Day 49: Precious Souls and Redemption

Alma 39:17 and Alma 40-42

“[I]s not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” Alma asks his younger son, Corianton. God provides the Plan of Salvation because we are each precious to Him. Each and every person who has lived, currently lives, and will live on earth is a beloved son or daughter of God. So loved in fact, that our brother Jesus Christ volunteered to suffer and die on our behalf and our Father in Heaven agreed to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son for the purpose of redeeming the entire human race.

The Plan of Salvation, as explained by Alma to his son, provides the opportunity for mankind to overcome the effects of Adam and Eve’s “fall” and become worthy to enter God’s presence after this life on earth is complete. The two debilitating effects of the Fall include: 1. Spiritual death (separation from God by sin); and 2. Temporal death (separation of body and spirit)––both of which prevent us from entering God’s presence and receiving eternal life (Alma 42:6-7, 9).

The Plan of Salvation hinges on the infinite and eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God Himself coming to earth to experience mortality just like the rest of us but with a clear and heavy purpose (Alma 42:15). Jesus used His mortal ministry to re-establish the essential practices/ordinances of baptism by immersion and bestowing the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He provided the perfect example of how we should live on earth to qualify for eternal life (Alma 42:4, 13). Then He performed the Atonement by which in a miraculous way He accepted the punishment for all our sins. He suffered, bled, and died to complete this crucial transaction, allowing Him to judge and forgive sin (condition 1; Alma 42:22-23). It also provides the gift of Resurrection for every single member of the human race (condition 2; see Alma 40:23).

I love the clear and detailed explanations Alma provides in these chapters about what happens after this life. I love the Savior Jesus Christ for making a glorious life after death possible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NT).

Day 43: Journeying Back to Our Heavenly Home

Alma 26:35-37

Several years ago I accompanied a set of sister missionaries to a first teaching appointment. The man we were teaching had been referred by a friend of mine. He and his wife had moved from China, earned college degrees in the US, and recently purchased a home. As we made introductions, the man mentioned that he and his wife were still settling into life in America and often felt out of place. I remembered Ammon’s words from Alma 26:36  and felt a kinship with this man––are we not all “wanderers in a strange land?”

Earth is not our first home and it will not be our last. We were spiritual beings first, children of heavenly parents who sent us out from their heavenly home so that we could have the opportunity to become like them. They sent us to earth to provide us with a mortal experience necessary to prepare us for returning to our heavenly home. Earth is not the final destination on our journey: It is a stopping point where we learn how to use our agency, choose to follow Jesus Christ, make mistakes, repent, participate in the saving ordinances, serve others, and develop godly attributes. Only through the Atonement of Christ can we qualify to return to our first and real home.

The kinship I felt that day as a fellow wanderer in this “strange land” we call earth reinforced to me Ammon’s words “that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). God loves each of His children regardless of the distinctions so peculiar to mortality. Culture, creed, race, education, language, political affiliation, geographic location, nationality are mortal constructs, purely temporary and secondary to our shared eternal identity as children of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to all people, for we are each numbered and known to God; He wants each of us to qualify for and receive the greatest gift He can bestow––a place in His house to dwell forever.

Day 31: A Testimony of Christ

Mosiah 26

The Book of Mormon is replete with the words of Christ and testimonies of Him from His prophets, angels, missionaries, and disciples. I find the dialogue of Mosiah 26 especially beautiful. The premortal Christ responds personally to Alma the elder’s concerned pleading for help on how best to administer the Church in Zarahemla and deal with apostasy and persecution. I don’t feel the need to embellish this section with too many of my own words so allow me to highlight and make brief comments on the passages that really stand out to me:

  • God makes the all-important statement of existence: “I am the Lord their God” (v. 26)
  • God clarifies His role as the Creator: “it is I that hath created them” (v. 23)
  • He states one of His essential roles: “I am their Redeemer” (v. 26)
  • God testifies of Himself and His supernal role: “it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world” (v. 23)
  • God confirms His power and the qualifications for salvation and exaltation: “it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand” (v. 23)
  • God acknowledges the official organization over which Alma presides: “this is my church” (v. 22)
  • He declares His mercy: “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (v. 30)

Jesus Christ created our earth and mankind under the direction of His Father. He took upon Himself the conditions of mortality in order to understand what we, His children, experience so that He can best help us. He suffered, bled, and died to make repentance viable, forgiveness possible, and gift Resurrection to everyone who has lived, lives, or will live on the Earth.

Day 18: The bondage of mortality

2 Nephi 24:3

The promise for “rest” in the next life from specific conditions of mortality intrigues me, especially the conditions listed as hallmarks of the mortal experience. As I read this verse I wondered, “what is the “hard bondage” of mortality that we have been “made to serve?” Not everyone on earth has lived or will live in formal servitude but somehow mortality is defined by a type of bondage that all humans serve.

