Restoration: A Theological Poem in the Book of Mormon

  • Formats:
  • PDF
  • ePub
  • MOBI
  • Kindle store
  • NOOK store
  • MP3 Audio
  • Print now
  • Order Print Copy

Abstract: The distinctive Mormon conception of God makes possible a logically coherent reconciliation of the facially incompatible laws of justice and mercy. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma clearly explains how these two great laws may be reconciled through the atonement and repentance that the atonement makes possible. Alma artfully illustrates the relationship between justice and mercy in a carefully crafted theological poem.

An important distinctive feature of Mormon theology is its conception of God as a being who is finite and subject to natural law.1 Among other things, this distinctive understanding makes it possible to give a logically coherent account of what justice and mercy are and of how these facially incompatible laws can be reconciled. It provides a framework for fully understanding why both grace and works are necessary for salvation. Though it is sometimes suggested that this finite [Page 240]conception of God was not part of early Mormonism,2 it was actually present from the beginning of the Restoration as an important element in the teachings of Alma in the Book of Mormon.

Understanding as he did that God was subject to natural law, Alma also deeply understood the nature of justice and mercy and beautifully illustrated their relationship in an artful theological poem. Justice and mercy are reconciled, he taught, when human agents choose to respond to the atonement by repenting of their sins and becoming perfect in Christ. These agents then justly receive the natural consequences of their state of being — exaltation. While other Mormon scripture provides supplementary information that clarifies aspects of the relationship between God and man and justice and mercy, these key concepts in Mormon theology are nowhere more thoughtfully and artfully discussed than in the writings of Alma.

Justice as Natural Law

Alma’s thoughts on these topics are expressed in a theologically profound message to his wayward son Corianton. The meaning of justice, in particular, is more thoroughly discussed by Alma than by any other ancient prophet. Almost one-fourth of all occurrences of the word justice in the standard works appear in Alma’s relatively brief message to his son.3 In this teaching, Alma responds to Corianton’s belief “that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery” (Alma 42:1). Alma helps Corianton understand that the punishment of sins [Page 241]is inevitable. It is required by justice, the most fundamental, inescapable law of the universe.

To illustrate the importance of justice, Alma emphasizes that it is prior to and more basic even than the existence of God. Three times Alma mentions that if God were to abrogate justice, he would cease to be God (Alma 42:13, 22, 25), a statement that has profound theological implications. The most important implication is that justice is a kind of natural law (cf. Alma 42:12, 13) and that God is God because he is in full harmony with that natural law. He has no discretion in the application of justice.4 The universe is not his ex nihilo creation and creature that he can change at will. His power flows from his complete acceptance of and harmony with antecedent reality, not from ontological priority to all other existing things. Thus, God does not have the ability to save his children by violating justice. Nor does he have the desire to do so. Though he weeps when we willfully sin (Moses 7:28-40), he honors both our agency and justice by letting us experience the consequences of our actions.

So what, exactly, is justice? The short answer is that it is causation. Reality is substantially defined by a set of inescapable causal relationships. Causes have inevitable effects. Acts have inevitable consequences. Alma repeatedly emphasizes this point. Justice dictates that our actions determine our destiny: “evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish — good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; [Page 242]just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful” (Alma 41:13). We cannot blame God if bad consequences are visited upon us. What we get is what we have chosen to receive by acting as we do. The only way we can have different consequences is to act differently.

In addition to being unable to change the network of causes and effects that we call justice, God is unable to change the intelligence or choosing essence of each human being. Like justice, intelligence is uncreated: “intelligence … was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). This locus of choice at the heart of each of us is coeternal with God. He can expand the scope of our choices and our capacity to choose by clothing our intelligence in a spiritual and then a physical body. But he has neither the desire nor the ability to dictate what we choose. Our innate, uncreated, eternal intelligence is the wellspring of all our choices. We thus play an important role as co-creators of the world in which we and others live. The natural consequence of righteous choices is an expansion of the range of options open to us and others; the natural consequence of wickedness is a contraction of the set of choices available to us and others around us.

This doctrine also has great theological importance. It provides the only fully satisfactory explanation for the problem of evil.5 And it further defines the ontological context, the set of constraints, within which God must work as he labors to save his spirit children. He cannot directly affect our nature. The only option open to him is to somehow change our nurture. And a change is desperately needed. In combination, justice and uncreated human nature put all of us, through an inexorable chain of cause and effect, on a course that leads to our inevitable [Page 243]damnation. Defects in our character ensure that we will sin, and our love for and fear of God ensures that we cannot bear to be in his presence as sinners and must, therefore, be separated from him forever to minimize our pain (Alma 12:13-15).

The Original Lie

Ironically, Corianton, like many others, seems to have been influenced by his father’s most important theological opponent, Nehor, who taught “that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4). This claim that all will be saved is not new. It is the original plan of Satan that we rejected in the preexistence. There Satan promised, “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1). Nehor and Corianton are belatedly embracing what they did not accept in their first estate — Satan’s plan for the salvation of humanity.

This plan shows up repeatedly in the Book of Mormon. It is the “eat, drink, and be merry” doctrine mentioned earlier by Nephi: “God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 28:8). It is the view of Lamoni and his people, who “believed in a Great Spirit [but] supposed that whatsoever they did was right” (Alma 18:5). It is the false gospel the masses embrace in the time of Samuel the Lamanite: “But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth, … ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet” (Helaman 13:27).

Unsurprisingly, this idea has many seductive modern variants as well that Mormon may have foreseen and sought [Page 244]to address through Alma’s message to Corianton, e.g., the doctrine Dietrick Bonhoeffer has called “cheap grace” — the popular Christian belief that a single act of confessing Christ saves one regardless of what one subsequently chooses to do.6 Or the teachings of sophisticated pastors (e.g., Richard John Neuhaus), popular pastors (e.g., Rob Bell), and Christian philosophers (e.g., John Hick), who suggest that God’s infinite love ultimately guarantees all will be saved.7 There is an atheist variant of the idea: no matter what people choose to do in this life, all end up exactly the same — dead; so do as you please (Alma 30:18). There is even a Mormon variant: progression from the telestial to the celestial kingdom is possible, and all God’s children will ultimately be saved in the celestial kingdom regardless of what choices they have made during probation in their “second estate,” the period that extends from birth to final judgment, resurrection, and assignment to a kingdom of glory.8

[Page 245]The perverse consequences of these ideas are apparent if we follow the logic of the Mormon variant. If murderers and adulterers and all who engage in the most vile of sins are guaranteed salvation, these sinners might seem to be the most wise of human beings, for it is they who have chosen to have the full spectrum of possible human experiences. They will plumb the deepest depths of hell, suffering even as the Savior did both body and spirit (D&C 19: 16-18) and yet, nevertheless, ultimately taste the exquisite joy of the celestial kingdom. The sweetness of heaven will be for them all the more sweet for having also, like Christ, fully experienced eternal damnation (2 Nephi 2:11; Alma 36:21). By contrast, the experience of the righteous who quickly and fully repented of their sins on earth will be stunted and incomplete, their joy less exquisite for being less starkly framed by the misery of eternal damnation. Of course, it is hard to imagine that any doctrine could be more damnable than this, more out of harmony with the spirit and letter of all scripture or more akin to the plan of Satan in the preexistence.

