freedom and country, perhaps what some may call pacifists, are forced to take up arms or are put to death. What is the limit of freedom, and does a free nation have the right to place such a restriction upon it?

In chapters 47, Amalickiah uses his flattery and intrigue to gain the trust of the Lamanite king, then the Lamanite army.  In both instances, he betrays them.  The Lamanite captain is poisoned and the king slain, so that Amalickiah may become king himself.  His pattern is like that of the Jaredites, willing to do anything in order to get gain and power. Jaredite history was filled with intrigue, betrayals, and overthrows.  While the Nephites have experienced the Jaredite methods for a couple generations now (since coming to Zarahemla), the Lamanites have never seen it before, and are totally gullible.

We can see the goodness in the Lamanites, as most of them desire not to war with the Nephites. It is possible that they recalled the oath Zerahemnah made to Moroni, to never come again to battle with the Nephites.  Oaths being so important, they would not have wanted to break it, and so ran away from the Lamanite king.  Only Amalickiah’s treachery and trickery could stir up the Lamanites against the Nephites sufficiently to fight them.

In chapter 49, we find that Moroni’s preparations for war are very useful in the beginning. Throwing up walls around the Nephite cities gave greater protection.  The Lamanite hearts would sink, and possibly many would run away.

In this we find that military preparations only help so far.  Once the heart of the people is corrupted, no fortifications can protect from outside invasion for long.

Morianton
Chapter 50

In the incident between the cities of Lehi and Morianton, we discover some interesting things.   Moroni set up cities in the wilderness in order to create a border defense against the Lamanites.  He kicked the redneck Lamanites living in the wilderness (often described as vicious, wearing loincloths, and eating raw meat) out of the disputed territory.  While this gave the Nephites greater security, it could have been used by Amalickiah as a reason for the Lamanites to attack. Such an action would disturb the status quo, as Lamanites had lived in the wilderness territory for centuries.

Next, Morianton is a Jaredite name (Ether 1:22).  Here we can see that there is still a physical division between Mulekites (Morianton) and Nephites (Lehi).  Again, there is a border dispute involved, as Moroni had not established strong boundaries between cities and lands.  The people of Morianton are viewed immediately as the bad guys in black hats, while those in Lehi are the good guys.  The man Morianton is described as being of “much passion”.  He and his people take up arms, forcing the people of Lehi to flee to Moroni for protection.  Well, of course Moroni would take their side, as he also is a Nephite! (or so the Mulekites would have thought). Morianton only sees one option, ally with the Lamanites.  Only a battle with Moroni keeps them from escaping.

We see that the frontier was dangerous.  Allies were not always dependable, trustworthy, nor good.  This could have been another reason for the Lamanites to attack - obviously Moroni was forcing people against their will!  The Lamanites could swoop in and save those enslaved by their Nephite captors.

“And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands” (Alma 50:36).

Again, the oath was something very important to all involved.  I’m sure Morianton had told his people that Moroni would slay them all if they did not fight or escape.  To find themselves restored to their land, must have seemed incredible.  Moroni was still willing to trust them to defend the border and have their own autonomy, as long as they worked in union with the city of Lehi.

King Men and Free Men
Chapter 51-52

But the internal contentions do not end with Morianton.  Instead, many refuse to fight against the Lamanites.  They want Amalickiah’s troops to come in and take over.  They want a king.  In refusing to fight, they weakened the armies of Moroni and risked sabotage and internal intrigue.  Moroni was forced to shut down their rebellion by moving much of his army away from the frontier with the Lamanites, and back into the heart of the Nephite lands.

Suddenly, there was a new division among the Nephites. Where they once were divided by kinship, now they would divide on political lines.  Free men wished to maintain the freedoms given them by King Mosiah, while the King Men wished to return to the greatness and power the nation had under its kings.  Moroni was again forced to take arms against them. Those who would not covenant to fight for freedom were slain.

During this dangerous period, with the nation divided, the Lamanites attacked.  Though the cities were well defended, they were not impregnable.  It did not take long for the Lamanites to find the weaknesses of the Nephite cities and overthrow them.  The Nephite armor, the Nephite reinforced cities, and all of Moroni’s technological advances could not protect the Nephites.  Even with such advances, the Nephites fled before the Lamanite army even to the borders of the land Bountiful.

The only thing that could stop them was a strong and true heart, as we find in Teancum.

