This week’s lesson has a critically important concept that most of us generally gloss over in life or ignore outright. Alma keeps talking to Corianton about the concept of restoration. When we think of the final judgment, we often think of getting what we have earned, as in a reward. But a reward is not a restoration.
Reading Assignment: Alma 40-42.
Additional Reading: Doctrine and Covenants 138.
The concept of behavioral permanence
This may appear to be a diversion from the topic of this lesson, but stick with me here because my point really is relevant. The Lord thinks in terms of eternity. He knows all too well how temporary mortality is. When promises are made to the prophets they are always in terms of “always and forever.” For example, here are four verses that illustrate the concept. They are 1 Nephi 14:2, 1 Nephi 10:6, Alma 37:31, and Mosiah 26:4.
- 2 And harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded. (Note: The promised blessing is made to last until the end of time, which ends with the judgment.)
- 6 Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer. (Note: Without the atonement, this condition would be permanent through all eternity. The only way to change this condition is for each person to rely on the work done for them by their Redeemer.)
- 31 Yea, and cursed be the land forever and ever unto those workers of darkness and secret combinations, even unto destruction, except they repent before they are fully ripe. (Note: The curse cannot, and will not be lifted, except through repentance, which requires a change be made by each individual.)
- 4 And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God. (Note: Once they chose their path, they refused to change, leaving them permanently in their carnal and sinful state.)
The Lord understands that unless we personally decide to make changes in our behavior, whatever behavior we currently demonstrate will stay the same forever. This is what I am referring to as behavioral permanence. His blessings, and his cursings are based on this principle. Once we choose a path of behavior, we are the only ones who can change that path. The Lord has to operate now and into the future based on the behavioral choices we each make.
The Great Plan of Happiness
The laws that govern the Great Plan of Happiness are based on this principle of behavioral permanence. We are taught in the scriptures that the behavior of God is the kind of behavior that creates happiness. His behavior is also what allows him to have expanded his knowledge and abilities to his current level of perfection. Any behavior that is not in harmony with the way God behaves creates suffering and misery to one degree or another. When the code of laws that governs the plan of salvation (Great Plan of Happiness) was implemented, each and every law was designed to create happiness. Disobeying these laws of happiness is what creates misery. This is why in Alma 41:10 Alma says to Corianton that “wickedness never was happiness.” It is not possible to have lasting happiness and disobey the laws of behavior given us by God.
The laws of behavior given to us by our Father in Heaven only produce happiness in the long run. The degree to which we learn to live by these laws of behavior determines our ability to experience personal growth and happiness. Besides happiness, these laws also determine our ability to expand our capacity for righteous behavior and to understand spiritual things. Violations of these laws correspondingly restrict these abilities.
The purpose of the Great Plan of Happiness is to let us choose for ourselves how much of these laws hold any interest for us. When we have passed through our time of testing (mortality), and it is time for the resurrection, what we have chosen as our comfort level will be restored to us in the capacity of our resurrected body. If we choose in mortality to fully embrace the godly lifestyle then we will receive a restoration of that increased capacity in the new and improved body in the day of our resurrection. Likewise, if we have spurned the things of God in mortality, our restoration will include only a meager ability (by comparison) for improvement in eternity.
How it works
Alma uses the word “requisite” when talking about the way things are done in the plan of happiness. Something that is requisite is absolutely essential, and cannot be done without. It is necessary. In Alma 41 Alma is telling Corianton that because mankind broke God’s law, they were cut off from his presence, bringing upon themselves death physically, and death spiritually. It is precisely because we are already banished from the presence of God that we are able to have complete freedom of choice in our moral decisions. We already stand condemned, so sinning more may not get us any closer to God, but it won’t get us any further from him either.
This state would have been permanent, except that Christ came and made an atonement for sin, opening the door for each of us back to the presence of our Father. Without the atonement we can each only expect to receive justice for our behavior, which will include only punishment. If we want mercy, and forgiveness, we have to go through Christ by keeping his commandments. Because he paid the price to redeem our souls from the condemnation we were born into, only he can determine the price we have to pay to return to our Father. And he has set the price so that each and every one of us is capable of returning home if that is our true desire.
In Alma 41:2-4 we learn that a restoration is a required part of the justice of God. He set up the rules for this Great Plan of Happiness. Our sinful state, the atonement, the chance to repent and receive mercy, and a final restoration of all we have chosen while in our testing phase are necessary parts of that plan. This way when we are judged and “rewarded”, we are actually just receiving that which we have declared all along was the desire of our hearts.
2 I say unto thee, my son, that 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. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.
3 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.
4 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—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—
What I hear in my mind when I read these three verses is, “I’ve turned you loose in the play room. You’ve made a mess of things. When it is time to answer for how you have behaved, and to account for your choices, all things will have to be put back into order as they were before you entered the room.” The resurrection is basically the act of setting all things right again. At least that is how I perceive it.
Corianton had difficulty with the concept that those who do wickedly in this life are “punished” eternally for a few misdeeds while in mortality. Notice that Corianton didn’t have a problem with the concept of eternal reward for having done a few good deeds in this life. Alma answers his question with this response in Alma 41:5-8. Basically it is saying that we determine what our level of comfort is with living God’s lifestyle. All the judgment is, is rewarding each of us with the capacities we proved to desire most while in mortality.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.
Notice that the judgment is based on the principle of permanence of behavior. We have been given a short time here in mortality to decide what makes us happy. Based on God’s infinite wisdom and love for us, we will be judged and rewarded based on our opportunities, our knowledge, and how we chose to live our lives based on those things.
Remember that we will not be judged on those things we had no opportunity to know. Unpreventable ignorance saves us from being judged unfairly. Deliberate ignorance on our part will damn us. This is why the Lord says that we cannot be saved in ignorance. He is referring to deliberately staying ignorant of spiritual things in the hopes we won’t be held accountable.
Speaking to those of us who have made covenants with the Lord, starting with baptism, this all applies to us. We have been given the basic knowledge of what is required for salvation. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. We will be held accountable for what we choose to pursue in this life, whether that pursuit leads to salvation or damnation. This means we are our own judges. We choose how much of God’s life we want to live. When it comes time for the resurrection, our new body will reflect these choices we are making each and every day.