God rejects all the variants of this Satanic plan because they would “destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). The way in which these plans would destroy human agency is often misunderstood. It is sometimes suggested that Satan would have deprived humanity of agency by depriving them of choice. He would have compelled every action and assured that it was good, thus guaranteeing the return of all humanity to heaven. Much more seductive and clearly popular is the false doctrine Nephi and Samuel mention and that Nehor peddles — that one can do as one pleases and still be guaranteed salvation in the kingdom of God.

Greg Wright and Terryl Givens9 demonstrate that this doctrine which flatters and indulges also destroys agency, [Page 246]because all actions ultimately produce the same consequences. If all of our choices lead to the same end, we no longer determine our own destiny. We have agency, power to choose meaningfully for ourselves, only if our actions have important consequences. Alma profoundly understood this principle and clearly taught it to Corianton. The eternal reward we ultimately get, he insisted, will be determined by our own desires and actions (Alma 41:3-5).

So agency and justice are linked. We cannot choose for ourselves unless our actions have important and differentiated consequences. Satan, who is the father of all the false gospels mentioned above, would abrogate the justice that delivers these consequences. He is a romantic who lives in a fantasy world10 in which his personal will is sovereign, in which actions can be severed from consequences if he wills it so.11 His impossible plan was rejected by God, who is, by contrast, the ultimate realist. It was also rejected by the two-thirds of God’s spirit children who understood that they could never comfortably return to their Father’s presence as a sinner (Alma 12:14-15). These God-fearing spirits accepted the alternative plan, which fully acknowledged the claims of justice and the inherent [Page 247]weaknesses of the two-thirds — weaknesses that would justly condemn them — but provided a merciful way for them to repent, keep commandments that prescribe God’s manner of living, and thus justly deserve to live like God in the beloved presence of God (Abraham 3:23-28). But Satan has not given up and continues to persuade many people, including Corianton for a time, to believe on earth the doctrine that they rejected in heaven.

Mercy Catalyzes New Choices and Consequences

While the defining characteristic of the universe is causal justice, God’s defining characteristic is infinite love and the mercy that is its fruit. Love we may instinctively understand, but what is mercy? Mercy exists when one person provides for another to receive an outcome that is better than the just result the person him or herself deserves. Thus mercy seems to be logically incompatible with justice.

Fortunately, justice and mercy can be reconciled by atonement and repentance, which are, in turn, facilitated by a certain temporal slippage that separates act and consequence in the natural execution of justice. While the justice that constitutes natural law ensures that in the long run “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10) and righteousness is never misery, it is a matter of commonplace observation that in the short run the wicked are sometimes happy and the righteous sometimes miserable.12 Consequence doesn’t always immediately follow act.

This temporal lag between act and consequence is critically important for the full flowering of agency. Without it, we would be like rats in a maze which are controlled by operant [Page 248]conditioning, with instant punishment for bad and instant rewards for good behavior. This lag is also critically important for the possibility of atonement and repentance, for it creates what Alma calls in his teaching of Corianton “a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4). The catalyst for that repentance is the event we call the atonement.

As Adam S. Miller notes in an implicit discussion of justice and mercy, we are all embedded in a temporal configuration in which there is “an inexorable movement from cause to effect to effect. Time appears flat, two-dimensional, and determined.… Both the present and the future groan under the fully decisive weight of the past.” But God mercifully intervenes to disrupt this homogeneous flow of cause and effect with an event, the atonement, which reconfigures history to include “not only those actualized possibilities … but the unrepresented wealth of possibilities that have failed to be actualized in the past and that appear to be unactualizable in the present or future. An event marks the moment in which these present but unrepresented possibilities break up a situation’s apparently smooth chain of cause and effect, and reveal the possibility of the previously impossible.… As a result of this recovery, an event can momentarily shock time and arrest the chain of causality, making room for something new.”13

Our choices and the causal process called justice lead inexorably to damnation. While temporal lag has delayed that consequence, our final destination has been determined and is sure. But God mercifully intervenes and shocks time. He interrupts the inexorable causal sequence by interposing an uncaused event. Using the temporal lag between act and consequence, he redirects the suffering that will be caused by our sins from us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who voluntarily receives it. Christ’s suffering has no just cause. It is motivated [Page 249]by love. It is commensurate with our sins but is not their just consequence, because Christ himself is sinless. The existence of this event makes the universe a different place and, as Miller suggests, opens up new pathways and destinies for any who are affected by it. Thus, with the nurture of the atonement, some who by nature would have been lost may be mercifully saved.

To be saved, one must respond to this new fact which God and Christ have created. The hardhearted do not respond.14 When they hear about or contemplate the suffering of Christ on their behalf, they are unmoved and are thus unsaved by Christ’s act of love. For them, the causal chain is undisrupted, so they must suffer for their own sins. But some are deeply touched. As they contemplate what their Savior was willing to do for them, their heart is broken and their spirit is contrite (2 Nephi 2:7). The enabling power of the atonement that is rooted in their deep spiritual and emotional response to Christ’s generous act enlarges their capacity to keep God’s commandments.15 They are born again as a child of Christ who has “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). They repent of past behavior. They give up their sins and, as they remain engaged with Christ, shine “more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). Repentance, Alma stresses in his teaching of Corianton, reconciles justice and mercy (Alma 42:13). Made perfect by their response to the atonement — this merciful new fact created by the love of God and Christ — they escape the just consequences they, of themselves, would have received [Page 250]and receive the just reward of the perfect person they have now become through grace-enabled repentance — exaltation in the kingdom of God. Through mercy, they become a mirror image of God and Christ.

