what if
This is the only place I know of in all of the scriptures where the reason for the Plan of Salvation being the way it is is explained. To do that, Alma had to demonstrate what would happen if things were different than they are. This is the great What If scenario. Get this securely under your belt, and you will forever feel more comfortable with the reason why things are in life the way they are, and many scriptural comments will make more sense.

The big picture

I love the big picture. I think it is so important for me to be able to see the end from the beginning so I understand where I am and what I am supposed to be doing. I love knowing why things are the way they are and what their purpose is. Much of God’s big plan for us that we call the Great Plan of Happiness, or the Plan of Salvation is mapped out in the scriptures. It is in pieces, scattered throughout all the scriptures, but it is there.

I will be discussing specifically what Alma teaches Zeezrom in Alma 12, but this is just one small part of the whole plan. At the end of this article I couldn’t resist adding just a few of my other articles on the plan of salvation. Each one looks at the plan from a different angle and point of view. If you find any value in this article, I hope with all my heart you will take the opportunity to read some of the articles listed at the bottom of the page. If you learn anything from what follows here then you will certainly learn even more when you read this in conjunction with the other articles listed below. To find even more articles that talk about the plan of salvation, pick some search terms and go hunting for additional articles here on gospelstudy.us. There are many.

Chains of hell

The first topic Alma discusses with Zeezrom is to describe the effects of the chains of hell. To do this he also has to define the chains. I have actually written two articles, embarrassingly named exactly the same name, about the chains of hell. If you want you can read the latest one here (What Are the Chains of Hell?) or you can get the condensed version in the next paragraph.

In verses 9-11 of chapter 12 Alma explains that we are always either being added to or taken from. Those who harden their hearts against receiving more of God’s knowledge or His word, are taken from little by little, until they understand nothing about Him or His doings. This state of ignorance leaves them open to the control and influence of Satan, and is known as the chains of hell.

The only way to shake off those chains of hell is to continually seek to know and understand more of God’s word. Alma clearly states in verse 10 that those who accept and live God’s word continue to learn more and more of His mysteries, until they know them in full. Through the process of reason, we can deduce that if the chains of hell illustrate being bound to Satan through our own ignorance of God and His ways then those who come to know God’s ways and who come to understand His mysteries in full would represent those who have ultimate freedom to act, as opposed to those who are bound by Satan who will be acted upon come judgment day.

The key to where we will be on that great day of judgment depends on the choices we made in mortality, which includes the spirit world that follows our time on earth. Since the judgment is an act of restitution, those who chose good, God, and all things holy, will have all things holy restored to them. Those who chose to shut God out of their lives will have nothing good to restore to them, so they will experience the second death as their “reward.” That is found in Alma 12:12–15. More on that in a moment.

Defining death

There are two deaths referred to in the scriptures. The first death is what the Fall of Adam and Eve introduced into the world. This death is the death of the mortal body where we become separated from our mortal body and return to the spirit world from whence we came. The other death is a separation of us from God.

The first time we experience this death, and we all have experienced this second death, happened when we left the presence of God to come to earth. Because we left His presence to come into a world full of sin and willfulness, we all become unholy, and therefore not worthy of being in God’s presence. To be holy is to be justified, or squared with God. This means we are at peace with all His laws, and can therefore expect to be able to look Him in the eye and feel no guilt for having broken His laws.

Just by virtue of having been born into this world, all of us who are accountable for our behavior sin, or willfully ignore or break His laws. It only takes one time to put us out of a state of justification and to put us into a state of condemnation. Just once. This is the definition of spiritual death, a state of being separated spiritually from our God. As you will see in the rest of the verses that follow, we have already experienced this second kind of death the first time we committed sin. But the key here is that this death doesn’t have to be permanent. This kind of death is only referred to as the “Second Death” when it becomes a permanent condition that lasts for eternity. Repentance is the process that prevents this from happening to us.

Experiencing the second death

In verse 15 we are told that all of us are required to come before God (Christ) for judgment. We must come before him in resurrected bodies. Verses 15-18 talk about the result of those who have rejected knowledge of God in mortality so they could pursue some other course. When they stand before God in all his power, might, and majesty, they will not be able to lie in that day and say he is not who and what he has always said he was. All will bend the knee and bow the head in submission to his will, and will admit that his judgments are just, and that whatever follows for them, they deserve. The truth will be too overwhelming to deny.

The result of being cut off from the presence of God this second time will be accompanied with a lively knowledge of our own guilt. This is where they describe the pains of hell that will be compared to, or like, a lake of fire and brimstone (burning sulphur, which burns with a white-hot intensity). There is a second result that goes with this acknowledgement. Those who have rejected God’s only path back into His presence will be treated as though no atonement had ever been made for them. This is the same condition Satan and his followers are in. The only difference here is that those who came to mortality will have a resurrected body, but will never be allowed back into the presence of God, for we are not capable of reconciling our own behavior with His laws. That is why we need Christ. Christ is the one and only path back to God, and that is the way God designed the plan for our eternal exaltation. That is not Christ’s decision, that is God, our Father’s decision.

Through modern revelation we now know that those who aren’t exalted will still receive a degree of glory, but only after they have settled their accounts with Christ by spending time in hell paying for their own sins, as Jesus warned us would happen. In the Book of Mormon they have a much more restricted view of the eternities, so Alma says that those who die in their sins will be with Satan forever. That isn’t true based on what we now know through modern revelation, but the concept is the same – we are separated from God forever.