Teancum

Teancum was a diligent soldier. His small army was trained in discipline and the art of war, so that he could stop the Lamanites cold at Bountiful’s border.  Bravery was also a pillar for Teancum.  Braving death, Teancum crept among the Lamanite army’s tents until he found Amalickiah and slew him in his sleep.

Such bravery has won impossible battles time and again in history’s wars. Because of such actions, the Lamanites ended their drive to the north.  With Moroni’s strategies, the Nephite armies of Teancum and Lehi were able to regain some cities.

But the war is only begun.


Bibliography

“Warfare in the Book of Mormon” by William Hamblin and Stephen Ricks: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/mi/98/

Macuahuitl: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macuahuitl

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 39-42

Come Follow Me: Alma 39-42

Words to Corianton
 
 Corianton went on a mission, during which he committed sexual sin.  Obviously, his problems go further than this, as Alma must teach Corianton not only about the seriousness of certain sins, but also about the plan of salvation through Christ.  Being that Alma’s older sons seemed to understand the gospel and the importance of being holy, it is doubtful that Alma neglected his youngest son’s spiritual education on purpose.  It may be that Alma’s several missions to Ammonihah and elsewhere may have occurred in the key periods when Corianton needed a father figure as an example and teacher. Perhaps Corianton was the goofy teenager that really didn’t pay much attention to his father’s teachings; one who believes but does not fully understand, simply because he never seriously considered the teachings before.  Then, in his first major adult experience, Corianton fell apart, as his lack of understanding of the gospel would allow the Zoramites to confuse him in regards to the gospel, and tempt him into sins.  It should be a very compelling warning to us, as parents, to ensure our children truly understand the gospel.  That is, not just know the neat Bible stories of David and Goliath or Jesus walking on water, but the doctrines of salvation, and how they apply to us.  We must stop skipping gospel stones across the streams our children drink from, and instead teach them how to draw deeply from the waters of Life.

Alma 39

Alma severely chastised Corianton for forsaking his mission to romp with a Lamanite prostitute.  Obviously there was interaction between the Zoramites and Lamanites on the border.  This is the first mention of prostitution in the Book of Mormon.  In their mission among the Lamanites, we do not hear of Ammon or his brothers dealing with such things.  It may be that, as it is often in our day, prostitution was on the edge of society, in the wilderness frontier between Lamanite and Nephite lands.

Corianton is told that sexual sin is the third most grievous type of sin.  For today’s society that accepts sex outside of traditional marriage as not only the norm and acceptable, but as a “right”, shows just how far from God our society has gone.

The second greatest sin is “shedding of innocent blood”.  This separates out killing as a defense or in war, from outright murder.  Not much is mentioned here regarding it, except its severity.  Interesting that sex and violence are so prevalent in society, when they should be the things we denounce most of all.

Denying the Holy Ghost is the most grievous, and yet many LDS do not understand what it means.  Even within the Book of Mormon, the anti-Christ Sherem feared he had lost his soul over denying the Holy Ghost. Yet, in studying it more in depth, we see Sherem probably would not have qualified.

To deny the Holy Ghost means a person has gone in league with Satan, “loving Satan more than God” (Moses 5:18), and then murder an innocent person, as Cain killed Abel to get gain and fulfill his covenant with Satan.  It isn’t just to deny that Christ is the Savior, or the existence of God, but it is to become the absolute enemy of Christ. Such a person refuses the atonement, preferring to be entirely apart from God. Alma himself had become an enemy of Christ, but not so far that he could not repent in his coma, akin to Spirit Prison hell, and be rescued by the atonement.  Cain fully became an enemy of Christ and loved Satan, wherein he gloried in rebelling against God.  Unlike Alma who wished himself away from existence, Cain wished to exist in his evil state.

Few will become sons of Perdition in this life, because few will completely reject the atonement of Christ.  We are told that the Telestial Kingdom of salvation is made up of vile people who eventually repented.  As with Alma or the poor Zoramites, most will suffer in their own guilt until they humble themselves and repent.  In doing so, they will be rescued to a kingdom of heaven.

But sons of Perdition will forever refuse to repent and call on the name of Christ for salvation.  They will always call on Satan to save them, even though he will be unable to give them anything other than perdition and darkness.