Alma’s Theological Poem

Alma expresses these ideas about justice and mercy succinctly and beautifully in a chiastic poem that is embedded in his message to Corianton. The beauties of modern poems tend to be found in their imagery. The beauties of this poem are architectural and theological. The structure of the poem is artful, and the poem constitutes a kind of extended theological metaphor.

A The meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again

B evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish —

C good for that which is good;

D righteous for that which is righteous

E Just for that which is just;

F merciful for that which is merciful.

F’ Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful

unto your brethren;

E’ deal justly,

D’ judge righteously,

C’ and do good continually;

B’ and if ye do all these things

A’ then shall ye receive your reward;

F” yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you

again;

E” ye shall have justice restored unto you again;

D” ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you

again;

C” and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

B” For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be

restored;

A” therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

[Page 251]

Alma 41:12-1516

The most important structural and theological elements of this poem are the A lines and the F lines, the outer and inner boundaries of the poem. The A lines articulate the principle of cosmic justice, the eternal, natural, causal law of the universe that Alma calls restoration. This law bounds and encompasses all that exists. The F lines are where we find God, whose defining characteristic is mercy, which is inseparably linked to the atonement. As Alma tells Corianton in 42:15, “mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made.” God, mercy, and atonement, like all other things, must exist and act within the bounds of cosmic justice. Nothing exists outside those bounds but empty fantasy. This truth is reflected in the structure of the poem.

The cosmic justice and divine mercy that bound the poem are both associated with three contrasting moral attributes. Associated with cosmic justice and mentioned twice in line B are evil, carnality, and devilishness. Associated with mercy and mentioned twice in lines C through E are goodness, righteousness, and personal justice. Each good attribute associated with mercy is a kind of opposite of its corresponding bad attribute associated with cosmic justice. Thus good and evil are opposites, as are righteousness and carnality. Devilishness and personal justice also stand as opposites if we remember that the devil, Satan, is defined primarily by his desire to abrogate justice by separating acts from consequences.

[Page 252]The antichrist figures who have influenced Corianton — Nehor and perhaps Korihor — deny that any merciful atonement will later occur. Alma’s poem reveals what would happen if they were right, if there were only justice without mercy. Thus the poem contains an alternative inner boundary and pivot point, the B lines, which show the behavior and destiny of any human being who ignores or rejects the atonement. In this ABBABA poem where there is justice but no mercy, all are condemned and lost.

A The meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again

B evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish —

B’ and if ye do all these things

A’ then shall ye receive your reward;

B” For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be

restored;

A” therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

Fallen humanity is “carnal, sensual, and devilish,” Alma tells Corianton (Alma 42:10). If they are left to themselves, if there is no merciful atonement, cosmic justice restores to them what they send out, evil for evil, carnal for carnal, devilish for devilish. Their own nature and behavior are their destiny. Restoration condemns them and justifies them not at all.

But if the atonement is not denied, if the C through F lines are not excised, an alternative destiny is open for humanity. Line B’, “if ye do all these things,” has dual reference. It can refer either to its structural equivalent in line B, “evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish” or to the lines that immediately precede it, F’ through C‘: “you are merciful unto your brethren, deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually.” We all get to choose which of those two patterns of [Page 253]behavior will characterize us. This choice is open to us because of the merciful atonement.

John Welch notes the special importance of the center lines in a chiasm: “An emphatic focus on the center can be employed by a skillful composer to elevate the importance of a central concept or to dramatize a radical shift of events as the turning point.”17 Thus it is no accident that mercy lies at the heart of this poem. Mercy, as embodied in the love of God and the atonement of Christ, is the turning point, the event that radically changes the universe and shifts the course of any life that is open to it. The importance of mercy is reflected in the poem’s structure. All good things human beings experience or do flow from it.

The three sets of lines that mention good things each present a different aspect of the attributes they mention. In lines C, D, E, and F, each attribute is mentioned twice and is presented as a kind of Platonic abstraction: goodness, righteousness, justice, and mercy as such, the attributes as they are fully, perfectly, and eternally embodied by God. The sequence of those lines may suggest that mercy is the product of the Goodness, Righteousness, and the personal Justice of God, which all precede it.

In lines F’, E’, D’, and C’ the perfect, divine attributes mentioned in F, E, D, and C are mirrored in the life of the redeemed disciple of Christ that Alma is urging Corianton to become. But this time, they begin with mercy and flow out of it. Thus the perfect mercy of line F makes possible and requires of Christ’s followers concrete acts of mercy for fellow human beings.18 Through the enabling power of the atonement, the [Page 254]disciple must deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually, thus becoming a mirror image of his Savior.

Alma’s artistic skill is most manifest in how he handles the temporal lag between act and consequence that is so essential to the exercise of agency, to the existence of a probationary state, and to the disruption by the atonement of the inexorable movement from cause to effect that ends in damnation. This lag and the associated reconciliation of justice and mercy are signified by the dual returns in the poem.

As noted above, each admirable attribute is mentioned twice in its initial Platonic or divine presentation. But as it is mirrored in the lives of individual human beings, the dual appearances of goodness, righteousness, justice, and mercy split. Each appears one time in lines F’ through C’, which describe acts of a once carnal and devilish person who has been touched by Christ’s atonement and born again. Corianton, “my son,” is a stand in for all who now imitate the example of their Redeemer. The mercy, justice, righteousness, and goodness mentioned here are acts of faith, uncoupled with any immediate reward. The enabling power of the atonement has created a new person on this new path that leads to perfection. The word continually in line C’ may signify the completion of the process of sanctification that makes the disciple, through grace, a perfect copy of his or her master.

Cosmic justice is inescapable and asserts itself in the lagged second return of lines F” through C”, where each of the divine attributes is again mentioned one time. In this second return, justice and mercy are reconciled. The person who has been made merciful, just, righteous, and good through the atonement now receives the just consequences of his or her actions. The word [Page 255]restored (rewarded in C”), which signifies cosmic justice, is coupled with each divine attribute. Perfected in Christ, being one who now sends out only that which is good, the disciple now has mercy, justice, righteousness, and goodness restored to him again as the just consequence of his actions and being. The lag makes it possible for us who were once sinners to receive the just consequences of our new, redeemed, perfected selves.