The word “made” could be interpreted literally as “God created us.” We were created to take on mortality and experience life in a physical body. In a way it’s a bondage of the spirit in a physical body, something divine and immortal tied to something mortal and dying. But other conditions of mortality create other scenarios of bondage. What about the human predilection for addiction or vices such as lying that ensnare our mortal bodies, compromise our agency and limit our freedom?

When we become attuned to the ways in which our spirits suffer from addiction, sin, interpersonal conflict, and more, God’s promise of rest in the next life becomes so much more poignant.

Day 17: Antitheses

2 Nephi 24:3

I love patterns and the scriptures are in no short supply. Some of my favorite Gospel patterns include pairings of opposites; I always find enlightenment in pondering how the Gospel resolves these antithetical equations.

Second Nephi 24:3 revolves around such a pattern. It contrasts eternity and mortality, promising rest in eternity as a salve to specific conditions of mortality. “And it shall come to pass in that day [the millennium/the day of resurrection, signaling the “start” of eternity from a human perspective] that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.”

“Rest” is here presented as a condition of eternity. It resolves sorrow, fear, and bondage which serve as fundamental markers of the human experience. If eternity is the antithesis to mortality, then sorrow, fear, and bondage are the conditions of mortality and antithetical experiences to eternal life. In which case, we can identify defining characteristics of eternal life as the opposites of sorrow, fear, and bondage: namely joy, fearlessness, and freedom.

Day 15: Righteous judgment

2 Nephi 21:1-5

This prophecy of Jesus Christ describes just some of the attributes that define His divine nature. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of God (respect and obedience) are all hallmarks of a righteous character.

The defining of Christ by what He is not in verse three invites a comparison between divine nature and mortal conditions. The five senses define mortality’s obvious means of interacting with the physical world, gathering information, and more. Indeed humans rely on the five senses as necessary and indispensable to gaining knowledge and making judgments about the world around us.

But Christ “shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” (v. 3, emphasis added). Rather than relying on the standard mortal means of observing, knowing, and judging, Christ relies on His divine characteristics.

This suggests to me that mortal means of seeing and hearing are not fully sufficient to comprehend truth nor to make the best judgments. Luckily for us humans, we can access the divine part of ourselves and further foster Christ’s divine attributes in order to “see,” “hear,” and understand truth. Righteous judgment requires godliness—the divine parts of ourselves coupled with refined, godly characteristics.

Day 14: Justice and Blessings

2 Nephi 15:25

More Isaiah! I’m beginning to see why Nephi felt such an affinity for the writings of Isaiah…maybe just a little. There are so many treasures of knowledge to mine in these chapters. I want to share a thought I had about the justice of God while reading 2 Nephi 15:25.

Isaiah 5, quoted here, begins by laying out a long list of sins. While Isaiah directed his writings toward the ancient children of Israel, this list serves also to inform humankind about temptations common to mortality and to warn against the consequences of sin (choosing to disobey God and give in to these temptations).

In a way, this chapter explores two sides of the justice of the God. God works within an established set of eternal laws, such as consequences follow sin. God helps us keep our spirits safe by providing commandments which, if followed, allow us to reap the benefits of obedience rather than be harmed by the natural consequences of sin. God metes out justice by distributing promised blessings for obedience, and enforcing the consequences of disobedience and sin.

Second Nephi 15:25 explores both the “punishment” side of God’s justice and introduces an important element that enables the “blessing” side of His justice. Verse 25 follows on the heels of the long list of sins God and His prophet have observed among the people and want to warn humankind agains; it confirms the consequence side of God’s justice:

Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets.

Note the factual (if not graphic) account of consequences meted out. It is just of God to enforce the consequences of wickedness. He warns and sends prophets to warn, prophesy, invite repentance, and give people every opportunity to choose obedience and not sin. God is just, therefore He must follow through on the forewarned consequences.

The verse concludes with a confirmation that, yes, God is going to be angry (and sad and disappointed) when people deliberately disobey Him and sin. But it also introduces a note of hope:

For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

It is also justice of another sort that God, in the midst of meting out consequences, offers an opportunity for the wicked to come back; “his hand is stretched out still,” inviting us to repent, to choose to be obedient, and to qualify for blessings. This captures a recurring theme throughout Isaiah of the loving, entreating God who invites His children to repent and turn away from sin. I get the sense from the juxtaposition of ideas in the closing line that He would rather mete out the justice of the good: promised blessings granted for obedience and righteousness.

No matter what we’ve done, we can repent and turn to God. He loves each of us and invites us to change our hearts and behavior through Jesus Christ so that we can qualify not just for blessings in mortality, but for the greatest blessing He can bestow—eternal life.

