Lesson 30: The Great Plan of Happiness
Doctrine and Covenants 138
Purpose: To help class members gain a greater understanding of life after death and the mercy that is available to them through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
This past Tuesday, Elder Paul V. Johnson, a member of the Seventies who serves as Commissioner for the Church Education System, spoke to seminary and institute teachers about helping students resolve their questions and doubts about the gospel. “One way,” he said, to help students is to help them realize that different types of knowledge are acquired using different methods … Debating spiritual things using only temporal evidence and methods doesn’t settle the issues.”
I was struck by that point because it fits so well with the way Alma went about teaching his son Corianton in the chapters we will be looking at today. Corianton had certain questions – doubts, really, or perhaps stronger than doubts – that were causing him to lose faith, even to harm the cause of the Church. Alma addressed those questions, which is where we’ll spend most of our time this afternoon. Alma didn’t end with providing the philosophical explanations, though. That would have been like debating spiritual things using only temporal evidence. Instead, he taught Corianton that he must add spiritual evidence to his intellectual understanding.
Logically, this belongs as the conclusion to our lesson. But because we usually run out of time, and because this is so important, we’ll start at the end. Alma has discussed Corianton’s doubts, and given him all the information and the logical explanations to answer his questions. But then he tells Corianton that he can only fully resolve his intellectual questions through spiritual behavior. Let’s read Alma 42:29-30:
29 And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.
30 O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.
How is repentance, and going “down to the dust in humility,” different from merely learning the facts of the gospel that Alma has just been explaining?
What can Corianton learn through repentance that he could not learn simply by gaining an intellectual understanding of the gospel?
Would anyone care to share an experience – very briefly, please – that illustrates how you came to understand some principle through your reason and understanding, and then gained a deeper spiritual assurance of that principle through using spiritual methods and powers?
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. Alma teaches Corianton about death and resurrection.
2. Alma teaches that after we are resurrected, the righteous will be restored
to happiness and the wicked will be restored to misery.
3. Alma teaches Corianton about justice and mercy.
Let’s look next at the specific questions or doubts that were causing Corianton to stumble. We can find those in the first verse of each of chapters 40, 41, and 42.
1 Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead.
[Write “resurrection” on board, as a reminder for discussion later in the lesson]
Why might belief or confidence in the resurrection have been a testimony-shaker for Corianton? Had he ever seen a resurrected person, or even heard about anyone who had been resurrected? Relying solely on the scientific method, or his own observation or the reports of others, could he be expected to believe in the resurrection?
And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the restoration of which has been spoken; for behold, some have wrested the scriptures, and have gone far astray because of this thing. And I perceive that thy mind has been worried also concerning this thing. But behold, I will explain it unto thee.
[Write “restoration” on board]
From what Alma goes on to discuss here, we understand that by “restoration” he meant those elements of this mortal life – knowledge, personality, righteousness or wickedness – would carry forward to the post-mortal world. Again, Corianton had had no direct experience with that post-mortal world, or with anyone who had been there, so it might be understandable that he had come to doubt it, if he had depended on the same techniques we all use to learn about this world.
Alma says that some people in his day had “wrested the scriptures,” or twisted or forced a false meaning, on the teachings about the effects of this life on the next. I don’t want us to dwell on false teachings this afternoon by asking for examples, but think to yourselves of the kinds of scriptural twisting you know people engage in-. Why do you suppose the subject of life after death is so misunderstood, and subject to so much speculation?
Corianton had a third question that Alma identifies in Alma 42:1:
1 And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understand – which is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner; for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.
[Write “justice” on board]
This is a question that is closely tied to the one discussed in chapter 41: Corianton seems to believe that there should be a disconnect between a sinner’s actions in this life and punishment for those sins in the next life, perhaps believing that a loving God would not really hold his children accountable. This is a condition that Nephi warned would arise among his people:
2 Nephi 28:7-8
7 Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
So, there [indicate words on board] we have the major points that bothered Corianton and that were bringing him not only to personal apostasy but to injuring the entire success of Alma’s mission. When we think of these doubts in terms of the doctrines that Alma and his brethren have been teaching through the book of Alma, we can see that Corianton has fallen into the apostate beliefs that corrupted Nehor, and the Zoramites: They had no knowledge of or confidence in the Atonement. They claimed to believe the scriptures recorded on the brass plates, and may even have believed that Jesus would come and would be a military or political savior, but they did not understand the Atonement. Without the Atonement, there would be no resurrection because Christ would not have conquered death; without the Atonement there would be no judgment based on righteousness or wickedness in this life, because Christ would not have redeemed the repentant from their sins; without the Atonement there would be no eternal consequences for actions in mortality, because without that judgment it would be unjust of God not to save us all.