Line B” also makes this point. It initially echoes B’ both in substance and in function. The first half of the line, “that which ye do send out,” has a dual reference to the wicked behaviors in line B and to the alternative righteous behaviors in lines F” through C”. But the second half of B” contains the word restored, just as lines F” through C” do. For the unrighteous, this restored invokes the justice visited in line B, and for the righteous, it caps the reconciliation of justice and mercy in F” through C”. If “that which ye do send out” is the righteous behavior of lines F” through C”, then mercy, justice, righteousness, and goodness “shall return unto you again, and be restored.” If “that which you do send out” is the evil, carnality, and devilishness of line B, then that is what will be restored to you.

If we think of justice as an abstract principle that requires balance in a kind of cosmic accounting ledger, the balance is achieved because the punishment of Christ is commensurate with our sin. But justice doesn’t seem to be an abstract principle. It describes, rather, the concrete causal linkages between real acts and real consequences of those acts. Christ makes us concretely worthy of exaltation rather than damnation by enabling us to repent, and thus justly merit exaltation.

It is worth noting that in the poem, mercy is doubly framed by justice. As discussed above, the A lines make cosmic justice, restoration, the overarching context within which all things occur. But mercy is more intimately framed by the personal justice of God in E and of humanity in E’ and E”. In our interactions with the strong and good, we must be [Page 256]just to be worthy of heaven. Justice is a personal attribute of exalted beings. In our interactions with the weak and sinful, we must be merciful and hope that as the mirror image of our Redeemer, we may help catalyze a new capacity for strength and righteousness in our fellow fallen children of God.

Conclusion

In his teaching of his son Corianton, Alma offers the most profound theological reflections in scripture on the nature of justice and mercy. In his carefully crafted chiastic poem, he succinctly and beautifully expresses the essence of the gospel. In the commentary that immediately follows the poem, Alma calls the gospel “the plan of mercy” (Alma 42: 15), then in the next verse “the plan of happiness” (Alma 42: 16). The structural equation of mercy and happiness suggests, as does the poem, that the merciful atonement of Christ is the font of all human happiness.

Insightful comments of Dr. Peter Eubanks improved this article.

1. Eugene England, “The Weeping God of Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35/1 (2002): 63–80; Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965); Max Nolan, “Materialism and the Mormon Faith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 22/4 (1989): 62–75; Blake T. Ostler, Of God and Gods, Exploring Mormon Thought (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2008); B. H. Roberts, Joseph Smith the Prophet–Teacher: A Discourse (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1908); Garland E. Tickemyer, “Joseph Smith and Process Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 17/3 (1984): 75–85.

2. Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology,” Sunstone, July–August 1980, 24–33; Mark Thomas, “Scholarship and the Book of Mormon” in The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 72–73.

3. Alma chapters 41 and 42 contain 24 percent of all occurrences of the word justice while being just .13 percent of the chapters in the standard works.

4. The atonement paradox of Trinitarian Christianity inheres in the fact that God is the ground for all that exists and thus has complete discretion on whether suffering will be demanded. It is He who requires punishment for sin and He who — contravening all ordinary notions of justice — chooses to bear the punishment in the place of those who have earned it. The atonement thus appears to be an exercise in masochism. If, as in Mormonism, the just requirement that punishment follow sin is grounded outside of God, this paradox and the masochism disappear. For a good summary of traditional theories of the atonement, see Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, trans. by A. G. Herbert ((London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1937).

5. Truman G. Madsen, Eternal Man, (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1966); David L. Paulsen, “Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil,” BYU Studies, 39/1 (2000): 53–65. Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps, (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012), 52–54.

6. Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 43–56.

7. Richard John Neuhaus, “Will All Be Saved,” First Things (August/September 2001); Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2011); John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 326.

8. The idea of progression between post-mortal kingdoms is a common theme of some Mormon speculative theologians. It is sometimes coupled with the logically related idea of universal salvation. (Cf. supportive opinions of Dan Wotherspoon, Jared Anderson, and Danielle Moody in Mormon Matters, “LDS Salvation Theology and Practices,” podcast 108, http://mormonmatters.org/2012/06/28/107-109-lds-salvation-theology-and-practices/). Terryl and Fiona Givens also entertain the idea of universal or near universal salvation in a chapter titled “None of Them Is Lost” in The God Who Weeps, 77–102. While D&C 138 makes it clear that repentance may continue in the post mortal Spirit World, scripture suggests that exaltation requires faithfulness during one’s second estate (e.g., Abraham 3: 26). This probationary period extends beyond this life but, nevertheless, has a finite duration. Like the first estate (which revealed that Satan and his followers were eternally unwilling to do what one must do to be exalted), the second estate adequately reveals the eternal preferences of all who qualified to experience it through faithfulness in their pre-mortal first estate.

9. Greg Wright, Satan’s War on Free Agency (Orem, UT: Granite Publishing, 2003); Terryl Givens, “Agency and Atonement,” Meridian Magazine, Wednesday, March 9, 2011; http://www.ldsmag.com/article/7616; Givens and Givens, The God Who Weeps, 91–92.

10. Adam S. Miller sagely observes that when we escape into fantasy, we replicate Satan’s error and sin:

“Something is given that I do not want…. A sinful response to what is given would involve my withdrawal from this difficult present moment. As a natural man, I would naturally take refuge from the difficulty in fantasy, memories, distractions…. However, to withdraw in this way would be sinful. Whatever my preferences, the present is imposed unconditionally, absolutely, and to flee its givenness … is to choose the path of the undead rather than the path of life.” Adam S. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), p. 15.

11. Blake, Shelley, Byron, and various less prominent Romantic poets admired Milton’s Satan and thought him preferable to Milton’s God. See Adriana Craciun, “Romantic Satanism and the Rise of Nineteenth-Century Women’s Poetry,” New Literary History 34/4 (2003): 699–721.

12. While the wicked are probably not happy in the most profound sense of that word, even in the short run, they are at least happy in the ordinary senses of the word, just as the righteous are sometimes unhappy in the ordinary sense of that word.

13. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines, pp. 77-78.

14. All human beings are touched by Christ’s generous act at least to the extent of coming into the world with the light of Christ (Moroni 7:16-18). But the hardhearted do not fully receive the atonement and are thus not fully saved by it (D&C 88:33).

15. The theory proposed here on how the atonement works is called the “moral influence theory.” It is the atonement theory that was most widely, indeed, almost exclusively believed by early Christians. See A. J. Wallace and R. D. Rusk, Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation (New Zealand: Bridgehead, 2011), 250–271.

16. Other readers have construed the structure of this poem essentially as I do here but have not discussed in detail how the structure communicates meaning. See for example John W. Welch, ”Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structure, Analyses, Exegesis, ed. John W. Welch (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981), 207; H. Clay Gorton, A New Witness for Christ: Chiastic Structures in the Book of Mormon, (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1997), 209; Jeff Lindsay at http://www.jefflindsay.com/chiasmus.shtml.

