Book of Mormon Lesson 31 (Alma 39–42)
Having spoken plainly against Corianton’s sins, Alma next taught him of the hope he could have for forgiveness through Christ’s atonement (Alma 39:15–19). In the process of doing this, he shared details of our Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness for His children. As he did so, he referred to it by a number of names:
—”the plan of restoration” (Alma 41:2).
—”the great plan of salvation” (Alma 42:5).
—”the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8).
—”the plan of redemption” (Alma 42:11).
—”the great plan of mercy” (Alma 42:31).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “The Lord has described his plan of redemption as the Plan of Happiness . . . Conversationally, we reference this great design almost too casually at times; we even sketch its rude outlines on chalkboards and paper as if it were the floor plan for an addition to one’s house. However, when we really take time to ponder the Plan, it is breathtaking and overpowering!”1
The Spirit World
Between death and resurrection our spirits go to either “paradise” or “outer darkness,” which in this verse means “spirit prison.” “Taken home to God” in this case does not mean into the immediate presence of the Lord. It means “into the spirit world” (Alma 40:11–14, 21). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “‘Taken home to God,’ simply means that their mortal existence has come to an end, and they have returned to the world of spirits, where they are assigned to a place according to their works with the just or with the unjust, there to await the resurrection.”2
The location of the spirit world. Do the spirits of the dead go to a far distant place, or are they nearby? President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The spirit world is not far away. Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us.”3 Parley P. Pratt said, “(The spirit world) is here on the very planet where we were born; or in other words, the earth and other planets of like sphere, have their inward or spiritual spheres, as well as their outward, or temporal. The one is peopled by temporal tabernacles, and the other by spirits. A veil is drawn between the one sphere and the other, whereby all the objects in the spiritual sphere are rendered invisible to those in the temporal.”4 And the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith.”5
Paradise is a state of happiness, rest, and peace where people can “rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow” (v. 12). President Brigham Young said, “[On this earth] we are continually troubled with ills and ailments of various kinds. In the spirit world we are free from all this and enjoy life, glory, and intelligence; and we have the Father to speak to us, Jesus to speak to us, and angels to speak to us, and we shall enjoy the society of the just and the pure who are in the spirit world until the resurrection.”6
For those who enter paradise, there is only progress, never regression. The spirits who dwell there never become less faithful than they were in mortal life, nor do they fall from grace in any way. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “There is no equivocation, no doubt, no uncertainty in our minds. Those who have been true and faithful in this life will not fall by the wayside in the life to come.”7
Spirit Prison is a place of spiritual darkness and fearful anticipation, “looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them” (v. 14). President Brigham Young said, “What is the condition of the wicked? They are in prison. Are they happy? No.”8 Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “So complete is the darkness prevailing in the minds of these spirits, so wholly has gospel light been shut out of their consciences, that they know little or nothing of the plan of salvation, and have little hope within themselves of advancement and progression through the saving grace of Christ.”9
When righteous persons pass away, they do missionary work to the billions of souls who need to hear the gospel in the spirit prison part of the spirit world (D&C 138:29–34; 57–59).
The Resurrection is literal. This is no “spiritual resurrection” as many churches and pastors teach, but a real and literal reuniting of the body and the spirit. “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul” said Alma to his son (v. 23). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The resurrection is the creation of an immortal soul; it consists in the uniting or reuniting of body and spirit in immortality. . . . Resurrected beings have bodies of flesh and bones, tangible, corporeal bodies, bodies that occupy space, digest food, and have power, outwardly, to appear as mortal bodies do (Luke 24).”10
Job testified of the literal nature of the resurrection (Job 19:26–27). Ezekiel also testified concerning a vision he received of the resurrection (Ezekiel 37:7–10). The Prophet Joseph Smith received a vision similar to Ezekiel’s: “Would you think it strange that I relate what I have seen in vision in relation [to] this interesting theme. . . . So plain was the vision, I actually saw men before they had ascended from the tomb as though they were getting up slowly. . . . By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it.”11
The Resurrection is universal (Alma 40:1–2, 5). There is “a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead” means that every person who has ever lived on this earth will be resurrected (see also Alma 11:42–44). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Nothing is more absolutely universal than the resurrection. Every living being will be resurrected. ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Cor. 15:22).”12
The Resurrection is perfect (Alma 40:23). All things shall be “restored to their proper and perfect frame” meaning that our genetic code will be duplicated in our resurrected bodies. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “All men will come from the grave as they lie down, whether old or young; there will not be added unto their stature one cubit, neither taken from it; all will be raised by the power of God, having spirit in the bodies, and not blood.”13
President Joseph F. Smith said, “Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall attain to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning.”14 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Death is a purifying process as far as the body is concerned. We have reason to believe that the appearance of old age will disappear and the body will be restored with the full vigor of manhood and womanhood.”15
Children will be resurrected as children, not as adults. President Joseph F. Smith said, “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’ There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us.”16
The Sequence of the resurrection. Alma taught that the resurrection of those who lived and died before the resurrection of Christ would occur “before the resurrection of those who die after the resurrection of Christ” (v. 19), but was uncertain about whether it would occur at the same time as the resurrection of Christ or at some later time. We can see here that he was careful to differentiate between revealed doctrine and his personal opinions.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “To those who lived before the resurrection of Christ, the day of his coming forth from the dead was known as the first resurrection. Abinadi and Alma, for instance, so considered it. (Mosiah 15:21–25; Alma 40). To those who have lived since that day, the first resurrection is yet future and will take place at the time of the Second Coming. (D&C 88:96–102).”17
D&C 76:51–86 describes in detail the sequence of the final resurrection:
—Those who inherit the celestial kingdom are resurrected first (vv. 51–70).
