Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 30: “The Great Plan of Happiness” Alma 40–42

Lesson 30: “The Great Plan of Happiness”

Alma 40–42

Alma 40

In this lesson, we continue Alma’s teachings to his son 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.  It may also be that Corianton was previously the goofy kid 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 waters our children drink from, and instead teach them how to draw deeply from the waters.

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.


“...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.

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