17. Welch, ”Introduction,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity, 10.

18. Christ breaks the causal chain of just retribution by voluntarily suffering the injury that is the consequence of our sins without resenting us or seeking retribution against us, though we caused his suffering. The dominant theme of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is that to be redeemed, we must likewise forgive the trespasses of others against us. In the Celestial Kingdom, we will be surrounded by former sinners who have repented. We must join Christ in mercifully breaking the causal chain that is justice by voluntarily and joyfully forgoing retribution against those who have injured us but then have repented and been born again as one who no longer commits such sins.

Posted in Article and tagged , , , , on . Bookmark the permalink.
mm

About Val Larsen

Born and raised in Moreland, Idaho, Val Larsen earned a BA in Philosophy and English from BYU, an MA and PhD in English from the University of Virginia, and a PhD in Marketing from Virginia Tech. While teaching at Virginia Tech, Truman State University, and, currently, at James Madison University, he has published articles on Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, the Book of Mormon, and a wide variety of marketing topics.

22 thoughts on “Restoration: A Theological Poem in the Book of Mormon

  1. Val

    I enjoyed your article. Thanks. You wrote, “It is the original plan of Satan that we rejected in the preexistence. There Satan promised, “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1).” I have thought much about this verse. Here are my conclusions. I am curious to get your take on this.

    1. Satan is a liar from the beginning (D&C 93:25) and the father of all lies (Moses 4:4).

    2. The only person who confirms that Satan’s plan was to “redeem all mankind” is Satan himself (Moses 4:1). But, he never said how he planned to do this.

    3. God and Jehovah also desired that all mankind would be redeemed, “that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.” (Moses 5:9)

    4. God tells us that Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). But, this is not the same thing as seeking the redemption of all mankind. Somehow we tend to link these two statements together. Nor are we given a timeline for these events. Satan seeking to destroy our agency could have come after his proposal was rejected by the Father. I cannot see a merciful Father casting down one of his sons simply for making a proposal, especially if the proposal could have benefited his other children.

    5. Now my conclusions. I do not believe that it was ever Satan’s intent to “redeem all mankind.” Being a liar, I believe that he said what he thought God wanted to hear. Since he knew that God loved his children – a feeling apparently absent from Satan – and wanted them all to be redeemed, he said what was expedient for him to gain power. So, I would refer to Satan’s plan as his “purported plan.” What was his real plan? I am not sure, but I am fairly confident that at its core was a power grab, which inevitably involved revoking our agency – the capacity to act – which God had given to us.

    • Here are two articles with some thoughts on this matter. Both articles basically come to the conclusion that of the four things required for agency to exist:

      1. Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed;
      2. Opposites must exist—good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong—that is, there must be opposition, one force pulling one way and another pulling the other;
      3. A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who are to enjoy the agency, that is, they must know the differences between the opposites; and
      4. An unfettered power of choice must prevail.

      Satan sought to destroy the agency of man by eliminating number 1 by overthrowing God and making himself the lawgiver.

      http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-11-number-1-2010/war-heaven-and-satan-s-continuing-battle-power
      http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-12-number-3-2011/liar-beginning

    • Loren,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Here is my response to your points. In point 4, you suggest that destroying agency and redeeming all mankind may not be related and in point 5 you suggest Satan was lying and never intended to redeem everyone. It is possible that all the things said about Satan and the War in Heaven are disconnected fragments, that everything said about him is tainted by him being a liar. But we generally rely upon Occam ’s razor when evaluating theories, because integrated theories that logically connect many disparate facts have greater aesthetic appeal and greater utility (being more intelligible and generative of new, logically related insights). The wide use of Occam’s Razor as a metric for measuring theory value may merely reflect limitations of the finite human mind rather than reality, but since I have a finite mind, I value the metric and use it. So I prefer a theory that logically connects and affirms the destruction of agency, the proposed redemption of all humanity, Satan’s lying, his desire to have all glory, the expulsion of a third part of the hosts of heaven, and other associated facts. In my view, the theory explicitly and implicitly developed in this article integrates all these facts. Let me expound more fully on the theory, which I couldn’t fully develop in this article. The length of the comment here illustrates why this material couldn’t be incorporated above.

      As noted in the article, I believe Satan is an egotistical Romantic who suffers massive delusions of grandeur. He petulantly equates what he wants with what should be and is. Unlike God, who is the ultimate realist, he vainly imagines a universe that entirely reflects and responds to his will. For reasons Adam S. Miller discusses very cogently in the passage quoted in footnote 10 and the larger essay from which it is taken, this fantasizing is sinful. It is willfully self-deceptive. However much Satan’s towering ego affirms his fantasy and kicks against the pricks of reality, at some deep, more authentic level, he must know his fantasy is a lie. So when he attempted to sell the idea that he could save everyone regardless of their behavior, he was lying. But it is a lie that flows out of his grandiose character and out of his defiant relationship with God and with reality.

      Let’s explore his relationship with God, and ours, in the preexistence. We don’t have much information about our first estate, but there is one well-established fact about our post-mortal existence that has huge implications for the preexistence and the War in Heaven. Scriptural accounts of the last judgment make it very clear that no sinful human being can bear to be in the presence of God (e.g., 1 Nephi 15: 33 – 34; 2 Nephi 9: 46; Mosiah 2: 38; Mosiah 27: 31; Alma 36: 14 – 15; Rev 6: 16 – 17). This truth is especially well expressed in Alma 12: 14 – 15. In the presence of God, humanity is stripped of all sinful self-deception. “We shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness” (2 Nephi 9: 14). Thus, for sinners, the command “depart from me” (Matt 25: 41) is received as a merciful release from the terrible presence of God, the last place an unredeemed human sinner wants to be. The wicked “are their own judges” (Alma 41: 7) and of their own volition flee from God while, at the same time, grieving that they have chosen to die spiritually by separating themselves from Him.

      What sinners will feel when they return to God’s presence during the last judgment is precisely what they would have felt had they sinned while still under God’s “all-searching eye” (2 Nephi 9: 44) in the preexistence. It follows that any who will be unable to bear the presence of God as sinners at the last judgment were likewise unable to commit sin while still in his presence prior to the first judgment. In other words, no human being could then sin. Alma affirms this truth, saying that we had to leave “the presence of the Lord . . . to follow after [our] own will” (Alma 42: 7). In order to fully discover and exercise our own will, we who were God-fearing had to fully leave God’s presence. So we came to earth with our memories of God blocked by the veil.