—Those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom are resurrected second (vv. 71–79).
—Those who inherit the telestial kingdom are resurrected last (vv. 81–86).
The Doctrine of Restoration
Alma refers to resurrection as a “restoration” (Alma 40:23). One reason for calling it a restoration is because “the soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its . . . proper and perfect frame.”
A second reason for calling the resurrection a “restoration” is because “all things [will] be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2). Each individual spirit will “be restored to its body, and . . . every apart of the body [will] be restored to itself” (Alma 41:2). Each of us will inherit an eternal and perfected version of the body we have possessed in mortality.
Alma further explained the doctrine of restoration (Alma 41:3–6). He said that all men will be “judged according to their works” (v. 3), but also by whether “the desires of their hearts were good” (v. 3). If our works and our desires are good, we will “be restored unto that which is good” in the resurrection (v. 3). On the other hand, “if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil” (v. 3).
Alma also taught that men “are their own judges” (Alma 41:4–7). Contrary to popular belief, we will not need to stand before God to be judged by Him. The judgment will have already occurred at the moment of resurrection. We will rise in the resurrection “as we are,” and that will be determined by ourselves, not by God or any other person or being. In the end, we will inherit whatever we have made of ourselves.
Because of the principle of restoration, wickedness can never produce happiness (Alma 41:10–13). Alma warned his son, “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. The doctrine of restoration is closely associated with the law of the harvest. We don’t plant corn and get beans. And we don’t sow wickedness and then expect happiness. (Alma 41:14–15).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”18
The Law of Justice
Corianton was troubled by his father’s teachings that “the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.” He thought it unfair (Alma 42:1). This is a common attitude—that negative consequences or punishments are “mean” or “cruel” and that saying “I’m sorry” should be enough.
Consequences are not “unfair;” they are essential. It was Satan who wanted to spare us of any consequences, and one-third of our Father’s children agreed with him. But our loving Father knew that there would be no growth without consequences. He gave us our agency, making us “subjects” that can control our destiny through our choices (Alma 42:6–7, 10).
Justice requires a penalty for sin; otherwise, there would be no incentive to keep the commandments (Alma 42:16–21). Or, as Alma put it, “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment” (v. 16). Alma explained this principle by observing:
—Without sin, there would be no need for repentance.
—Without law, there would be no sin.
—Without punishment, there would no purpose for law.
Alma taught that the entire plan of redemption was designed to provide a way to satisfy the demands of justice and still make it possible for us to be forgiven of our mistakes (Alma 42:11–14, 22–23). Without an opportunity to repent “in this probationary state” then “mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice” (v. 13), and mercy cannot rob justice.
God cannot and will not cease to be God (Alma 42:13, 22, 25). Robert L. Millet said, “Alma’s hypothetical case is just that—purely hypothetical. He is arguing toward the impossible, the absurd, to emphasize the logical certainty of the principle that mercy cannot rob justice. It is as if Alma had said: ‘It is as ridiculous to suppose that mercy can rob justice and that men and women can break the laws of God with impunity, as it is to suppose that God can cease to be God.’ In fact, Alma concludes, ‘God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement.’ (Alma 42:23).”19
The Law of Mercy
God has provided a way for both mercy and justice to be served (Alma 42:15). God himself has paid the price of all sins “to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.”
President John Taylor said, “The Savior thus becomes master of the situation—the debt is paid, the redemption made, the covenant fulfilled, justice satisfied, the will of God done, and all power is now given into the hands of the Son of God—the power of the resurrection, the power of the redemption, the power of salvation, the power to enact laws for the carrying out and accomplishment of this design.”20 Thus, God has provided redemption from both spiritual and physical death (Alma 42:2–10). And “mercy cometh because of the atonement” and the resurrection of the dead (Alma 42:23–26).
Alma admonished his son not to be troubled by the law of justice and whether it was “fair” or not, but to “only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance” (Alma 42:27–31). In other words, stop making excuses and questioning the wisdom and fairness of God; instead, humble yourself and repent.
Alma closed his epistle to Corianton with a call for his son to return to his ministry (Alma 49:31). Corianton evidently responded to his father’s teachings and call for him to repent, because we do indeed find him serving faithfully as a missionary later on (Alma 49:30).
1. “Thanks Be to God,” Ensign, July 1982, 51.
2. Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols.  2:84–86.
3. God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, 22.
4. A Key to the Science of Theology/A Voice of Warning , 126–127.
5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 326.
6. Discourses of President Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe , 380–381.
7. Ensign, November 1976, 107.
8. In Journal of Discourses, 3:95.
9. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 551–552.
10. Mormon Doctrine, 637.
11. History of the Church, 5:361–362.
12. Mormon Doctrine, 638.
13. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 199–200.
14. “Come, Follow Me”, 5th ed. , 23–24, 447–448, 623–624.
15. Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:187.
16. As quoted in Ensign, April 1977, 7.
17. Mormon Doctrine, 637–643.
18. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255–256.
19. In Kent Jackson, ed., In Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 8: Alma 30 to Moroni [198x], 64–65.
20. The Mediation and Atonement , 171.