eternal judgment

In the Book of Mormon Alma the Younger went on a mission with his sons. His son Corianton had some challenges with temptation, and some hang ups on some of the doctrine they were teaching. It takes several chapters for Alma to help set him straight on all of his issues (at least the ones that were recorded). In Alma 42 the subject of eternal judgment is brought up. Corianton doesn’t understand why those who fail to be obedient are consigned to a state of endless misery.

I find it somewhat humorous that we don’t seem to have a problem with the concept of being consigned to endless happiness, but we do have a problem with being consigned to a state of endless misery. Fair is fair, right? In any event, chapter 42 explains the plan of salvation to Corianton, outlining the reasons for the fall of man, and the need for an atonement.

What does this have to do with being consigned to everlasting misery? Well, it is because of the fall and the atonement that judgment comes upon all of us. The question is, why or how is it able to be eternal in nature? The better we understand the answer to this question, the better we will be at accepting the need to repent seriously.

I have divided the scriptures and the commentary about them into two columns. The scriptures are on the left and the commentary, in blue, is on the right. Just reading the commentary and the scriptures won’t necessarily be enough to grasp everything. You also need to be praying for the Spirit to help open your spiritual eyes so you can understand the concepts. We are not talking about something that happens during the length of time a person is mortal. In these passages we are talking about things that affect our wellbeing in eternity. That requires the help of the Holy Ghost to understand it.

This is lengthy. Don’t feel like you need to read and understand it all in one sitting. Take your time. Read some. Think about it. Read some more. Pray about it each step of the way. This is important doctrine (doctrine is a teaching of the church). We all need to understand how this works because it can strengthen our resolve to be obedient. When I read this I find it helpful to read the verse on the left then the commentary on the right, followed again by the same verse on the left to make sure the commentary truly represents what the verse is saying. This is how I check myself.

And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understand—which is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner; for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.The issue is this – How can it be just for God to punish the wicked forever, or that they should be left in a state of misery forever?
Now behold, my son, I will explain this thing unto thee. For behold, after the Lord God sent our first parents forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground, from whence they were taken—yea, he drew out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden, cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the tree of life—Adam and Eve were created outside of the garden of Eden then placed in the garden. After their act of disobedience they were sent back to the place outside the garden where they were created. The tree of life was on the east side of the garden, and the Lord placed cherubim (type of angel) with a flaming sword to protect the tree from anyone getting to the fruit.
Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit—Adam and Eve had already eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating this fruit made them mortal and able to tell the difference between opposites, like good and evil, pleasure and pain, etc. In this respect they were no longer like innocent children, but were now accountable to God for the decisions they made. If they had eaten the fruit of the tree of life at this point they would have remained in their fallen and sinful state forever, because the fruit of the tree of life would have restored their immortality, but not their innocence. The cherubim was placed by the tree to protect Adam and Eve from being tempted to eat the fruit now that they were cut off from the presence of God. We’ll talk in a moment about why they were now accountable for every decision, whereas before, when they were innocent, they were not.
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.Eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge made them mortal, which meant they would now die. This time in mortality became a time for Adam and Eve, and each of us, to repent of our sins and prepare ourselves to go back and meet God, whom we left to come here. A probation is a time of proving and testing. When we let people out of prison they spend a period of time on probation to prove to society they can handle the responsibility of living peacefully, and in accordance, with the rules of society. When we get a new job we often have a period of probation, usually several months, to prove we can fit in and do the job well.
For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.The family of Adam needed a period of time to prove themselves (that’s us). If Adam had eaten the fruit of good and evil then immediately eaten from the tree of life he never would have had his chance, his time to prove his obedience to God. He would have stayed under condemnation from God forever. This would have ruined the whole plan of salvation. God’s promise to us, that we would each be given a time to prepare to return to His presence, would have been voided, making God a liar.
But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man.God’s plan for His children included mortal death. Death, like birth, is how we transition from one realm to the other. Birth brought us into mortality, and death moves us out of this part of mortality and into the spirit world. This was built into the plan for our salvation from the very beginning.

