(This article was adapted from my Pillars of Zion series. Click here to receive the free PDFs).
The Plan of Happiness is central to becoming a Zion person. Happiness is always associated with Zion: “and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.”[i] The end purpose of our creation is happiness: “men are that they might have joy.”[ii]
The ultimate definition of happiness is to be like God; the more we approach the stature of God in attributes, knowledge, power, and dominion, the happier we are. Conversely, the definition of misery is to be like Satan. Misery is always associated with Babylon.
To become like God and experience his level of happiness rests on two criteria: (1) Justice-the system of celestial laws that make God who he is and provide him what he has; that is, God’s power and quality of life derive from his obedience to celestial laws. (2) Mercy-the Lord’s love, grace, forbearance, clemency, and pity on us lesser beings, as he patiently works with us to help us to become like him. To a great extent our happiness depends upon God’s merciful interaction with us and our extending mercy to others.[iii]
The Covenant of the Gods
In a premortal council of the Gods[iv] (which preceded the Council in Heaven that we attended), the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost entered into a covenant to work together for the happiness, salvation, and exaltation of the Father’s children.
Joseph Smith taught that an “everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth; these personages, according to Abraham’s record, are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness or Testator.”[v] Our interaction with these three Gods began before the world was created, continues here, and will endure into eternity. Every aspect of our interaction with them has to do with our present redemption and our eternal happiness.
Too often we miss the fact that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost define their dealings with us in terms of relationship. Each one of us is dearer to them than we can comprehend. Motivated solely by their relationship with us, they initiated the plan of happiness.[vi]
In the premortal world, when the Father announced the plan of happiness, we shouted for joy, perhaps because the plan’s far-reaching benefits were so extraordinary.[vii] In that supreme act of love, Heavenly Father offered us the opportunity to become what he is. He held nothing back. His package included indivisible access to and inheritance of the totality of his kingdom, the fulness of his power, the keys to the library of everything he knows, and the ability to become like him in perfections, characteristic, and attributes.
His offer included the quintessential gift of a physical body, and a tabernacle of flesh and bones for our immortal spirits to eternally “act upon.”[viii] He also offered us the invaluable gift of divine education: the opportunity to experience good and evil and the unrestricted gift of agency to choose between them. Finally, he offered us the opportunity to enjoy his lifestyle-eternal marriage and family-with the promise of eternal posterity.[ix]
Happiness Encompasses All That Is Good
Clearly, the plan of happiness offered us all that was good, which is called righteousness. Righteousness, according to Chauncey Riddle, is “that necessary order of social relationships in which beings of knowledge and power must bind themselves in order to live together in accomplishment and happiness for eternity.”[x]
Happiness is wholly dependent upon righteousness, and it is in righteousness that Zion people weld themselves together by solemn covenants so that they become “predictable, dependable, and united so that they can be trusted. They bind themselves to be honest, true, chaste, and benevolent so that they can do good for all other beings, which good they do by personal sacrifice to fulfill all righteousness.”[xi] Thus, being and doing good and being and doing righteousness are synonymous terms; goodness and righteousness are unifying, perfecting, selfless principles that produce happiness.
Heavenly Father structured the plan of happiness so as to mercifully wrest us from Babylon, from our complacency, from our evil tendencies, and from the effects of the Fall. Heavenly Father built into the plan of happiness his promise that he would endow us with the Light of Christ, which is an agent employed by the Holy Ghost to “feel after”[xiii] us and draw us out of Babylon and into Zion. By means of that light, the Holy Ghost would continually offer us opportunities to view ourselves in our “awful state,”[xiv] for the purpose of shaking us loose from Babylon.
Moreover, the Father promised that he would offer each of us an unmistakable witness of the truth by the power of the Holy Ghost, so that we might reconsider our destructive path, repent of evil, and embrace “the godly order of good.”[xv] Clearly, the Father makes every effort to offer us happiness.
