“The Great Plan of Happiness”
First, this lesson has both “007” and “42”. Win.
These chapters are chock full of doctrinal substance touching upon the “Great Plan of Happiness”. We will explore:
- Resurrection and Spirit World
- Justice and mercy
- Role of this life
- The nature of God, including the unusual and compelling idea of a “limited God”.
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Look forward to an engaging discussion with Jennifer, Stefanie, Keith and Dan.
After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
Thanks again to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for postproduction.
These chapters are a nightmare for me, I struggle with these afterlife concepts so much. Lucky for Alma that he was shown one of the great mysteries 😉 In 40:6 and 21 he talks about space. What the heck does that mean? Time? Physical location? Here? Or elsewhere? Totally vague. This is also tied up for me with an image of spirits waiting in big (spacious?) buildings looking down on everything that unfolds, but it doesn’t seem like there is much scriptural evidence backing up this idea that there is a spirit waiting room somewhere else.
The idea and focus on every bit of the body being restored is like en-soi at it’s worst. It seems to place all this importance on the body which is totally contradictory to everything we learn about focusing on the spirit. ??? Also, there is the question of what age of body and what condition the body would be restored to (people with disabilities, etc.).
Alma 41:4, to me, this seems to imply the track you are on, if you are good (or happy because that is where that track leads) when you die, you will continue to be happy. If you are bad or sad, then you continue to be miserable. But there is this break or pause in the path. You die, you were angry, bitter–PAUSE–oop, you’ve got your resurrected body back, carry on with your frustration. Does this mean that a big chunk of who we are and what we feel, is tied to our body? Am I reading this totally wrong? There is no way to change things or grow or progress after we die but before resurrection?
If I can risk another offense or two 😉 Justice and mercy seem contradictory in Alma’s words in chapter 42. A just law followed by a punishment=justice. A repentance or forgiveness for this=mercy. It is the opposite order during the resurrection. Being back in your body (while a good portion of who you are was essentially on ice) and the atonement= mercy, THEN judged according to your works=justice. It just seems backwards. How can we be given a chance to redeem ourselves when the judging is to occur after the merciful act of being given our bodies back is already done? Once all sorted to the various kingdoms, where is the opportunity to redeem ourselves? Because that seems to be what mercy is. I also don’t understand Jesus’ suffering for our sins and how that is merciful. People who sinned and get sorted to the basement or the garage are going to feel pretty bad about what they’ve done “remorse of conscience unto man”, so why is Jesus feeling this and suffering this a mercy? It doesn’t feel like mercy, it feels like empathy which, I guess, is a form of mercy, but not really the same mercy that comes across in the scriptures.
Lesson 30 (Alma 40-42) questions:
1) How does Alma’s angelic revelation of a post-mortal, pre-resurrection state of the soul interface with Joseph Smith’s visions/revelations of the same in D&C 38:5, D&C 76 and 88, and Joseph F. Smith’s vision of spirit prison in D&C 138? The same could be asked about Alma’s explanations of the resurrection, judgement, and final state of the soul. Also, although I think that you said in the overview podcast that you didn’t want to touch too much upon how the Book of Mormon corresponds or does not correspond to biblical history and teachings, I’m curious about your take on how Alma’s conception of an afterlife matches or corresponds to that of pre-Babylonian-exile Judaism, post-Maccabean Judaism (with introduction of apocalyptic eschatology), and post-Easter Christianity’s teachings about the afterlife in early Christian writings?
2) How does one “wrest the scriptures” (Alma 41:1)? The word means to pry, twist, extract, or wring, or, in terms of judgment (see Deut 16:18), to subvert or pervert or rob. The author of 2 Peter claims that it is the ignorant and unstable who wrest the holy word. And yet, it seems that wresting is a high-level cognitive action, requiring sufficient moral awareness and logical acumen to accomplish. Is “wresting” a metaphor for deconstruction as a methodology of literary analysis and scriptural exegesis? Does Alma counsel against such practices? And/or, are there limits to which the scriptures can support close readings? This begs questions about who has the authority to interpret scripture, the authority of visionary/revelatory experiences over historical interpretive precedent, and whether doctrine and scripture have one “true” meaning or a multiplicity of possible meanings.