Because mankind (that’s us) now knew sin (disobedience) we would be cut off from the presence of the Lord, for no unclean thing can dwell in His presence. So sin caused mankind to become fallen from God’s grace, being cut off from Him spiritually. This is spiritual death, the separation of us from God. Once we die that separation becomes permanent because our time of probation is over and we have no way, by ourselves, to reconcile our behavior with the Lord’s laws. (At this point in Alma’s explanation, no outside atonement or reconciliation for our sins is being considered.) Without some sort of reconciliation, we would be locked out (cut off) from His presence forever. This is what would make us miserable, for true happiness is found only in God’s presence, for God embodies all things good.

This is a crucial gospel concept to understand. There is no happiness outside of God, for He is, in one way or another, the source of all things that bring and maintain lasting happiness.

And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.The first death that came into the world was spiritual, Adam and Eve being separated by being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The second death comes when the spirit is separated from the body, ending our mortal probation. During this time when we are cut off from the presence of the Lord we are free to follow our own will. We are free to do what we want. We have no memory of our Father in Heaven, and we have no other constraints on our moral choices. We are truly free to decide what kind of person we each want to be. This is what makes this probationary time so important. It really shows us our true heart’s desire. Do we want the pleasures of the flesh and the world, which are so heavily influenced by God’s greatest enemy (Satan) or do we truly want to seek out our Father in Heaven and learn His will for us? This kind of freedom of choice simply was not possible while still in God’s presence, hence the need for a mortal earth life.
Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness.It was important, even essential to the plan of happiness that we be able to die. It is this mortal period that allows us time to prove ourselves to us and to God.
Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.It is important to know that we are eternal beings. We have always lived, and we always will. So it was important that God not allow us to always be cut off from His presence. We needed to be reclaimed from our spiritual death. We are, after all, His children. What follows here is Alma’s explanation of how God went about reclaiming us from our spiritual separation from Him.
10 Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state.The fall (partaking of the fruit) had caused us to develop appetites of the flesh, something we had not experienced before. The appetites are what cause us to be carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature. In this new state, possessing all the earthly appetites that come with the mortal body, we have only a limited period of time before we have to answer to God for how we behaved during our probation, our time with a mortal body.
11 And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord.If God had not prepared a way to reclaim our spirits from this spiritual death, upon our physical death we would be left or consigned to a state of misery forever, for we could never return home to God, our Father.
12 And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience;Man has never had a way to save himself from this fallen state. Our saving requires someone with more capabilities than we possess. We need someone to save us, a Savior. Yes, that is what a savior is, someone who saves.
13 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.Here I need to clarify something. God operates according to eternal laws. This is how He maintains control over the universe. He is merciful, but He cannot directly extend mercy to us without breaking or robbing His own laws of justice. Mercy must be offered by a third party, another person who can fulfill all of God’s laws in such a way that He can personally be forgiving of our weaknesses. This is where Christ comes in. More about that later.

It is important to understand that God cannot and will not violate His own laws. To do so would cause Him to no longer be perfect, i.e. a God. So He has no choice in the matter. Once a law is established for behavior, we must live up to that law to receive the blessings associated with the law. Failing to live up to the requirements of that law bring consequences. Those consequences are absolute and sure. No one can change the law once God has put it in place. So as much as our Father in Heaven loves us, His hands are tied by His own laws. If we disobey the laws we must be punished. If we obey, we must be rewarded.

14 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.We are all in the grasp of justice or the laws God has set, because all of us have broken at least one of those laws at some point. This means that, on our own, we can never return to God’s presence. We are cut off forever.
15 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.An atonement is a reconciliation between man and the laws mankind have broken. There can be no mercy extended to the children of God without someone who can satisfy the laws of justice so he can turn around and offer us mercy, a chance to do better, and be better.

