This lesson consists of the instruction Alma gave to his son Corianton. Corianton was supposed to be serving a mission, and instead wandered off into dark paths. Alma provided us with an excellent example in helping the "willfull and wayward" in his treatment of Corianton. He pointed out the gravity of Corianton's sin and how he needed to change, and then he taught the truths that Corianton needed to better understand in order to make that change. Corianton's behavior needed changing in the worst way. His father taught him in a unique and highly effective way.
First, Alma pointed out what the wrong behavior was (sexual sin; see verses 3-11) and what caused it or led up to it (not following the example of his older brother/senior companion [verse 1], and boasting in his own strength [verse 2].) Considering that viewing pornography is a type of sexual sin, and this is serious problem for us today, along with the actual acts of fornication and adultery so common in our society, this chapter is perfectly relevant to us and should be carefully studied. Disregarding the counsel or example of an older Brother (or of The Brethren) because we think it doesn't apply to us, leads to danger. "Boasting in our own strength" or thinking that we are immune to the problems pornography or flirtatiousness would present if we engaged in them, leads to becoming ensnared in the grasp of evil.
Next Alma spelled out how the behavior needed to change. Corianton needed to turn to the Lord with his whole being--no "double life" allowed--and confess his errors.
"And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; that ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather [remember the importance of the word rather to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies in lesson 26?] return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done." (Alma 39:13)
What a difference there was between Alma's treatment of a child's misbehavior and the Old Testament prophet Eli's! (See Bible Dictionary, p. 663) And what a better result Alma achieved than the misery and destruction that fell upon Eli's family and people!
After clearly spelling out Corianton's errors and their gravity, Alma gave Corianton hope, as he himself had received from the words of his own father:
"And now, my son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ. Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare the glad tidings of salvation unto his people.
"And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming..." (Alma 39:15-16)
Here is where Alma's great insight as a spiritually in tune parent came into play. He was inspired to understand that Corianton's testimony was weak on the subject of salvation, and that was the root of the problem. President Boyd K. Packer has said, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." (October 1986 General Conference) Alma re-taught Corianton the doctrines he had not internalized (which we will study next week), counseled him strongly to repent (Alma 42:29-30), and then he gave Corianton a better purpose in life to replace the sinful one. (Remember the tennis ball in the pickle jar from a previous lesson?
"And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words. Amen." (Alma 42:31)
What a great example for all of us in our roles as adults leading children! When children make errors, it is because they somehow did not learn something, even if we were teaching it. So rather than just criticizing, we can teach it again. And if it doesn't "take," we teach it again. And if they slip, we teach it again. And sometimes, as in the case of Corianton, our love for them combines with our teaching and with the influence of the Holy Ghost to touch their hearts and help them to change.
HOW ALMA TAUGHT CORIANTON
Look at the first verse of each of these three chapters. What do you find in common? They each begin with "I perceive." How did Alma perceive Corianton's concerns? Through the Spirit, the only safe way to teach.
The three questions Alma perceived that Corianton had:
- Resurrection (chapter 40)
- Restoration (chapter 41)
- Justice (chapter 42)
- Resurrection is not immediate after death (verse 6).
- During the interim period, the righteous go to a state of happiness, the wicked to "outer darkness" (verses 12-13) (This is not THE outer darkness where the sons of perdition will go permanently. It is Alma's term for the temporary spirit prison.)
- When resurrection happens, the body and soul will be reunited in perfection (verse 23)
- Then there will be a final judgment after which the righteous will inherit the kingdom of God (verse 25) and the wicked will be cast out (verse 26)
RESTORATION (Chapter 41)
Who judges us at the initial "restoration"? In other words, who determines whether we go to paradise or spirit prison?
"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." (verse 2)
"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..." (verse 5)
"...and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil. Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved." (verse 7-8)
How is it that we are "our own judges?" We chose whether to do good or evil in this life, and thus we chose who we become and therefore what we will be restored to after death.
(You may want to do this little object lesson: Have two long dowels. Tape a label "righteousness" on one end of one stick, and "happiness" on the other end. Tape a label "sin" on one end of the other stick, and "misery" on the other end of it. Ask a class member to choose a stick to pick up. He can only pick up one stick. If he chooses "sin," of course, he will also be picking up "misery." Tell him you don't want him to be miserable, so ask him to pick up "sin" without "misery," or pick up "sin" and "happiness." Of course, it is impossible. When we choose our actions, we also choose their consequences. It is impossible to separate the two.)
"Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness." (verse 10)
Happiness is a very confusing concept to people in the world today. People pursue happiness in many different ways. It's hard to tell from the outside whether someone is happy or not. It is helpful to remember that there are different kinds of happiness. Pleasure is a temporary happiness; joy is a deeper and lasting happiness.
"Laws do not change. A law, like truth, 'abideth and hath no end' (D&C 88:66). A theory is tentative, subject to change, and may or may not be true. A theory is a means to an end, not the end in itself...Laws governing spiritual things were irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the earth (D&C 130:20). Often young people fail to accept moral and spiritual laws because the laws are not measured by methods they have been accustomed to using. Physical or natural laws are much easier to demonstrate, and can be useful in teaching about spiritual things. Let me illustrate. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water freezes and changes from a liquid to a solid. At 212 degrees Fahrenheit it turns into a gas. Your students know that and there isn't anything they can do about it--they can't change it. It can be described accurately or inaccurately, in complicated measurements in Fahrenheit or centigrade or anything else, and nothing that is said about it is going to change it because it operates according to law. It will freeze or evaporate according to the law. It should not be difficult to understand that there are basic spiritual laws that have always existed, that never change, that beget consequences, and we can't change them. The wonder is that we can depend on these spiritual laws. 'Wickedness never was happiness,' and anybody that has tried to find out, has found out. It is a law." (Boyd K. Packer, CES Symposium, August 10, 1993, quoted in K. Douglas Bassett, Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon, p. 344-345)
So what will Corianton's reward be? The same as for everyone else: a restoration.
"Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all." (verses 14-15)
JUSTICE AND MERCY (Chapter 42)
(Show the church video, "The Mediator," available at lds.org (where I can't get it to load--but look at the comments below; another reader found a better link) or on YouTube.
"It has been described this way: 'It really isn't fair that one person should suffer for the sins of others. It isn't fair that some people can commit horrible crimes and then be completely forgiven and cleansed without having to suffer for them. It isn't fair that those who labor for only an hour will get the same reward as those who labor all day. (See Matt. 20:16.) No, the gospel sometimes isn't fair, but that is actually part of the good news. It isn't fair--it's merciful, and that God it is so, for no human being can stand acquitted before the demands of absolute justice." (Stephen E. Robinson, quoted in Ensign, June 2000, p. 32)
"And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption." (Alma 34:15-16)
"The choice before us is mercy or justice. Either choice can be accommodated, and either choice is compatible with the nature and plan of God, but, as in the choice between the Lord and Satan, there are no third alternatives. Again, life has default settings, and they are set for justice. We can choose the mercy that is offered through the gospel covenant, but if we refuse that mercy, we will receive justice. (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, p. 60) (This is THE best and simplest book for understanding the Atonement. Everybody over age 12 really should read this book.)
"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. 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." (Alma 42:27-28)
Only one of these choices will lead us to the Celestial Kingdom. Exaltation is only available through the mercy of Christ (Alma 38:9). "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." (Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart, p. 7-8)
JUSTICE AND MERCY IN OUR OWN CHARACTERS
"Neither the justice nor the mercy of God can be understood, enjoyed, or emulated without also understanding--and practicing--the charity that is their essence." (Lance B. Wickman, "Justice and Mercy in the Warm Glow of Charity," Ensign, June 2000, p. 32)
"These principles that are at the heart of the great plan of redemption are also the very essence of the higher law of personal behavior taught by the Savior. He sought to teach that law in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5-7) and repeated it for the Nephites (see 3 Ne. 12-14). He sought to call us in our daily living from pedestrian plodding through what is merely just--that is, from giving to each what is due--to the stratospheric flight of mercy. He has called each of us to give to each person our love whether or not it is due. Unless we understand this, His mandate to 'be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect' (Matt. 5:48) is subject to gross misunderstanding...Truly, loving others more than self is the essence of the gospel of Christ. It is the soul of mercy." (Wickman, p. 33-34)
"God loves us not because we're so lovable he can't help himself--he loves us because his nature is loving, because God is love." (Robinson, p. 65) In order to become like God, we need to stop worrying about whether any person around us "merits" our love, and realize that extending charity to others is a product of our character, not theirs.
Maybe Alma's counsel to Shiblon would be good counsel for us as parents teaching our children.
"And now, as ye have begun to teach the word [to your children] even so I would that ye should continue to teach; and I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.
"See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.
"Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love..." (Alma 38:10-12)
I challenge you to read these verses every day this week, and allow them to guide your family and/or leadership roles.