As always, please use the official gospel doctrine manual. These ideas are supplemental.
Alma 40 – Alma continues his counsel to Corianton
Imagine a plan of salvation diagram. Imagine the circle in the space between death and resurrection. This chapter is about what occupies that circle — paradise and spirit prison (it’s not about the three degrees of glory).
5 – “it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things” It’s okay to have questions, in fact, it’s good to have questions; even having doubts is not necessarily bad! It is what we do with our questions and doubts that matters most. If we seek answers to our questions, wrestle with our doubts and “continue in God,” we will receive more light (see D&C 50:24). We also learn from this verse that some things don’t matter as much as others. Alma says here, “it mattereth not,” a phrase repeated by the Lord himself in the Doctrine and Covenants in D&C 60:5, 61:22, 62:5, and 63:40. So how do we know which principles are most important? We call them “first principles” (as in Article of Faith 4).
11 – “the state of the soul” “Soul” means “spirit” in this instance; we normally think of the soul as body and spirit combined (see D&C 88:15). Also, Alma uses the phrase, “taken home to … God who gave them life” which may imply that we are reunited with God immediately upon death. Other verses indicate we won’t literally enter into God’s presence until after the resurrection (which Alma clarifies in verse 21).
President George Q. Cannon taught: “Alma, when he says that ‘the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body …. are taken home to that God who gave them life,’ has the idea, doubtless, in his mind that our God is omnipresent-not in His own personality but through His minister, the Holy Spirit. He does not intend to convey the idea that they are immediately ushered into the personal presence of God. He evidently uses that phrase in a qualified sense.” – Gospel Truth, l:73.
12 – “a state of happiness which is called paradise” This is a nice verse to remember if you ever have to comfort someone on their deathbed. Paradise is a Persian word which means “pleasant garden.” Many in the Christian world have questioned the necessity of baptism since Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise (most assume the thief had not been baptized). Joseph Smith clarified:
I will say something about the spirits in prison. There has been much said by modern divines about the words of Jesus (when on the cross) to the thief, saying, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” King James’ translators make it out to say paradise. But what is paradise? It is a modern word: it does not answer at all to the original word that Jesus made use of. Find the original of the word paradise. You may as easily find a needle in a haymow. Here is a chance for battle, ye learned men. There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise; but it was—This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: – Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 309.
We might define the resurrection as the reunion of body and spirit, but this definition is incomplete. A reunion of body and spirit is what happens when one is raised from the dead. A more complete definition of resurrection would include the concept that body and spirit are reunited “never again to be divided” (D&C 138:17). The Book of Mormon uses a similar phrase in describing the resurrection as the spirit being reunited with the body “never to be divided” (Alma 11:45). A fulness of joy, which is what we hope to receive hereafter, is not possible without our bodies. “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33).
Related to the idea that there is not a fulness of joy without our bodies, is the idea that Paradise and Spirit Prison are actually the same place. President Joseph F. Smith described an innumerable company of the righteous and just. Nevertheless, they were waiting for the “day of their deliverance” from the “bands of death” (verses 15-16). Thus, even the righteous dead are said to be in prison as they await the resurrection. We also learn from this vision that the dead look upon “the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage” (verse 138:50; see also D&C 45:17). Interestingly, the Bible Dictionary suggests that hell consists of two parts, paradise and spirit prison (p. 699).
13 – “cast out into outer darkness” in this verse, “outer darkness” means hell.
21 – “there is a space” another reminder that resurrection precedes judgment.
23 – “every limb and joint” the resurrection is not merely a renewed spiritual existence, but a physical, bodily resurrection. This is important because there is some confusion in the Christian world as to what the resurrection really means. Perhaps this is because the apostle Paul referred to “spiritual bodies” when he spoke of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:44). President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
“When Paul spoke of the spiritual body, he had no reference at all to the spirit body, and there they have made their mistake. They have confused the spiritual body, or, in other words, the body quickened by the spirit, with the body of the spirit alone. They think that those who believe in the resurrection of the literal body believe that it shall be raised again, quickened by blood, which is not the case….After the resurrection from the dead our bodies will be spiritual bodies, but they will be bodies that are tangible, bodies that have been purified, but they will nevertheless be bodies of flesh and bones. They will not be blood bodies. They will no longer be quickened by blood but quickened by the spirit which is eternal, and they shall become immortal and shall never die.” —Doctrines of Salvation, 2:285
The key is the difference between a “spirit body” and a “spiritual body.” A spirit body is what we possessed in the premortal existence. A spiritual body is a resurrected body that is quickened by the spirit. This is clarified in D&C 88:27:
“For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body. They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.”
26 – “consigned to partake of the fruits” Alma who earlier spoke of seeds and seasons, speaks here of the fruits or results of our choices. Put another way, each of us are growing fruit that we’ll one day partake. While this chapter is about the afterlife, it is also about the judgments that occur in our mortal journey.
Alma 41 – Counsel to Corianton – The Law of Restoration
It appears that Corianton had a misunderstanding of what the word restoration” means. He may have believed that how we live doesn’t matter, because in the end we’re all “restored” to happiness. Alma teaches that the spiritual definition of restoration means something different. Rather than “do whatever you want and God will restore you to happiness,” it is more like “you reap what you sow” or “what goes around comes around.” Some have called this the “Law of Restoration.”
3 – “and the desires of their hearts were good” Notice the importance not only of our deeds, but our desires. See also D&C 137:9. Although we often fall short in our good works, it’s comforting to know that our desires for righteousness count for something. We are reminded of King Benjamin who taught that if we have nothing to offer the beggar, that we should say in our hearts “I give not because I have not, but if I had, I would give” (Mosiah 5:24).
