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One of the sweet gifts of the Spirit is the “discerning of spirits” – the ability to discern the needs and feelings of others (see D&C 46:23). After having spoken very plainly to his son Corianton about the seriousness of Corianton’s moral transgressions, Alma discerned through the Spirit, precisely what Corianton was feeling and worried about. Three times, once at the start of each chapter in today’s lesson (Alma 40-42), Alma said, “I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning….” and then he gave some profound testimony and heartfelt counsel addressing the problem.
Think about the setting of Alma 40-42 for a moment. Here is a son who committed a grievous moral transgression in the mission field. Here was his father, whose own transgressions against the Church were stopped when an angel from God called him to repentance. God could have given up on Alma when he was younger and committing some serious mistakes, but He didn’t. Now, as Alma counsels with his own wayward son, we can feel the love and the longing of this noble father whose desire was to help his son repent and return to God.
The three concerns Alma discerned in his son’s heart were (1) Corianton was worried about the resurrection and probably wondering what kind of resurrection he could ever hope to attain in the eternities to come (see Alma 40:1); (2) he was worried about the restoration, no doubt wondering how he could ever become clean again after having committed such a serious sin (see Alma 41:1); and (3) he was worried about the justice of God, thinking that God was now angry with him and was going to send a severe judgment against him and consign him to a state of eternal misery (see Alma 42:1).
Alma’s sure testimony to his son is that God has a plan for our salvation. As he taught, Alma testified that this great and wonderful plan was revealed by God, and that God really does have a plan for our redemption which is designed to bring us the greatest happiness. In fact, there is no other plan, and there is no other way to re-enter God’s presence and enjoy all the blessings God has to offer. Alma called this plan the “plan of redemption” (Alma 39:18); “the plan of restoration” (41:2); “the great plan of salvation” (42:5); “the great plan of happiness” (42:8); and “the great plan of mercy” (42:15, 31).
Corianton’s misunderstandings about the Father’s motives and about the Father’s plan are commonplace. He was a missionary teaching others, but had failed to receive the message of salvation himself. Those living in our own day who fail to understand and apply the doctrines of the plan will similarly be unable to receive its blessings. President Heber J. Grant once said, “It is not the amount that any individual may know that will benefit him and his fellows; but it is the practical application of their knowledge. There are many men that are great students, and yet so far as making a practical application of their knowledge they are almost what might be called educated fools…. There are many that testify that they know that this is the work of God, and all they do is to bear that testimony. There are some people that attend meetings year after year and listen to the servants of the Lord teach them in simplicity and humility the duties that devolve upon them, and they go away from those meetings and never put in practice what they hear; yet they take great credit to themselves for always going to meetings. Now, my friends, if you always went to your dinner, sat down and took a good look at the food, and never partook of any of it, it would not be long till you died of starvation. There are some Latter-day Saints that go to meeting, and they die of starvation spiritually because they do not receive and digest the spiritual food that is dispensed there. We should not be hearers of the word alone, but doers of it, too.” (Heber J. Grant, Nov. 6, 1892; in Stuy, Collected Discourses, 3:193-4)
Here are ten unique doctrines taught by Alma to Corianton about the great plan of mercy. If understood and applied, they will bring us much peace and happiness.
1. Christ was the first to rise from the dead (Alma 40:2; 2 Ne. 2:8) and because of his atoning sacrifice all mankind will eventually rise from the dead (2 Ne. 9:22; Alma 11:42, 44). One of the chief blessings from the Savior’s appearances on earth as a resurrected being after his death is the evidence and absolute assurance his resurrection provides us for the hope of eternal life (see Moroni 9:25). His overcoming death and his promise to us of the same blessing, is surely one of the most comforting promises ever given to mortals. Death no longer has a hold on the children of Adam and Eve (Alma 40:4).