3) Is “natural” state truly a “carnal” state, bitter and full of iniquity, and contrary to God’s nature? Or is creation fundamentally “very good”, as God called it in Genesis 1:31? Alma doesn’t see it this way, but perhaps everything in the heavens and in the Earth are “good” and reflective of God’s true nature, even with their flaws and failings?
4) Alma seems intent on seeing restoration as bringing good to good, and evil to evil. But isn’t that explanation contradictory to the definition of the term, which means to bring something that has fallen into a broken, dilapidated, or worn state to one of renewed vibrance, function, utility, and beauty? If we accept Alma’s claim that we are all “carnal” by nature, wouldn’t a “restoration” simply restore us to our original, carnal, state? Alma’s ideas about the nature of resurrection seems to contradict the purpose for which resurrection was such an attractive concept to most Christians: Jesus overcame sin and death, and gives us hope that despite the difficulties of our life and our own personal weaknesses and failings, we will be resurrected to glory, even without meriting that grace. None of us deserve a resurrection/restoration. I see what Alma is trying to say in Alma 41:15–you can polish a turd but what do you have as a result? a shiny turd (iow, you shouldn’t expect someone who was never good or was indeed evil to somehow be good or devoid of evil in some future resurrected state)–but this idea seems to deny the miracle of the atonement, and seems to imply (elsewhere in LDS scripture more explicitly stated) that God’s grace only applies if we try hard enough and prove ourselves worthy of it. Impossibru!
5) Would God truly cease to be God if the “works of justice” were destroyed (whatever that means)? Does that make cosmic justice a limit to God’s omnipotence? Why does the violent suffering and death of the man Jesus mean that mercy is now capable of covering justice’s demands? Does God create the laws that bind God, wherein God is forced to exact punishment for infringement of divine law? Would humankind truly descend into utter debauchery if they didn’t fear divine retribution? Which super-authority is more powerful: Justice or Mercy? If we rely on Mercy to cover our disobedience, and if Jesus is the divine personification of Mercy, shouldn’t we pray to Jesus to importune his graceful application of Mercy toward us, instead of to the Father, who seems to be the executioner of divine Justice, whose hand is stayed only by the intercession of a Son? Or is it possible that God is capable of applying both justice AND mercy discriminately and/or simultaneously, and that Jesus’ death doesn’t magically negate or appease a vicious universal animus called Justice, but rather shows us an example of how radical submission to the powers that be has a paradoxical effect of producing societal and personal transformation for good, and ultimately a path to salvation and eternal life for humankind?
Is what is being described as “restoration” in ch. 41 more a form of natural consequence for actions and states of being (evil desires v.s righteouness) or is God a more active player in how this restoration takes place? Another way to ask this is – is “restoration” as Alma offers it in 41 a karma like principle?
“For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored” (v. 15a).
“for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galatians 6:7b-8).
“And in the end, the love that you take is equal to the love that you make” (The Beatles, The End).
It seems that “restoration” as it is used here is tied to individual spirituality, more so than either the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith, or the physical body restored via resurrection (though Alma does bring up resurrection in v. 2).
Ah, love the thoughts on outer darkness Keith!
MK @ Teach Sunday School says:
What a wonderful lesson plan! It’s given me some great ideas for lessons that I can teach to my own Sunday school classes—lessons that I know my kids will love and that are sure to engage them. I always look forward to reading your lessons, and this one did not disappoint. Thank you for taking the time to share!
Dan Wotherspoon says:
In my comments during this lesson, I mention a short piece of fiction by B.H. Roberts called Corianton (serialized in the Contributor), which was then used as a basis for a film. I’d never read Corianton, but I attended the premiere a couple of years ago at BYU of a fully restored version of the film–long thought to be lost (at least a few of the reels) but then found and worked on for many years. I had heard the film had followed the book’s plot but in my quick comments was only going on one viewing of the film.