The doctrine of resurrection

In verse 20 one of the chief rulers comes forward and asks Alma to explain the doctrine of the resurrection, the process of taking a mortal body and making it immortal so that it can never die. He references in verse 21 the story of Adam and Eve when they were driven from the garden of Eden. An angel was placed to guard the tree of Life specifically to prevent the couple from being able to eat from it and live forever in their sins. Alma tells them that because Adam had partaken of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge that all mankind had become a “lost and fallen people.”

The need for death

Beginning in verse 23 is where the What If scenario begins. Everything up to this point has been straightforward and recognizable as regular doctrine. Here is where Alma describes why the doctrine works the way it works. He paints a picture for us to show us what would have happened had things been done differently (the what if).

Here is Alma 12:23.

23 And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die.

This is the reason for the flaming sword and the cherubim to guard the tree. Up to this point Adam and Eve could eat from this tree as much as they liked. But now that they have transgressed God’s law, eating from this tree would have given them eternal life in a state of non-perfection. They could have sinned as much as they liked and never died. That would negate everything God had planned for His children. They had to be prevented from partaking of the fruit of that tree.

Adam and Eve needed time to prove themselves obedient to God so their transgression could be forgiven. This is why God gave us mortality, this temporary time to prove what we are made of. Look at verse 24 then we will pick up the conversation again.

24 And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.

Death is the transition that takes us from God’s presence into mortality, and again that takes us from mortality back into the spirit world where we can prepare to face Christ at the judgment bar. The first death, the mortal death, is absolutely a necessary part of the plan of salvation, for it is how we move from one phase of the plan to another.

Earth life was never meant to be the endall to our existence. Our time on earth is only meant to be a time of probation, a time of proving. Our agency is not something that lets us choose anything we want. Our agency is limited to moral choices only. The only choices that really matter in mortality are those that alter our relationship with God. They are all choices between good and evil. This is why all the scriptures harp on our need to choose good continually. This is why we are warned about the punishments that come with not choosing good. Remember what Christ told Abraham in the Book of Abraham 3:24–26?

24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

These three verses give the point to creating the earth and putting us on it. The time we spend here is our time, our chance to prove to God how willing we are to keep His commandments. That’s it. That is the only reason you are here in mortality, it is to prove your willingness or unwillingness to do what God commands you to do.

Abraham 3:26 above describes the result of choosing God in the premortal world, which was our first estate. Those who chose God in the premortal world (all of us) were promised that we would be “added upon.” This means we were promised a resurrected body and some degree of glory. The amount of glory that we are eventually given will depend on what we do in our second estate, which is mortality.

If we come to mortality and completely blow off God’s commandments, and continue to refuse to obey them in the spirit world then come judgment day we will have to pay for our sins by spending time in hell, but our reward for the good choice we made in our first estate gives us a resurrected body with some degree of glory for the rest of eternity.

Those who come to earth and keep this second estate successfully are promised exaltation, which is life in God’s presence and eternal increase (their own family) in the hereafter. But only those who choose to obey God’s commandments, and repent of their sins, thus using Christ’s atoning sacrifice to redeem themselves can successfully keep this second estate.

The continuation of the What If

Alma has now established the need for death, and has told us why Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, the tree of Life protected, and the purpose of mortality. That is a lot in just a few verses! In Alma 12:25–27 he explains what would have happened had this plan not been in place before Adam and Eve had transgressed in the garden.

25 Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.

Just as an aside, did you catch his comment? He taught them that without a plan for the redemption of mankind there could have been no resurrection from the dead. Where would that have left us? If we all come to mortality then die, but we don’t have a resurrection to look forward to, what would happen to our souls? The short answer is that we would have become angels to Satan for eternity (2 Nephi 9:8–9). It is the resurrection that saves us from that fate. And evidently the resurrection could not have taken place without the Fall that made it necessary. The Fall and the Resurrection (which includes the atoning sacrifice of Christ) is a package deal. Every part is crucial for the very existence of the other parts.

26 And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect.

27 But behold, it was not so; but it was appointed unto men that they must die; and after death, they must come to judgment, even that same judgment of which we have spoken, which is the end.

By the “end” it means the end of time, and the end of our probationary state. For after the judgment we face the rest of eternity, and whatever that brings. We have not been told what happens after the judgment. That is as far as has been revealed to us at this time. It is enough for us to worry about. We don’t need more to worry about. If we can successfully make it to the judgment having been obedient then we will be thrilled with whatever comes next.

I wish I could tell you more

That is basically where his What If scenario ends. There is wonderful doctrine that follows in the subsequent verses, but they don’t fit into this article, so I will have to save them for another time. I really wish I could keep going, but I need to finish this topic first.

This is the reason we have death. This is the reason we have resurrection. This is the purpose of our agency. This is why we are on earth, and why everything we do is all part of our proving to ourselves and to God that we either will be or won’t be obedient to His commandments. He cannot, by His own laws, extend us any mercy come the judgment day if we have refused to seek out God and live His laws. God, our Father can only show us mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ. That is why He gave us a Savior in the first place. He does love us, and He wants us to return home with glory. But we can only do that through the plan God gave us for our own redemption, and that is through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and our consistent and constant repentance.

Collection of articles on the Plan of Salvation

Below are just a few of the many articles I have already published on various aspects of the Plan of Salvation. The plan of happiness our Father in Heaven constructed for our exaltation is my favorite gospel topic. It includes every doctrine and every event in the whole of our lives beginning with receiving a spirit body in the premortal world, extending into mortality, and finally leading to judgment and being made gods and godesses. This is the big picture, the overview, the outline and plan for everything that has, is, and will happen to us in God’s effort to fulfill His own purpose, which is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

Click the link below to print out a PDF copy of this article.

Alma “What If” Scenario in Alma 12