Alma 40
 

Spirit World

Alma teaches that there is no resurrection until after Christ comes in the flesh to break the bonds of death.  All will resurrect at God’s appointed time, whether we resurrect all at once, or in groups. There is an important period between mortality and resurrection, of which Alma speaks. Before speaking about it, it seems he stumbles or stutters over the fact that there will be a resurrection, or a series of resurrections, and that he inquired about the time between death and resurrection (vv 4-10).  Whether Alma was attempting to emphasize these concepts, or perhaps Mormon later struggled to clearly write them in his abridgement, we do not know.  What is very important is that this is repeated several times, suggesting we need to study the resurrection to understand what is really going on.

“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil” (vv 11-13).

It is very possible that Alma understands the Spirit World, because his conversion occurred there during a Near Death Experience.  In being “taken home to that God”, we see from Alma’s experience (Alma 36) that he was in the presence of God.  At first, he could not see God, due to his own sins staring him directly in the face.  Yet, he trembled to think of himself in God’s presence, even if from a distance.  Once Alma repented, he was released from his pains and sins, and could then see God in the distance, upon his throne.  There obviously is a conduit to heaven in the Spirit World, where the righteous can see God afar off, and the wicked feel his presence - bringing them face to face with their guilt.

The righteous in the Spirit World go to Paradise.  To go to Paradise requires faith in Christ and repentance, as Alma’s experience shows.  For the sinner, they enter into Spirit Prison hell, a virtual Outer Darkness that is created within themselves, as they have refused the atonement, and are left without rescue.  They are left to themselves in the darkness of their souls, because they chose it. Only in turning themselves about and repenting can any of these be released into Paradise.

For those who refuse to fully repent, they are consigned to Spirit Prison until the resurrection and the final judgment.  A person may regret some choices in life, but until she faces all of her sins can she admit that she needs the Savior’s redemption in her life.  

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16-17).  

Such suffering may come in mortality, hopefully compelling the person to be humble and repent.  However, this suffering will come upon all the unrepentant in the Spirit World, until they are sufficiently humbled and turn to Christ for rescue from their own stubbornness.

Resurrection

“...there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.
Yea, this bringeth about the restoration of those things of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets.
The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (.Alma 40:21-23)

Resurrection, the reuniting of body and soul, leads to the final Judgment, where we are judged on our works.  This determines the Restoration of all things, not just restoring the body, but also the soul.  This restoration also is a restoring of eternal relationships, with God and family.  

In believing and repenting, we are restored back into God’s presence, even if at a distance as Alma experienced in his conversion.  This is where Justification comes in, where we are washed clean in the atonement of Christ.  We are guiltless, sinless, without spot.  We are able to enter into the kingdom of God, or in modern LDS terminology, the kingdoms of God. We are returned to the presence of the Godhead.

In the judgment, however, we are also judged according to our works.  Our seeking to be holy is part of the sanctification process, sealed by the Holy Ghost.  This determines the level of reward we receive in the heavens.

For those who never believe in Christ and refuse to repent, they are given a kingdom without glory or light.  They have chosen to be vessels of wrath, eternal enemies of God and Christ.  They will return to Outer Darkness,

“But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup” (vs 26).

Only those who refuse to ever repent are unclean.  They are left with what they have become - evil.  There is only the dregs of a bitter cup for them to drink, because they have forever refused to accept the cup of Christ’s blood.

Chapter 41

Plan of Restoration

Alma explains more regarding the restoration, which includes the resurrection.  All mankind will resurrect, because that is part of the plan of God.  

“the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2).

God’s justice could not come to pass without the restoration of all things.  This connects to the ancient belief that in the Creation, God brought forth order out of chaos.  Physical and spiritual death have disrupted the order in the universe. The law of entropy requires that all things lose energy and eventually fall into a state of chaos.  This is the natural order of the universe, but does not square with the God’s justice.  God is just, and his plan is one of restoring all things to a place of order. Resurrection deals with the physical death of all things, bringing order to the chaos of entropy.  The atonement brings order forth from spiritual death’s chaos.

Yet, some will refuse the order and justice of God.  Instead, they will insist upon the natural order to come upon them, and will dwell in chaos and entropy, with no chance for eternal progression or growth, no happiness because there is only the misery of chaos.

“The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness
These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil” (vv 5-7).

Justice requires all things to be restored to a proper order, happiness to happiness, misery to misery.  Light to light and darkness to darkness.  Justification means Christ’s atonement makes us sinless, and worthy to enter into the kingdom of God.  It is where our desires are centered.  If we desire to be rescued, we will be through faith on Christ. Those who go to Spirit Prison, the “endless night of darkness” and choose to repent, will be rescued according to their desire and belief.