Just this morning, I decided to look up more about both book and film and was surprised to find the whole text of the book online. Totally fun to read (though I can’t say wonderfully written), to see the creative ways Roberts weaves a plausible back story, including having Corianton be part of the Korihor arc in interesting ways, including being there when Korihor is trampled to death and causing him to rail slightly against God for what seemed to him to be injustice (setting up that part of Alma’s counsel to him later). Also other things like Corianton being targeted for attack precisely because he had been successful beyond measure in refuting Zoramite sophistry so they wanted to bring him down, his being tricked by Isabel in disguise to get him to go to the saloon/salon where Sironites hang out to drink and revel, where he is lured into a dance she did. He then wakes up with a hangover on a couch surrounded by other revelers and not knowing what had happened. Shiblon is the one rousing him and tells him about the scandal his misadventures have caused (as those tricking him have now spread far and wide about the mighty Corianton, confounder of Zoramites, being caught in this wicked place. city leaders who want them out of there have a big scene in which they use Corianton as an excuse to tell people not to listen to the missionaries, etc. Anyway, now having read it, it reminded me of the film and I now see how close it was to the book, but also how I kinda botched my short telling during the podcast.
Anyway, if anyone is interested in a bit of fun, here is link to the text of Roberts’ serialized story:
Here is a link to a terrific blog post at Keepapitchinin about saga of the book, its history as a stage play, then as a film.
Dan and Jared,
I was excited to hear the Euthyphro dilemma brought up. I have a different take on it than was brought up in your podcast. Just so you know Jared, I listen to your podcast after I do my blog so as to not just be an echo-box of what was said in your lesson. Here is what I brought up in regards to the Euthyphro dilemma on my blog:
Socrates: “ We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods?” (Written 380 B.C.E, Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Scene: The Porch of the King Archon)
What Socrates is presenting is a two pointed horn. What is being asked is, are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good (the standard Mormon view), or are they morally good because they are willed by God (a view I have heard expressed by Muslims)?
If the answer is in the affirmative to the former, God is subservient to the morally good and we should then worship that which is greatest; in this case it would be the morally good. If the answer is in the affirmative to the latter, God is arbitrary. And how are we to figure out what God’s will is?
When one appeals to an authority that is higher than God, you are arguing that good acts are willed by God because they are morally good. When one states, “If God creates moral laws instead of being subject to them, God can also change them.”- the latter part of the Euthyphro Dilemma is being argued. That is, that God is being arbitrary because the morally good is morally good because they are willed by God. So, according to this logic, God could command that the raping of children is good, instead of being evil.
One has to pick one or the other, not both – for they are exclusive from each other.
The Divine Command Theory avoids both horns. It argues that morally good acts are neither willed by God because they are morally good, nor are they morally good because they are willed by God. It argues that the good is a necessary attribute of God. Just like there are certain attributes that are essential/necessary to make a cat a cat. If an animal were without those attributes, it would not be considered a cat. God like wise has certain attributes that are necessary/essential to Him. He could not exist without those attributes.
As such, God is the locus of good, justice, mercy, love, etc. As St. Anselm said, “God is by definition ,the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good.” Since moral goodness is a great-making property, the greatest conceivable being must be morally perfect, just, merciful (as well as have other superlative properties).
What I am arguing (and I believe Alma is too) is that God is necessarily just and merciful. He cannot be God and not posses these two attributes. If so, he would cease to be God; not because he is subservient to some greater law such as mercy or justice, but because they are necessary attributes of Him. It is only through the atonement that God can actually contain these two apparently opposite and contradictory attributes – mercy and justice (see Alma 42:15). Thus it becomes necessary for “God himself ” (see vs. 15) to atone for our sins so that these two necessary attributes (mercy and justice) can exist within the same being. That is what Alma is teaching. I believe this is one of the great and unique contributions that the Book of Mormon brings to Christian thought. There are no indications that the Euthyphro Dilemma was part of mainstream Protestant thought during Joseph Smith’s time.
I am interested in the Hebrew word for justice-“sadaq” (whichis the same word for righteousness). It is my understanding that this means something different than the western concept of justice. It is my understanding that in the OT that God’s justice has to do with his covenant and is relationship centered. In that in order for God to be just he must fulfill his end of the covenant. Meaning God is not just until he does what he has promised to do, which is to redeem mankind. I think that this adds an interesting dimension on what Alma says about justice and mercy, atonement and relationships. Does anyone have a better understanding or can add to this idea?