Balancing Justice and Mercy
To make the plan of happiness operational, the Father first instigated the covenant of justice,[xvi] that system of laws that he obeyed in order to become who he is and enjoy what he has. That is, by obedience to celestial law he was justified to enjoy the blessings associated with those laws. By living those laws, we, God’s children, can progress and become like him in every way. That is the process that leads to true happiness.
Knowing that his children would break the celestial laws while they struggled to assimilate them in their lives, and knowing that those broken laws would consign his children “forever to be cut off from his presence,”[xvii] the Father decreed a second law, which would have the power to override the consequences of broken celestial laws and to thereby save his children. That new law is called the covenant of mercy.[xviii] We know this law by another name: the new and everlasting covenant.
The covenant of mercy called for the Father to provide an atoning Savior to balance the demands of justice against the purposes of mercy:
And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself [Jesus Christ] 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.[xix]
Mercy would also allow the children of God to receive physical bodies like their Father’s, with the assurance that these eternal gifts would not be cancelled out by death.
The Savior’s merciful universal resurrection would make that possible.[xx]
Accessing the benefits of mercy through the Atonement was decreed to be a matter of individual choice. To facilitate that choice, the Father instigated a covenant that we could choose to embrace if we desired to access the Atonement, draw upon its mercy, receive shelter from the demands of justice, and be placed beyond the reach of our enemies. This covenant is called the new and everlasting covenant, and we enter it by our individual agency.
Placed Beyond Our Enemies
The Atonement makes goodness, righteousness, happiness, and salvation possible. According to Joseph Smith, salvation is the power to be placed beyond the reach of one’s enemies.[xxi] The specific enemy he spoke of was death, but, as Brother Riddle says, “The great enemy of each human being is himself, for in our weakness and selfishness we are and do evil.”[xxii] We, alone, can neither save ourselves nor fully overcome our weakness or selfishness.
Overcoming our natural selves and our enemies is made possible “only if we fully cooperate with Jesus Christ.”[xxiii] He has the ability to cleanse us completely of the stains of our evildoing and to transform us into righteous individuals who have no more desires to do evil.[xxiv] This process leads to progressively higher levels of happiness. By entering into the new and everlasting covenant for the purpose of accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a repentant person can be “rescued from being and doing evil” through the “merits and mercy of the Son of God.”[xxv]
How Mercy Appeases Justice
That mercy is a covenant is an essential truth. Every covenant or law of God is obeyed or disobeyed by individual choice. Specific blessings and consequences are associated with that choice, and either misery or happiness results. If we desire mercy, we must live the covenant associated with mercy. As we have learned, that covenant is the new and everlasting covenant, which we are required to receive in order to accept Jesus Christ and his Atonement. It is a truth that this Covenant springs from the Atonement and is the instrument by which we are justified to receive the Lord’s mercy and by which the plan of happiness is realized.
Clearly, the new and everlasting covenant activates the plan of redemption. By means of this Covenant, the Father’s children can receive celestial laws and experiment with them without being destroyed by them. By means of the Covenant, the children of God can lay hold on the blessings of the Atonement by choosing to repent, progress, obtain salvation, become like God, and inherit all that he has. This is the ultimate condition of Zion people.
The new and everlasting covenant also sets us on the defined path that leads to eternal life, gives us the authority of God, places in our hands the keys (not priesthood administrative keys) to God’s knowledge and power, and sets us up in our individual eternal kingdoms. Only the Atonement itself exceeds in glory the magnificence of the new and everlasting covenant. The two are inseparable, and both answer the end-purpose of the Father’s plan of mercy: our happiness.
Experiencing Contrasts Leads to Happiness
To lay hold on the plan of happiness, we must be presented with two contrasting revelations: (1) God and his goodness, and (2) our fallen situation. Because agency is crucial, the Lord uses contrast to motivate us to choose between these opposites.