2. There is an order to the resurrection. Celestial people come forth first, then terrestrial next, then telestial, and last of all the sons of perdition (See D&C 88:96-102). The first or celestial resurrection began with the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 27:52-53 and 3 Nephi 23:9). The next major group to arise in the celestial resurrection will come forth at the time of the Savior’s second coming. And then, another group will resurrect throughout the thousand year millennium. As Alma told Corianton, whether one comes forth in the first group, the second, or the third, “it mattereth not” (Alma 40:5, 8) because all who come forth with a celestial resurrection will receive God’s choicest blessings.
3. There is a space of time between death and the resurrection (Alma 40:6). At death, our bodies lie in the grave awaiting the resurrection, but our spirits enter the post-earthly spirit world where we continue our probation, continue to learn, grow and exercise our agency. Contrary to most Christian traditions, death does not usher us immediately into the presence of God. President Heber C. Kimball taught that we won’t see the Father until after the resurrection. Alma 40:11 states that at death “the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.” However, President George Q. Cannon explained, Alma did not mean we see God at the time of death.
“Alma,” President Cannon taught, “does not intend to convey the idea that [we] are immediately ushered into the personal presence of God. He evidently uses that phrase [“taken home to that God who gave them life”] in a qualified sense. Solomon…makes a similar statement: ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.’ (Ecc. 12:7.) The same idea is frequently expressed by the Latter-day Saints. In referring to a departed one it is often said that he has gone back to God, or he has gone “home to that God who gave him life.” Yet it would not be contended that the person who said this meant that the departed one had gone where God, the Father Himself is, in the sense in which the Savior meant when He spake to Mary. Neither is it to be supposed that Alma made this declaration in such a sense. In fact, this is demonstrated by what he says afterwards. Alma says plainly that the spirits of the righteous go into a state of happiness, etc. He says the spirits of the wicked are cast into outer darkness, etc. Now, then, how can those spirits who are cast into outer darkness be in the personal presence of God? God does not dwell where they are, and they certainly do not go where He is.” (Gospel Truth, 58.)
4. At death, there is an immediate partial judgment – not the ultimate, final judgment, for our probation continues in the spirit world – but a judgment about whether we are allowed to enter paradise or not. For the righteous, this paradise is a state of being where they are “received into a state of happiness….a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow” (40:12). The spirits of the wicked (who “have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord” because “they chose evil works rather than good”) are not able to enjoy the blessings of paradise (40:13-14). (To learn more about the differences between the conditions of the righteous and the wicked in the spirit world, see D&C 138.)
5. At the time of our resurrection, our spirits will be reunited with our physical bodies (40:18, 21, 23). In other words, we retain our eternal identity. We do not morph into another person, or meld into some gigantic spiritualOur spirit will be restored to our body, never again to be separated (Alma 11:43, 45). The notion that we will somehow be reincarnated and recycled through mortality is a falsehood that denies the reality of the resurrection.
6. Not one hair of our head will be lost, but all things will be restored to their “proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23). That literally means that the process of resurrection is going to be a miracle. After the body dissolves into dust and the ravages of time scatter it abroad, it will take a an incredibly miraculous process to pull what belongs to us back together. But the assurance of the resurrection is that we will never, through all eternity, lose any part of ourselves. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “there is no fundamental principle belonging to a human system that ever goes into another in this world or in the world to come; I care not what the theories of men are. We have the testimony that God will raise us up, and he has the power to do it. If any one supposes that any part of our bodies, that is, the fundamental parts thereof, ever goes into another body, he is mistaken.” (History of the Church, 5:339.)
Another interesting point about being restored to a “proper and perfect frame” is that we will pick up what we lay down, and then our physical bodies will be changed and perfected. The Prophet Jospeh Smith said, “The body will come forth as it is laid to rest, for there is no growth or development in the grave. As it is laid down, so will it arise, and changes to perfection will come by the law of restitution. But the spirit will continue to expand and develop, and the body, after the resurrection will develop to the full stature of man.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 200.) President Joseph Fielding Smith added that this perfection of our bodies in the resurrection will not take a long time to occur (see Doctrines of Salvation, 2:293-294).