When this verse says that “God himself atoneth for the sins of the world,” the God referred to is Jesus. He came to earth for the express purpose of performing the atonement for our sins. His atonement appeased or satisfied the demands of God’s eternal justice, allowing Jesus to, in turn, offer us the mercy our Father is not allowed to offer us directly. God’s mercy to us comes in the form of Him giving us Christ to save us. So both men are “God” and both men are equally merciful, but neither can get us back to God without the other. That is how the plan of salvation was designed.

16 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.This verse is where we need to think through the whole punishment and blessing and rewards issue. We are eternal beings, but mortality is only temporary. Yet the reward for what we do in this temporary probation has to last as long as our souls last. Can you imagine having to requalify to live with God every so many years because what you did before is no longer valid? No, whatever reward, good or bad, we receive from this mortal life needs to be as eternal in nature as our souls. That way we can move on and never look back.

The plan of salvation was designed so that the payment Jesus would make for our sins is eternal in nature. We don’t have the ability to do that, but He does. Because He suffered enough to satisfy all of God’s laws to allow the rewards for obedience or lack of obedience to last forever, whatever judgment we receive after mortality is permanent. There are no do overs. This should give us a sense of urgency to take our behavior in mortality seriously, for the consequences of those behaviors last for eternity.

17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?All laws have a blessing and a punishment fixed to that law. Without a law there can be no punishment, for there is nothing to prohibit that behavior. Sin is the breaking of a law. Unless we sin we do not need to repent. So when we talk about needing to repent it is because we are saying we have broken laws and need to seek Christ’s mercy to repent or change our behavior to bring ourselves back into line with God’s laws. Only Christ’s atoning sacrifice can make this possible to do. That is why Christ is at the center of all we do. Without Him we are completely lost.

This also explains why children and those who live without the laws of God are innocent before Him. A law is required to be in place and to be understood before judgment for living or breaking that law can be rendered.

18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.To help us sense and understand when we have broken a law, God gave us a conscience that innately understands the difference between good and evil. This is what kicks in to a child’s brain at about the age of eight, making them accountable for their own behavior. Anyone who has this ability is held accountable for their own choices.

Those lacking the mental capacity to understand, and all children who have not yet reached the age of accountability are automatically protected from God’s judgment because they have no capacity to understand, meaning for them it is as though there is no law given. This is just and fair.

19 Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?This is a good example of how the law works. Why would we be afraid to kill someone if there was no law against killing? It is the punishment of the law that prohibits killing. That is why only killers suffer the punishment. All of God’s laws work this way.
20 And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin. 
21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?Remember that mercy is only extended to those who have already sinned or disobeyed a commandment. Without a law there can be no justice or mercy, this is basic to the concept of laws and accountability.
22 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.This is where Alma begins to tie it all together for Corianton. Because there is a law, there is a punishment affixed for those who break the law.

Mercy can only be offered to those who are willing to repent, that is part of the laws of God. So mercy can claim the repentant soul. But if someone is not willing to repent then justice has claim on that person’s soul. In this way the law has claim on every soul, whether it be the unrepentant or repentant soul. Either we will be forgiven of our sins because we choose to repent or we will be punished because we chose not to take advantage of our Savior’s reconciliation (atonement) with God’s laws. This is just.

We all have a way to avoid being punished by God’s laws. This is how God has offered us mercy. He has offered us His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who made reconciliation with God for our sins. This way, the judgment that is passed upon us at the end of mortality, no matter what it is, satisfies the laws of justice, even if it means mercy claims us and forgives us of all our sins.

23 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.Part of Christ’s atonement was to bring to pass the resurrection. This free gift to all of God’s children reclaims us from physical death, the separation of our spirits from our bodies, and allows us to be brought back into the presence of God to be judged for our behavior in full, physical, and hopefully glorified form.