Day 12: Plan of Salvation in a nutshell

2 Nephi 10:25

Ever since my mission I am always on the lookout for pithy, one-scripture references that capture the core message of any of the missionary lessons. Plan of Salvation one-shot scriptures are especially tricky considering all the components involved, but 2 Nephi 10:25 addresses the essential parts of the Plan with beautiful, invocational phrasing.

Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen.

Isn’t that fabulous?! This verse is so succinct. The reality of life is that each individual on earth has an immortal spirit and a mortal body. In order to return to live with God, He has provided the Earth for our testing ground and preparation. We each need our spirit and body united together and clean from sin in order to enter God’s presence. But every mortal body is subject to physical death and we each sin while on earth (“everlasting death”), which separates us from God spiritually. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of mankind: He provides resurrection as a free gift to all, in which our spirits are bonded with a perfected, glorified body of flesh and bone; He also provides access to forgiveness of sin (cleansing of one’s spirit) by the power of His Atonement.

Day 10: Spiritual Strength

2 Nephi 4:17, 27, 30-35

The other day I had a moment of Nephi-like anguish for my mortal-ness. In 2 Nephi 4:17 Nephi exclaims, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” Have you ever felt the duality of your existence in this way? We are each of us parts divine and mortal, an eternal spirit in a mortal body. While our mortal bodies are essential to learning, growth, and preparation for eternal life, sometimes I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Sometimes my spirit desires righteousness and goodness beyond what my mortal half is capable of doing, thinking, or being.

I can’t imagine that Nephi was guilty of any really serious iniquities but I do understand that any thought, deed, or behavior in any way remotely contrary to God’s standard would cause discomfort for a sensitive spirit that had been cultivated in obedience, prophecy, visions from God, angelic ministrations, and righteous deeds. Mortal-ness is a powerful component of each individual. When we spend time engaged in mortal and worldly things, we feed this part of ourselves, making it even stronger. The reverse is true, however, that when we spend time engaged in spiritual activities and pursuits, we feed our spirits and make them stronger. Prayer, scripture study, family home evening, ministering, attending church, teaching the Gospel, worshipping in the temple, bearing testimony, and keeping the commandments all cultivate our spirits and strengthen them. Continuing to strengthen our spirits over our lifetimes is critical to developing the spiritual sensitivity Nephi demonstrates, as well as the strength of spiritual desire necessary to choose righteousness over every other option.

But as Nephi reminds us in verses 30-35, we don’t have to labor against mortal weaknesses alone. The Lord is there waiting to help us. Having experienced this same duality of immortal spirit subject to fleshy mortality, He understands our challenges and knows how to help. Like Nephi, we can put our trust in the Lord as He “makes our paths straight,” “clears the way before us,” “delivers us out of the hands of our enemies,” helps us to lose our taste for sin, encircles us “in the robe of [His] righteousness,” and “redeems our souls.”

Day 6: The Nature of Happiness

1 Nephi 17:21

The other day as we were planning our Book of Mormon-themed costumes for the ward Halloween party, I started throwing out suggestions; we could all be Book of Mormon missionaries, we could each be a member of Lehi’s family. My oldest daughter piped up and suggested she be Laman. My husband and I both gently shook our heads with  knowing smiles and said, “No, you don’t want to be Laman.”

Nobody really likes Laman and Lemuel but, in reality, we each have some Laman and Lemuel in us. Whether we sometimes feel like God’s requests are too much, too heavy, or too difficult, we humans are prone to murmuring and disobedience. Laman and Lemuel are like a type for humankind. So when I read 1 Nephi 17:21 this time around I immediately recognized myself in this typically Laman and Lemuel moment.

Nephi has been commanded to build a ship, everybody needs to help, and the now contented Laman and Lemuel who are enjoying Bountiful by the sea suddenly revert to their old schtick. “We have suffered in the wilderness” all these years, so many afflictions, everything was better in Jerusalem, “we might have been happy.” Laman and Lemuel insist on believing that happiness is something external to them and that only certain conditions will CAUSE them to be happy. “We might have been happy” if we had stayed in Jerusalem, kept our gold and silver, not been uncomfortable, had enough to eat, been with our righteous friends back home, and on and on. “We might have been happy” felt eerily familiar.

How many times in the midst of a difficult or stressful time in my life have I thought, “I could be happy right now if only: my husband had a job, we didn’t have to live with family, my children were more obedient, there were more time in a day, my infant had teeth, we had more money….” The trouble with this “grass is greener” mentality is that this line of thinking goes really far south really fast. The other problem is that it’s fallacious. Satan wants us to believe that THINGS and external conditions make us happy when in reality, true happiness comes from personal righteousness (i.e. obedience to God) and an internal choice to be happy.

If you are having trouble begin happy, I invite you to reflect on this anecdote from the Book of Mormon and identify ways you can increase your happiness through personal righteousness and choose to be happy.