We also know, by modern revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that the restoration to a “proper and perfect frame” in the resurrection also includes the restoration of knowledge and intelligence. The knowledge and intelligence we gain on earth “will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:18-19).
7. The “righteous will shine forth in the kingdom of God” (Alma 40:25). Resurrected bodies that are quickened by the Spirit will shine like the sun (Matthew 13:43). “They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened….your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (D&C 88:28, 67.) God comprehends all things (see 88:41) and has promised those who come forth in the celestial resurrection that “the day shall come when [they] shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him” (88:49).
There are some truly magnificent promises that have been made to those who receive a celestial resurrection. President Brigham Young has testified: “Those who attain to the blessing of the first or celestial resurrection will be pure and holy, and perfect in body. Every man and woman that reaches to this unspeakable attainment will be as beautiful as the angels that surround the throne of God. If you can, by faithfulness in this life, obtain the right to come up on the morning of the resurrection, you need entertain no fears that the wife will be dissatisfied with her husband, or the husband with the wife; for those of the first resurrection will be free from sin and from the consequences and power of sin.” (Journal of Discourses 10:24.) A celestial resurrection enables us to experience a fulness of joy which cannot be had by any other means (D&C 138:12-17, 50).
8. This plan of restoration is “requisite” (required) with the justice of God (Alma 41:2). God could not be just if we did not have restored to us what we deserve. Sometimes that sounds like a negative thing, but remember, God also restores all the good we have done as well. And, even better than that, God also restores us to the “good desires” of our hearts (Alma 41:5). Sometimes the righteous desires of our hearts count as much in God’s sight as the things we actually accomplish. Speaking of one whose heart was right, but who was limited by circumstances as to what he could physically accomplish, the Lord said, “his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord” (D&C 117:13). The desires of the heart count for much in the resurrection.
9. The “decrees of God are unalterable” (Alma 41:8). When the Savior atoned for us, his sacrifice forever unlocked the door for our salvation. “Therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved” (41:8).
10. Wickedness will never lead to eternal happiness because wickedness is contrary to the nature of true happiness (Alma 41:10-11). As Elder Neal A. Maxwell once observed of those whose voices are loud in calling for a loosening of standards, “Regardless of their decibel level, it is only loneliness trying to reassure itself.”
Whosoever Will, May Have Eternal Life
Corianton was worried that God was angry with him and that God was going to punish him. He felt it unjust that God would consign a sinner to a state of endless misery (Alma 42:1). But Alma very thoroughly explained that God is just, that He loves his children, and that He does not seek to punish them. (See Alma 42.) Because He is just, the laws of God demand that a punishment be affixed when those laws are broken. But because God loves us, He is willing to step in between us and the demands of justice and take upon Himself our punishments (see Mosiah 14:5). God’s mercy is for those who repent and come unto Christ. All others are subject to the demands of justice. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And Jesus “so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God” (D&C 34:3).
Elder Boyd K. Packer has testified that “true doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” (Ensign, Nov 1986, 17.) How would a clear understanding of all these doctrines taught by Alma to his erring son affect behavior? How does the eternal perspective gained from understanding true doctrine help strengthen us? How did it affect Corianton? According to other passages in the Book of Mormon, Corianton completely changed his life. He repented of his sins, was later called to serve another mission, and eventually became a leader among his people (see Alma 49:30; 63:10).
Alma’s closing plea to Corianton is a plea to us all. Change is possible. Regardless of the mistakes we have made, we can – because of the atonement and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – change. Because of Christ we can be restored physically and spiritually – but most importantly, we can also be restored back into the presence of God where we will enjoy eternal peace and happiness. “Therefore…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 them according to his deeds….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.” (Alma 42:27, 29.)
This is the “great plan of mercy” and Alma’s final expression to his son is that it may “have claim” upon all of us (42:31).