“And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame” (vv 3-4).

Sanctification through the purifying power of the Holy Ghost makes us holy enough to dwell in a higher level of God’s kingdom.  For this, we are judged by our works, which are an outward image of what we are inside.  We must not only desire righteous and holy things, but we must become righteous  and be holy in order for our works to show us as being holy.

“Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all” (vv 14-15).

Our works will be restored to us, whether good or evil.  If we wish to receive mercy, then we need to first be merciful.  That which we sow, we shall reap, for such is the law of the harvest and restoration.

Chapter 42

Again, Corianton still worries about the justice of God, if sinners must suffer.  Alma discusses the events of the Garden of Eden, giving us input on key things to understand regarding the temple, as well as Genesis.  God placed a guard around the Tree of Life, because Adam and Eve were in a fallen state, and could not have partaken of it at that time.  Partaking of the Tree of Life would have given them immortality.  However, being in a fallen state would have cast them forever out of God’s presence.  We find they “having no space for repentance” (vs 5),  there had to be a period of time for them to learn to believe and repent, a probationary period, so that the Justification of Christ could come upon them, making them sinless and able to partake of the Tree of Life.

We see here that Christ resurrection and atonement are more about restoring our relationship with God than of paying a direct punishment for our sins.  Christ suffered for us, is true.  But he suffered so as to know how to “succor us according to our infirmities” (Alma 7:12).  Descending below all things, Christ knows how to lift us above all things that Satan and the world can throw at us.  He could restore us back into the presence of the Lord, just as the Fall had cast us out of his presence.  

“Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.
And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.
Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul” (vv 13-16).

There is no “law of justice”.  However, the “work of justice” exists, and is connected to “Justification.”  It requires repentance to return back into the presence of God, even if only into the Telestial Kingdom.  Remember, as we’ve discussed in several Book of Mormon lessons, Justification is Christ’s atonement making us sinless and guiltless.  It is a gift of grace, not requiring any works. We cannot do anything to save ourselves in this regard, except believe in Christ and repent.  And on “conditions of repentance” we are made sinless through the work of justice or justification of Christ.

The works of justice state that there is a law affixed to all things.  When we break the law, the natural consequence is to be cast out of God’s presence. The work of justice requires that those who are sinful by nature remain out of God’s presence.  Mercy enters the picture when we believe in Christ and repent of our sins.  Now, the works of justice are satisfied, as we are no longer sinful by nature, but are made guiltless before God.  

“But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved” (vv 22-24).

You will notice that this chapter (and the ones preceding it) speak little of our own works.  Why? Because Alma is trying to get us to see the importance of Justification, or being sinless through Christ.  “Mercy claimeth the penitent” means just that.  When we repent, we are claimed by Christ.  Then with the free gift of grace known as Resurrection, we are brought back into the presence of God, even “restored into his presence”.  All of justice’s demands are based upon our faith and repentance.  Mercy is based upon our faith and repentance.

As mentioned before, the level of salvation we receive is based upon Sanctification, or our becoming holy through righteous works.  We will be judged by these works as to how holy we have become. As we are holy, that holiness will be restored to us.

“O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (vs 30).

The greatest gift of mercy comes through Christ’s grace of Justification. We literally are saved without works.  The question then is, have we truly believed sufficiently to recognize our sins and humbled ourselves sufficiently to repent of all of them?  Or do we just repent of some of our sins?  If so, it is insufficient to obtain the mercy of Christ.  We must place all our sins upon the altar and sacrifice them to God through Jesus Christ.  Only then can we be clean of all sins and ready to return to God’s presence.


 








Conclusion

For all three sons, Alma taught them they need to believe on Christ and repent.  They (and we) all need to have our sins washed away.  This is done in three easy steps: 1)  Believe in Christ, 2) Repent, 3) Repeat as necessary.

There is no reason for any of us to spiritually suffer.  We must just begin to believe, even desire to believe, and hope that Christ really can heal us.  Then as we repent, we will see our despair change to hope, joy and peace.  These are the steps to being saved in Christ.  Once done, we may see God in the distance, and be filled with joy.

Once saved, we can then seek to be made holy through Christ’s atonement, making covenants and ordinances, and receiving the Holy Ghost.  In becoming holy,  we shall be invited to join the angels in worshiping Christ and becoming part of the divine council.  We shall enter into the presence of the Lord and have that great and exquisite joy Alma experienced.