      Though no one born on this earth was or (with very few exceptions) will be capable of defying God while in his glorious presence, Satan and a third part of God’s spirit children were so constituted that they could defy God face to face. This difference in character was the great dividing line in the pre-existence, the determinant at the first judgment of whether spirit children had or had not kept their first estate. (Sons of Perdition end up with Satan in the eternities instead of in a kingdom of glory because, on this earth, having a perfect knowledge of him, they defy him face to face and, thus, behave here as Satan and his followers behaved there. They thereby revoke their decision in the preexistence and forfeit what they gained by keeping their first estate).

      When God rejected Satan’s plan to “redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4: 1) because it didn’t square with reality and was, therefore, impossible, two thirds of God’s spirit children humbly accepted the divine decision. But Satan and his third part brazenly defied God and insisted that the plan of universal salvation be adopted. Their brazen defiance of God and their support for universal salvation were probably linked.

      As I note in the article citing Greg Wright and Terryl Givens, Lucifer would have destroyed agency by separating choices from consequences. His plan was to let us do whatever we wanted while guaranteeing our return to heaven regardless of what we chose. If all our choices lead to the same outcome, human agency is destroyed. We have the power to choose a destiny for ourselves only if our choices have important consequences.

      Just as we can more deeply understand our feelings while in God’s presence and our limited capacity to commit sin in the pre-existence based on the more detailed descriptions of the last judgment, so we can better understand the plan Satan proposed in the pre-existence from the more extensive information we have of his false doctrines here on the earth. I cite in the article the various minions of Satan who teach the popular idea that one can do as one pleases and still be saved, e.g., Nehor, the eat drink and be merry line, cheap grace, the popular doctrine Samuel the Lamanite mentions. The fact that this seems to be one of Satan’s most consistent and popular lies on earth is pretty good evidence that it was the popular plan he proposed in the preexistence.

      In the preexistence, this doctrine Satan pushes so aggressively here on earth would have been appealing to the third part of God’s spirit children who were comfortable being in his presence while defying his will. Satan’s plan would have permitted them to follow their own will while on earth and then return without consequence to dwell with God as brazen sinners, a relationship that, apparently, would not have troubled them. But since heaven would have ceased to be heaven if filled with this kind of sinful narcissists (1 Nephi 15: 33), Satan and his brazen third were forced to depart the presence of God (D&C 29: 36; Rev 12: 3 – 9). This ejection was just because the ejected third were perfectly informed of God’s goodness and his will by the ultimate sign, his presence. To defy God when one has perfect knowledge is especially depraved. As Alma says, “how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that … only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression” (Alma 32: 17 – 19).

      For the two thirds of God’s spirit children who could not defy him face to face, Satan’s plan held no attraction. Unable to be in God’s presence as sinners, they would have been irrevocably excluded from heaven by their own God-fearing nature if Satan’s plan had been adopted. After defying God by following their own wicked will on earth, they could never again have lived comfortably in heaven under the gaze of his all searching eye.

      Thus, those of us who could not defy God while in his presence were caught on the horns of a dilemma. Further self discovery, further spiritual development was not possible for us if we remained in heaven. The scope of our agency was circumscribed by the intimidating presence of our beloved Father. We had to leave his protective presence to choose for ourselves and become who we truly were. But having left the presence of God, we would become the fallen, sinful beings we are in and of ourselves, beings who could never again live comfortably with God. So we faced an impossible choice: remain with God in a state of blessed damnation, unable to grow or develop, as beings who were derivatively and inauthentically righteous or leave heaven, gain the power to choose, inevitably choose sin, then die the spiritual death of permanent separation from our Father in Heaven.

      We were saved from this dilemma, this impossible choice, by the mercy of Christ that is discussed in the article and illustrated in the poem. It lets us leave God’s presence but then voluntarily reenter it by coming to Christ and being purged of sin as we stay engaged with this Divine being. The presence of Christ protects us from ourselves and empowers us to reject sin just as the presence of the Father did in our pre-mortal state. But this time, we are placed in the saving presence by our own act rather than by an act of God. We have freely chosen to be with him and, through his merciful, gracious moral influence on us, like him. If we receive Christ and his atonement, we are able justly and comfortably to reenter God’s presence and live with Him as exalted beings.

      So in response to your 5th point, I think Satan was inauthentically sincere about his plan. His plan was impossible—contravened cosmic justice—but he doesn’t acknowledge the reality that contravenes his will. He has lied to himself (and probably knows it deep down) but is so enamored of his own fantasies that he believes them in certain respects. And his inauthentic belief has made him a powerful salesman of his false ideas both in the preexistence and here on earth.

      Though I have probably not expressed them all that clearly, the various parts of this analysis seem to me to fit together as an integrated, logical whole.

      • Val

        Thanks for your response. However, I think that you are far too kind to Satan by viewing him as a frustrated romantic. I see him as sinister, merciless, and the antithesis of God in every way. Just my opinion. I agree in principle with Ockham’s razor, and that is why I believe as I do about Satan. Whether he is a romantic or not I do not know, but I do know that he is a liar. With that as a foundation, I should not believe anything he says unless validated by a third party. That seems to be the simplest and most obvious approach.

        • Loren,

          I seem to have a dimmer view of most of the Romantics than you do, so we probably don’t disagree all that much. Satan is vicious and the Romantics who admired Milton’s Satan (as mentioned in footnote 11) were foolish to do so. Adam Miller (footnote 10) sagely shows how much serious sin is inherent in Romantic fantasies. They are by no means innocent. This helps explain why engrossing video games can be so spiritually debilitating and why apostles have warned us against squandering our time and corrupting our soul by escaping into these fantasy worlds where the immutable laws of reality do not apply, where murder and mayhem do no lasting harm. Movies and literature are likewise often dangerous. If these works of art reflect true principles, they have great potential to train us to be good. But Satan seems to be the majority shareholder in most of the businesses that produce these cultural products, so the worlds they embed us in do not show the real, nasty consequences of unrighteous actions. That evasion of reality defines Romanticism for me. It makes most works of modern Romantics imitations of the dangerous false reality where sin has no consequences that Satan tried to sell us in the premortal world.