6 – “desired righteousness” When Jesus gave the beatitudes, he said, “blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” rather than “blessed are the righteous.” Why? Because, technically, none of us are righteous. But as the Lord works on our hearts, our desire for righteousness increases. We will never become perfectly righteous without the Savior, but if we truly desire righteousness, our hearts are right – or in other words, righteous.
10 – “wickedness never was happiness” Here is an excerpt from my book, Sermons in a Sentence:
Corianton’s misunderstanding of the word Restoration gave us perhaps the most widely known and oft-quoted phrase of Alma: a four-word sermon on behavior and consequences with mathematic precision. You cannot do wrong and feel right! Samuel the Lamanite warned the nephites of the futility of their behavior with similar clarity when he observed, “Ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity . . .” (Helaman 13:38). Some may object and suggest that the wicked appear to be plenty happy. Malachi repeated the complaint of some who con-cluded that it was vain to serve God: “now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered” (Malachi 3:15). But their “happiness” isn’t lasting— it’s temporary. As Jesus said, “they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh” (3 Nephi 27:11; emphasis added). If it is really true that wickedness never was happiness, then the reverse is also true—righteousness always was.
14-15 – “Have good rewarded unto you again” A perfect summary paragraph of the law of restoration, also known as the doctrine of reciprocity. If you want mercy, be merciful to others. If you want your debts forgiven, forgive the debts of others. What goes around comes around!
Corianton feels it is unjust for God to punish sinners. Similar attitudes appear in our day: “God is just so loving, and so kind, that he really doesn’t care what we do, just so long as we accept others no matter what they do.” Of course God will take us right where we are, but he will never leave us right where we are. He will always invite us higher. We know from modern revelation that while God loves sinners, he cannot look upon sin with the “least degree of allowance.” (Alma 45:16, D&C 1:31). He invites us to go our way and “sin no more” (John 8:11). We also know that we’d be miserable in the presence of God if we weren’t prepared to be there (Mormon 9:3-4).
4 – “a probationary time” earth life is a time to repent, change, grow, experience and with the Savior’s help, overcome.
7 – “subjects to follow after their own will” Is everything that happens on earth “God’s will?” I’m not so sure. I believe we are experiencing what happens when we follow man’s will, just as this verse says. The challenge of earth life is to align our will with God’s will.
10 – “devilish by nature” Notice footnote 10b to “natural man.” The natural man is one who says, “Just do what comes naturally” rather than “bridle your passions.”
12 – “fallen state, which man had brought upon himself” Perhaps it is not possible to overstate the importance of the Fall of man. It’s as if Alma is saying, “Corianton, don’t blame God for punishing men – man brought upon himself the justice of God by his own disobedience – don’t blame God for man’s fallen state and fallen behavior.” Elder Gerald Lund differentiated the “fall of man” with each man’s personal fall, or the “fall of me.”
If we know good from evil and then sin (which, according to Paul, all men do), then we must talk about a second fall. This is not the fall of Adam. This is one’s own personal fall. This fall, which our own, not Adam’s, transgression brings about, requires redemption as surely as mankind needed redemption from the consequences of Adam’s fall. We’ll term this the “fall of me.” – Gerald N. Lund, Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation [Deseret Book, 1991], 95.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the creation, the fall, and the atonement have been referred to by Elder Bruce R. McConkie as the “three pillars of eternity:”
It is not possible to believe in Christ and his atoning sacrifice, in the true and full sense required to gain salvation, without at the same time believing and accepting the true doctrine of the fall. If there had been no fall, there would have been no need for a Redeemer or Savior. And it is not possible to believe in the fall, out of which immortality and eternal life come, without at the same time believing and accepting the true doctrine of the creation: If there had been no creation of all things in a deathless or immortal state, there could have been no fall, and hence no atonement and no salvation. The Father’s eternal plan called for the creation, for the fall, and for the atonement, all woven together into one united whole. — A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Deseret Book, 1985], 81.
President Ezra Taft Benson: The Book of Mormon Saints knew that the plan of redemption must start with the account of the fall of Adam. In the words of Moroni, “By Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ . . . and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.” (Mormon 9:12.) Just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ. No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind. And no other book in the world explains this vital doctrine nearly as well as the Book of Mormon. — The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 28.)
13-15 – “the plan of redemption” It is interesting to note, that the word “plan” does not appear anywhere in the King James Bible. Neither does the phrase “plan of salvation.” However, the Book of Mormon uses the phrases “plan of salvation,” and “plan of redemption,” and “plan of happiness” and others over 25 times, the most common being the “plan of redemption.” The beauty of the plan of redemption is that it allows both justice and mercy to be exercised in our behalf. Some of my students have asked, “If I suffered for my own sins, and satisfied the demands of justice, could I go to the Celestial Kingdom?” Elder Bruce C. Hafen gave this answer:
I once wondered if those who refuse to repent but who then satisfy the law of justice by paying for their own sins are then worthy to enter the celestial kingdom. The answer is no. The entrance requirements for celestial life are simply higher than merely satisfying the law of justice. For that reason, paying for our sins will not bear the same fruit as repenting of our sins. –The Broken Heart, 7-8.
22-23 – “mercy cometh because of the atonement” President Boyd K. Packer gave a classic address called the Mediator which, in parable form, shows how both justice and mercy can be satisfied because of the Savior. Click here for the movie version.
24 – “all his demands… her own” Notice here that justice is a “him” and mercy is a “her.” Interesting!
30 – “have full sway in your heart” Justice and mercy, both true and vital attributes of God are not contrary principles, but can dwell side by side in our hearts which creates humility.