As we have noted, there are good and bad consequences attached to God’s laws. Breaking his commandments always results in being “cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord.”[xxvi] This is misery, which Alma described as “the gall of bitterness,” and being “encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”[xxvii] On the other hand, happiness always results from being brought, through our obedience, into “the marvelous light of God.”[xxviii]
For instance, after Alma had been “racked with eternal torment” for his sins and “harrowed to the greatest degree,”[xxix] he appealed to the Savior and suddenly swung from misery to happiness. He moved from “inexpressible horror” to “exquisite and sweet”[xxx] joy, from the “pains of a damned soul” to experiencing redemption and seeing “God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels,” with his soul longing to be there.[xxxi] He exulted, “Oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold.” Then describing the contrast, “My soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain.”[xxxii]
Clearly, seeing the contrast between good and evil motivates us toward happiness. After the Lord appeared to Moses, he left him to himself and he was tempted by Satan. That contrast allowed Moses to experience the distinct difference between having the Lord and not having the Lord with him: “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” Moses also perceived the contrasting differences in glory between the Lord and Satan: “Moses looked upon Satan and said: . . . where is thy glory that I should worship thee?”[xxxiii] Now that Moses had experienced these contrasting visions, he was empowered to choose between misery and happiness. He said, “Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.”[xxxiv]
Similarly, but in reverse order, King Benjamin’s people literally collapsed when they “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.” Then, after they cried out to the Lord for mercy, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience.”[xxxv] Happiness came only after they experienced the contrast.
Similarly, and in a unique way, the Lord will offer us happiness by helping us understand who he is and showing us who and where we are. Then we, like King Benjamin’s people, might be so astonished that we cry out for mercy and deliverance. Hopefully, when we are offered deliverance, we will choose to embrace it with all our hearts.
The account of King Benjamin and his people teach us the truth that mercy, deliverance, and eternal happiness are available to us only through the new and everlasting covenant. We note that King Benjamin’s people were willing “to enter into a covenant with [their] God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he [would] command [them], all the remainder of [their] days.”[xxxvi]
Covenant-making leads to deliverance, which leads to happiness. After we have made a covenant and experienced deliverance and happiness, we will never want to return to our miserable past. Our desire now centers on the Lord sending the Holy Ghost to transform us into new creatures with new hearts. Because that process is beyond our ability, we look to Christ.
To achieve a change of heart, we must first accept Jesus Christ and his Atonement, enter into a covenant of salvation with him, and cooperate with him to the fullest extent.[xxxvii] Moreover, we must fully submit to his incomparable power and trust him as he remakes us into new creatures by planting the seeds of salvation and happiness into our souls.[xxxviii] “Thus human beings may become good and may become gods.”[xxxix]
To summarize, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost entered into a premortal covenant to save and exalt the Father’s children. A primary purpose of that covenant was that the children achieve ultimate happiness. Therefore, the Gods initiated the plan of happiness, which called for the Father to reveal the system of celestial laws that made him who he is and gave him what he has.
The Gods knew that in the process of our learning those laws, we, God’s children, would inevitably break the laws and become liable to pay severe penalties. Therefore, to mitigate the adverse effects of broken laws, the Gods initiated the Plan of Redemption, or the Plan of Mercy.
That plan called for the Father to provide a Savior to rescue us from death and to atone for the consequences of broken celestial laws. The blessings of mercy through this plan could be accessed only by law and by choice; therefore, the Father established the new and everlasting covenant. Now his children could agree to obey this new law that would provide mercy, and God in turn would agree to set aside “the demands of justice.”[xl]
Thus, justice could be satisfied, mercy could rescue and claim her own, and the children of God could progress in the Covenant until they achieved salvation, exaltation, and ultimate happiness, as the Gods had planned in the beginning.
Thus, Zion people experience unequalled happiness because they choose to embrace the Atonement by entering into and fully living the new and everlasting covenant.