It is important here to note that the plan of salvation for all of God’s children requires us to be in resurrected, physical form when judgment is rendered. The last act of Christ’s atoning sacrifice was made with his resurrection, which opened the door for all who enter mortality to be resurrected someday. Those who rebelled against God in the premortal life will never receive a resurrection, because they never received a body. They are permanently cut off from the presence of God.

24 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.It is the law that Jesus satisfied with His atonement that allows Him to claim as His own anyone who repents and comes to Him for saving and changing.

If we choose to refuse His sacrifice on our behalf, when we get to the bar of judgment we have to answer to God’s justice without anyone to intervene on our behalf. We have already established that without a Savior we do not have the capacity to save ourselves. That is why only those who repent can be saved. They are the only ones who qualify under God’s law for Christ’s mercy.

25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.This points out to us that the ability for Christ to offer us mercy is in line with the laws created by God. He can legally offer us mercy because He has already satisfied the demands of God’s justice. But Christ cannot offer mercy to those who refuse to comply with His laws of repentance. To do so would be for Christ to violate God’s laws, which cannot happen.
26 And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery.All of these laws, the offering of a Savior for us, the ability to repent and become better, etc. is what we call the plan of salvation or the great plan of happiness. This is what our Father in Heaven presented to us in the great council in heaven when Jesus officially became our Savior.

We all understood in the premortal world that whether we received an eternal weight of glory after mortality or an eternal state of misery, would be completely up to the personal choices we would make in mortality. This is what we signed up for. We understood that the duration of either reward would be eternal in nature, as eternal as we ourselves are.

 27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.Everyone is welcome to come to the waters of baptism and partake of the blessings of the gospel of Christ freely, with no compulsion. They are also free to refuse to believe, and they can go and do their own thing. What they are not free to do is avoid the consequences of their choices.

In the day of judgment what we chose here in mortality will be restored to us for eternity. There will be increase of glory and happiness for those who chose to follow Christ, and a lesser glory and lack of happiness for those who chose to do their own thing. The important part is that we are the one who makes that determination. The judgment only restores to us what we demonstrated we wanted in mortality. And remember that “mortality” also includes our time in the post-mortal realm.

28 If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.Ditto from the previous verse.
29 And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.I like Alma’s attitude. The Lord has it all worked out. The only thing we need to worry about is whether or not we are keeping God’s laws, the commandments. When we sin, we only need to let them trouble us insofar as they lead us into a state of repentance. As long as we are repenting consistently, when we sin then we have nothing to worry about because we will quickly repent. And by this I mean that we need not worry about the eternal state of our soul, because we recognize that when we see our mistake, we are able to take it to the Lord and obtain forgiveness for that mistake, assuming we have no intention of ever knowingly repeating it. This principle creates within us a hope that truly springs eternal, for Christ has, indeed, made a way for our escape from spiritual death and hell.
30 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.Don’t fight God over how His laws work, because they aren’t going to change. As long as we look for excuses for being able to commit sin then we will always have problems with God’s laws of justice and mercy. But if we let the commandments lead us to repent and receive Christ’s mercy then we will be humble and will have earned God’s long-suffering and patience. He does love us after all, and He wants us to be happy forever.

I am not aware of a better, more clear description of why our punishments or blessing last forever anywhere in the scriptures. The basic piece we pull from this passage is that the duration of the reward we receive from our probation in mortality needed to be as permanent and eternal as the nature of the soul receiving the reward.

When Christ paid for our sins He did not pay for a Bandaid® fix that would only last a few hundred years. His payment was for the long haul. It is a permanent payment that lasts forever, just as we last forever. But the most important point here is that we are in control of the type of reward we receive. Those who seek out God and Christ, and obey the commandments will be rewarded accordingly by receiving Christ’s mercy. Those who ignore or fight against the commandments reject Christ’s offer of mercy and are left to bear the full weight of God’s laws of justice on their own. It’s our choice. But whatever reward we choose, it is permanent, and cannot be changed. Now is the time to prepare to meet God.

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The Basics of Eternal Judgment