  2. Beautiful. Another great example of the depth within many Book of Mormon passages that completely escape most readers. This is a book that begs us to dig in, ponder, and explore. The craftsmanship and inspiration behind it keep yielding treasures. Thanks for digging into this one. It would be interesting to translate it back into a Semitic language and understand if there might be additional wordplays or other poetic tools that might have been part of Alma’s original message. Sometimes they show up still in the text.

    • John,

      Thanks for posting the two articles. Both are good, but I especially enjoyed the first one. It makes the same point as the Wright and Givens articles I cite in the paper. This article is additional evidence of an emerging consensus that Satan would have destroyed agency by separating actions from consequences, not by compelling good behavior. During the Cold War, Satan was cast as a kind of communist commissar who would use compulsion to violate agency. The idea that he was an antinomian libertine is more consistent with the message he everywhere seems to peddle. The first article you link adds good examples (beyond those in my paper) of Satan pushing the idea that we can do as we please and still be saved. And the citations of Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, etc., demonstrate that this understanding of the War in Heaven is not new. So thanks for the link.

      While I know you cite good authority for your point 1 that laws must exist which are ordained by an Omipotent power, I believe there are reasons to reject half of that formulation. It is true that laws must exist, but there need not be an Omnipotent lawgiver to have laws. There are two broad kinds of law: legislated law and natural law. A legislated law exists because some authorized legislator says it is so. Natural law merely describes reality. I am convinced that the law of justice is a natural, not a legislated law. This is an important assumption implicit in the article. Its truth is apparent from the fact that God cannot violate the law of justice or he would cease to be God (Alma 42: 22). If the law of justice were law by virtue of his legislative decree, he could abrogate it simply by issuing a new decree. If the law is a natural law—as argued in the article—then he cannot change it. He must adapt his will to this uncreated reality. I call him the ultimate realist because he does that. And being fully in harmony with what is, he has all power that any being can have. He is in that sense omnipotent. He is also a law giver, but the laws he gives us just lay out a path that allows us to avoid bruising ourselves by bumping up against immutable realities. Cosmic justice is nothing but the immutable unfolding of causal processes that are inherent in reality. Righteousness is living in harmony with truth, things as they really are and really will be.

      For evidence that God is bound by natural law, we can look to the statement: “intelligence … was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). Intelligences have their own inherent, uncreated properties. God cannot create an intelligence and, therefore, cannot fundamentally control another intelligent being. Nor does he want to. He respects our autonomy and our agency. He recognizes and honors its reality. The universe has an uncreated order that is ontologically prior to God’s existence as God. He has all power that can be possessed within the limits of that uncreated order, but he is not omnipotent in the same way that the orthodox Christian God is held to be omnipotent.

      But the constraints uncreated reality place on God’s power are something we should welcome, not lament. They solve all kinds of theological problems and make real our individual potential to be like our Heavenly Parents. A god who is omnipotent in the orthodox sense must be held accountable for anything done by any of his utterly contingent ex nihilo creations. If that is the nature of God, all laws are legislated and we are locked in the atonement paradox of Trinitarian Christianity that I discuss in footnote 4.

      Thanks again for the helpful links. (It is probably apparent, but I have somehow mismanaged this posting and put it in the wrong spot. It responds to John’s, not Theodore’s post.)

  3. It is an excellent analysis! But we first must acknowledge that our finite minds really are quite finite at this point. King Benjamin’s words should be kept in mind, that “man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend,” meaning, as someone put it, man can not even write the table of contents to what the Lord knows. My guess, my speculation, is that we mortals know — mercifully — next to nothing as to how or even whether Lucifer would have or could have achieved his real objectives, whatever they were. Freeman Dyson’s catchy phrase, “infinite in all directions,” applies here.

  4. Val, you wrote:

    “Fortunately, justice and mercy can be reconciled by atonement and repentance, which are, in turn, facilitated by a certain temporal slippage that separates act and consequence in the natural execution of justice…Consequence doesn’t always immediately follow act. This temporal lag between act and consequence is critically important for the full flowering of agency.”

    This mortal probation, or “temporal lag” of consequence, helps to explain what we learn in D&C 138:58-59 that the dead can still repent in the next life and still “be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God.” However, if they procrastinate their repentance until they are out of mortality they must pay their own penalty for their sins.

    It appears that the consequence or penalty is immediately activated upon the exiting of the “temporal lag” of mortality. That being the case, the portion of the Atonement that would have paid for their sins if they had repented in mortality can no longer help them because the consequence is applied before they repent. This is why Alma repeatedly warned not to procrastinate the day of our repentance (Alma 13:27, Alma 34:33-35).

    • Theodore,
      You raise an interesting and important issue. When does our second estate end? Does it end with the preliminary judgment that assigns us to Paradise or the Spirit Prison when we die and leave mortality? Or does it end when we face final judgment? The verses you cite in Alma certainly make it clear that we who are members of the Church would be foolish to bank on having an opportunity to repent after we die. There is no way to game this system. But personally, I’m also convinced that the sanctification process continues after this life. I think few, if any of us—and certainly not me—will be fully sanctified, fully purged of our human weaknesses and failings by the time we die. So few, if any of us, will be ready to enter comfortably the presence of God immediately after death. I suspect the process of further sanctification continues as our knowledge of who the Savior is and what he has done for us continues to deepen. The more we know him and what he did, the more perfect we will become if we are among those who voluntarily come to him with broken heart and contrite spirit. His gracious atonement will provide those of us who properly respond to it with the strength to be the perfect sinless beings we must be to reenter the presence of the Father.

      As for those who have not had a chance to know Christ adequately in this life (and that probably includes quite a few who are nominally members of the Church), the opportunity to voluntarily turn to him and receive the atonement probably continues after this life. One verse you cite, D&C 138: 57, suggests that this is the case: “the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead.” What is the point of preaching the atonement to the unredeemed dead if they are beyond redemption by the Savior’s gift? It is possible that we have further light and knowledge that Alma didn’t have about the duration of our second estate. Or he may have believed that those he preached to were likely to have been adequately tested given the power of his testimony to them. The same might not be true for others who have not received a like witness.

      And yet, the other verses you cite, D&C 138: 58-59, give pause: “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.” What does “after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions” mean? Is this suggesting that they must suffer even as Christ did (D&C 19: 17-18), that their personal suffering can redeem them? I don’t think so. Much else in scripture would seem to contradict that idea and suggest that only Christ’s suffering can exalt us. Perhaps it just means they must suffer the godly sorrow that is always part of true repentance. That would be my guess, but you have called attention to a challenging verse that I probably don’t fully understand.