Now let’s take a look at what Alma taught Corianton in connection with each of his questions.
In Chapter 40, Alma tells Corianton briefly and in a matter-of-fact way that resurrection will be a reality after Christ has come, because it is Christ whose ministry will make resurrection possible. There are many things about the resurrection that Alma admits he does not know, but one important truth about the resurrection has been revealed to him. Let’s read Alma 41:3:
3 Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet. Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know – that is concerning the resurrection.
Part of the talk I mentioned earlier is relevant here. Elder Johnson says, “No matter how difficult, we all need to learn to acknowledge we don’t know the answer to every question. It is not unhealthy for a student to see that the teacher doesn’t know the answer to everything, but does know the answer to the core questions and has a strong testimony.”
As a general principle, why is it wise for us to admit, as Alma did, when we do not know the answer to a question?
Alma then teaches Corianton what he has learned about the resurrection by “inquir[ing] diligently of God:
9 Therefore, there is a time appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead; and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection. And now, concerning this space of time, what becometh of the souls of men is the thing which I have inquired diligently of the Lord to know; and this is the thing of which I do know.
10 And when the time cometh when all shall rise, then shall they know that God knoweth all the times which are appointed unto man.
11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection – Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall test from mall their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil – for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house – and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
Do you remember April Conference, in 1976? I wouldn’t have remembered the date without looking it up, but I won’t ever forget the Conference. That’s when two addition revelations – both of them given decades earlier – were presented to us to for acceptance as scripture, the first time that had happened in my lifetime. After three years in the Pearl of Great Price, these revelations were transferred to the Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 137 and 138.
The reason I mention that, of course, is because Section 138 is so relevant here. Like Alma, Joseph F. Smith had been considering death and the resurrection, and especially the time in between. He learned about the righteous who were in the spirit world when Christ died:
16 They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.
17 Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 and there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on condition of repentance.
Let’s jump to verses 29-35:
29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
32 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.
33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
35 And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.
President Smith learned that this work among the spirits of the dead continues to this day.
57 I beheld that 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.
58 The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,
59 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.
60 Thus was the vision of the redemption of the dead revealed to me, and I bear record, and I know that this record is true, through the blessing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, even so. Amen.
President Smith’s vision corroborates what Alma taught Corianton in these chapters: First, that there will be a resurrection; second, that there will be a judgment; and third, that men and women will “receive a reward according to their works.”
We’ve already read a bit of what Alma taught to affirm the resurrection. Let’s read part of what he taught about the need for and the reality of the judgment.
Alma 41: 2-5
2 I say unto thee my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.
3 And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
4 And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame – mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption– raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other –
5 The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
Alma’s argument that men and women receive just rewards or punishments proceeds in a logical way that is a little complex to summarize in the few minutes we have left. Basically, he teaches Corianton that we all have sinned by breaking the laws of God, and are punished by being cast out of the presence of God. That punishment is actually a blessing to us, because it causes us to feel sorrow and the desire to repent. Repentance allows the mercy of the Atonement to come into play; the Lord pays the penalty of our sin, thus satisfying justice. Because we are then free from sin, we can return to the presence of God.
23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
On the other hand, if we do not repent, the Atonement cannot cover us, and we have to pay the penalty ourselves, and remain beyond the presence of God. Because we are each responsible for our decision to repent and claim mercy, or remain in our sins, the consequences of that choice are entirely just.
27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.
28 If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.
It is at this point that Alma begs Corianton to feel sorrow for his sins, to let that sorrow lead to repentance, and to let that repentance allow him to be covered by the mercy of the Savior’s Atonement. (For the record, Corianton did repent and become a faithful man. We later see that he has returned to his mission (Alma 49:30); years later, he disappears from the record when he sails northward on one of the ships of Hagoth (Alma 63:10).
What happens to us after death should interest us all – when those we love go on ahead of us, we can’t help but think about where they are and what they are doing; some of us, too, may expect to follow them in a very short time. Alma’s teachings to Corianton, along with revelations granted to other prophets, like Joseph F. Smith, should reassure and comfort us all. I think of all the facets of the gospel I can testify to, my assurance of the reality of life after death is the strongest. I haven’t had an angel like Alma had; I haven’t had a vision like Joseph F. Smith had. But much of my life has been spent trying to know and love people who are now in the spirit world. Sometimes I feel them very near to me, sometimes in a very literal way. I have felt the gratitude of people who are pleased to be remembered, and very often I feel them guiding me to the records I need because they need the help of someone in mortality to progress in the gospel they have learned and accepted in the spirit world. If you ever doubt the reality of life after death, or the coming day of resurrection, lean on my testimony for a while – I know it.