Dan Wotherspoon says:
I mentioned in the podcast that I’d provide a link to a favorite article of mine, “Of Time and All Eternity,” by James McLachlan, that wrestles with a God who is “in the fray” with us, who chooses relationship rather than rejecting relationship and how this differs from Lucifer and others who choose isolation (playing into the outer darkness theology that we briefly talked about in this episode). This decision of God to truly be “with us” even with all the pain that causes is a huge difference between Mormon theology and traditional Christian thought. It isn’t without precedence, however, which this article highlights in comparing Joseph Smith and Jacob Boehme and a few other heterodox Christian thinkers.
And if you don’t want to learn that much detail about the resonances, still dive into this article starting on page 51 (within the article’s numbering, not 51 pages into the article!) where McLachlan starts laying out why God’s being IN eternity with us is superior (more satisfying) to being outside eternity, and he uses some wonderful movies that I bet most of us have seen to help illustrate it. Fantastic piece for those who want to understand how deep Mormon doctrine really is, its interesting (and to me very ennobling)angles.
Click to access 150-48-59.pdf
Benjamin K says:
Thanks! Very informative and thought-provoking podcast.
Here’s a question that occurred to me while listening. When I was younger I read about W. Cleon Skousen’s theory of why “God would cease to be God.” He argues that it’s because God is required to command the support of the various “intelligences” throughout the universe (the sentient, elemental substances of self-awareness that are combined with matter and that everything, including us, has progressed from). Skousen’s idea is that God is all-powerful because the intelligences, which are combined with all matter throughout the universe, all obey Him. If God were to violate an eternal law (like the law of justice), they would cease to give Him support and thus the intelligences/matter would no longer feel obligated to obey Him. Thus, God would cease to be God. And that, he argues, is why the Atonement was necessary.
Of course, he published this theory almost sixty years ago (“The First 2,000 Years”). And I haven’t heard of anyone mention these concepts in explicitly in Church EVER in my entire life.
So what do you all think of this theory? Does it have any merit? Does it contradict any other explicit doctrines? Is this just “one person’s opinion”? I’d be interested in any thoughts or insights.
Benjamin K says:
Also, W. Cleon Skousen said a LOT of other things that would constitute “fringe” opinions in today’s world… so I take everything what he has to say with a grain of salt. I’m curious, however, how others view his “intelligences” theory.
Jared Anderson says:
I am out of town for about a week but will make time to respond to these great comments and questions when I have a chance. Right now working to stay on schedule with the lessons! 🙂
The thing of most interest in this lesson was the extent of the development of these doctrines in pre christian era in America. It almost seems to good to be true. The theology and Christology is so well developed before Christ is even born. Throughout the lesson I kept wondering who were these people, what do we know about where they lived, their culture, the civilization that produced such deep Christian concepts hundreds of years before they were developed in the old world. Where are the remnants, artifacts of these people, were are their other writings.
Much like so many discoveries in the old world that help us understand the setting, people and places of the bible, what has been discovered in America that sheds light on the people that had such a deep knowledge of Christian concepts hundreds of years before the rest of the world, even a richer doctrine than Christ himself revealed?
Megan Fowler says:
Pondering on discussion regarding outer darkness mentioned in this lesson. I would like to share two experiences I have learned of: 1) my brother served as gospel doctrine teacher and then as a counselor to branch president in his deaf ward in Texas until he passed away two months ago. There was an inactive member of the branch who admitted was living very physically and spiritually destructive lifestyle. This person had a heart attack and died. Fortunately, for him, through medical intervention, he was revived. HE came to church and told my brother of experiencing spirit prison, or outer darkness. Having been born totally deaf in mortality, for the first time he was able to HEAR. He told of hearing the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth as described in the scriptures that was so frightening he vowed to repent and do all in his power to live a righteous life so that he would NEVER have to return to that place.
2) sister Sarah Monet,who wrote the book, “There is No Death” mad a dvd where she spoke of having grown up with a horribly abusive father , whom she discovered had molested many children during his lifetime. She hated him and was glad when he died. At some point she had a near death experience where she briefly wondered where her dad was. She was instantly at his side-in spirit prison-outer darkness-where he was experiencing a suffering beyond her wildest imagination. She was revived and a few years later felt that her father had completed his suffering and entered into paradise.
As was mentioned, that is why we perform baptisms for the dead-because we believe Christ wants to redeem us all-if we accept and change. Interesting that in his case justice was served before mercy could be applied.