      • Val,

        I would also draw your attention to D&C 138:32, which reads, “Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.” This seems to refute the concept that there are no “second chances.” Even those who “rejected the prophets” in this life have the opportunity to accept the Gospel in the world of departed spirits. The difference being that they must pay “the penalty of their transgressions” themselves (D&C 138:59), rather than benefiting from the price the Lord previously paid. They can then “be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God [Jesus Christ].” They are still “redeemed” through Christ even though they had to pay the penalty of their sins themselves.

        • Theodore,

          I think it is pretty clear that while we are in our second estate, we have an ongoing opportunity to repent and accept the atonement and be redeemed through it. The only question is how long the second estate lasts. At the conclusion of our second estate probation, we enter a kingdom of glory or outer darkness where we will remain for eternity. After the final judgment, there will be no movement between kingdoms, I believe, for reasons discussed in the paper. As noted there, if movement is possible, it would have the perverse consequence of making wickedness in this life more wise than righteousness. Virtually everything in scripture contradicts that idea. The fact that movement between kingdoms is not possible after final judgment is not, in my view, a function of divine vindictiveness or some arbitrary barrier to further progress. It is a function of the fact that our second estate (like our first one) adequately tests our will and desires. We will be in the kingdom and have the glory that our second estate experiences have demonstrated we can bear.

          As for the idea that we can suffer and pay for our own sins and then be saved, that is clearly true with this proviso. Those who go to the Telestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms of glory have been saved in many important senses, but they have not and will not ever attain exaltation, the optimal destiny for a human being. To live comfortably in the Celestial Kingdom, we must receive and be transformed by the atonement of Christ. Suffering for our own sins can never make us into a person like God who will be able to abide His glory in the Celestial Kingdom.

          • Val,

            I agree that once one is resurrected and assigned to a kingdom of glory that there is no path for them to move upward to a higher kingdoms; “…where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end (D&C 76:112). However, as long as one is still in the spirit world, that is, prior to their resurrection, “the dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God” (D&C 138:58). “The ordinances of the house of God” are required to enter the Celestial Kingdom, but not required for lesser kingdoms. Therefore, it appears that the pathway to the Celestial Kingdom is open to all until their final judgment and resurrection to a lessor kingdom of glory.

  5. The advantages provided by the millennial period in the pathway to the celestial kingdom, as provided to those who come forth in the first resurrection and the loss of advantage to those who do not so qualify was not addressed in your article or subsequent conversations. Surely this is a part of our “second estate” and important in a discussion on the justice and mercy of God – since it appears to be a period in which 6000 years of injustice might have some rectification. Why was the millennium and its consequences or lack thereof not a part of this discussion?

    • David,

      Thank you for your comment. Of necessity, articles have limited scope. The focus of this article is primarily on things Alma directly stated or strongly implied in his message to Corianton. I expect a very lengthy and informative article could be written on the role the Millennium will play in the execution of justice and mercy. Certainly, the millennial period falls within the scope of our second estate. But that task must fall upon others–perhaps you. While I don’t doubt it will be important, I myself do not understand all that well what role the Millennium will play in the testing and training of souls who have already died prior to its advent.

  6. Thank you for this article. I know you pointed out the issues with the teachings of Nehor and their correlation to Satan’s plan in the pre-earth life.

    “that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4).

    Do you have some thoughts on why the current plan of salvation taught by the church moved closer to Nehor’s plan and moved away from the plan of salvation taught in the Book of Mormon consistantly for over 1,000 years?

    That is, only have those who accepted Christ and endured to the end going to heaven, plus those without the law and children who died. While the wicked would be cast into hell, subject to the devil for eternity after the resurrection and judgement.

    The Book of Mormon teaches a very traditional Christian view of hell and punishment for the wicked. Whereas the current church’s teaching on the plan of salvation would have the wicked spending eternity in the telestial kingdom under the influence of the holy ghost and those who accepted christ but did not endure to the end living in the Terrestrial kingdom under the influence of Jesus Christ.

    Just curious as to your thoughts on this (what seems to be) a disconnect in doctrinal consistancy over the ages.

    • James,

      The short answer to your question is that “we believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of heaven.” Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants give further light and knowledge on the plan of salvation, knowledge that Book of Mormon peoples probably did not have. (The Apostle Paul does seem to have had it in some measure; so in some respects, the D&C doctrine of a heaven with different degrees of glory fits with the New Testament better than the traditional Christian creeds do.) The distinction between salvation and exaltation was probably not fully understood in Book of Mormon times. To be sure, if one holds that anything but exaltation is hell, then the Book of Mormon teachings are not inconsistent with our current understanding. Those who go to the Telestial and Terrestrial kingdoms are in a hell of sorts, damned for eternity from achieving the full potential of a child of God, unable to become like their heavenly parents and live for eternity with them. Nonetheless, we quite clearly have more details on the plan of salvation than the ancients had. Just as the New Testament teachings on our post-mortal existence are more fleshed out than those in the Old Testament, so the teachings of our time are more fleshed out than those of New Testament and Book of Mormon times. And it is very likely that those who come after us will someday understand important truths about our post-mortal existence that we do not now understand.

      There is, however, in the Book of Mormon, an account of damnation that can help reconcile the New Testament understanding of the plan of salvation with that of our time. In Alma 36, Alma gives us the best description in all scripture of eternal damnation. He experienced it and describes it powerfully in that chapter. He tells us, “I was racked with eternal torment” (Alma 36: 12). How can he have been wracked with eternal torment during his few days in hell? The answer would seem to be that one can experience eternal damnation in a finite time. If immersed in that darkness, one loses all sense of time, if the future and past disappear and one is caught in a dark eternal now, one can fully taste the bitterness of eternal damnation without spending eternity in that condition. So Alma experienced eternal damnation and yet will also be exalted. Thus, there is at least one person in the Book of Mormon who experienced both damnation and salvation. We now understand that others can do the same. All who do not receive the atonement of Christ will pass partially or fully through the experience of eternal damnation that Alma had. They will go to an eternal hell, but they won’t remain there for eternity. In short, the Book of Mormon reveals that eternity can be experienced in a finite time. Other, better experiences can then follow. But as I argue in the article, the Book of Mormon (and the D&C) both teach that if we do not accept the atonement by the end of our second estate, we will be punished for our own sins and will be eternally separated from God.

      Alma is not the only person who has experienced eternal damnation in a finite time. This website gives accounts of others with similar experiences whose lives have likewise, in some cases, been redirected.

      http://www.nderf.org/investigation_dark_side.htm

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged.

*