In Alma’s concluding words to his son Corianton, he speaks at length of the “plan of salvation,” the “plan of redemption,” the “plan of mercy,” and the “plan of happiness”—more than in any comparable scripture (Alma 42: 5, 8, 11, 13, 16, 31). What does Alma mean by these terms? Do they all denote the same thing, or does God have many such “plans”? Or, looking at Alma’s words more objectively, is he presenting nuances of meaning that help clarify different aspects of one eternal plan God has for his children?
Alma prefaces his theological discourse to Corianton with the words, “Now, I unfold unto you a mystery” (Alma 40:3; emphasis added), suggesting we can read profound meanings into his explanation, or rather, that the subject on which he is speaking involves things of an eternal nature that require a measure of refined thinking to comprehend. Aren’t we, after all, commanded to love God “with all our mind” as well as with all our heart, might, and strength (Luke 10:27; D&C 59:5; emphasis added)?
Upon describing the fall of man and the Atonement that “God himself” would make to counter the Fall’s negative effects (Alma 42:6, 14–15, 23), Alma summarizes with: “And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery” (Alma 42:26).
This lets us know that the Fall was not a huge blunder, as some Christian groups contend, but an integral part of a divine scheme that would get God’s children further ahead than they were before coming here—if they chose wisely—or, alternatively, further behind if they chose poorly. It would be a risk all would take who came to this earth.
With that perspective, the “fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience” (Alma 42:12) takes on another meaning. As a result of Adam and Eve’s transgression, “it was appointed unto man to die,” they becoming “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 42:6, 9, 11, 14). God’s justice required this (Alma 42:13–15, 21–25, 30), for no unclean thing (no transgressor) can dwell in his presence (Alma 40:26; cf. 1 Nephi 10:21).
But another consequence of Adam and Eve’s transgression was that now “man had become as God [or ‘Gods,’ Hebrew ’elohim], knowing good and evil” and subject to “follow after their own will” (Alma 42:3, 7; cf. Genesis 3:22; Moses 4:11). Elsewhere, Alma had said, “Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good” (Alma 12:31).
Mortality, therefore, was not itself evil but became a “probationary state” or “preparatory state,” a “time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4, 10, 13). Mortality was a God-given opportunity for his children to learn good from evil. Or, in other words, by having experience with evil through their fallen nature, they could learn to choose the good and reject the evil. This godlike attribute of choosing right or wrong, each with its consequence, would characterize mortality’s probationary state and could not be attained without the Fall.
Guidelines were necessary, however, lest God’s children be left entirely in the dark. Thus, “How could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment? Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man” (Alma 42:17–18). God’s children would be confronted with the effects of their choices—the blessing or the curse. In the end, they would be “judged according to their works,” “the one raised to happiness according to his desire of happiness, or good according to his desires of good, the other to evil according to his desires of evil” (Alma 41:3, 5). Mortality would be the proving-ground where this scenario could play itself out.
To ascend to happiness, a descent was thus necessary in which humanity found itself in a quandary and subject to physical and spiritual death (see Alma 42:9). That fallen state, some would learn to rise above through the merits of the Atonement, ascending to far greater heights than they could have attained without wading through mortality. Others would be unwilling to extricate themselves from the morass of sin and instead descend to even lower realms.
God would prepare the way for his children’s ascent to dwell with him in eternity by implementing his many-faceted plan of “salvation,” “redemption,” “mercy,” and “happiness.” But they would have to learn by their own experience to act like Gods if they would become “as God/s” (cf. Genesis 3:5; 2 Nephi 2:18; emphasis added).
Alma’s counsel to his sons to “put their trust in God,” to “let all thy doings be unto the Lord,” to “let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever,” if heeded, would allow God to “direct thee for good” and at last deliver them from their trials and afflictions (Alma 36:3; 37:36–37; 38:5). The things they endured in this life—even adversity and tribulation—would turn to good. God would reverse their circumstances and in them his “eternal purposes” would be accomplished. By remaining faithful to the end, they would be “lifted up at the last day” (ibid.), or, in other words, exalted in the kingdom of God. These were the “glad tidings” angels had declared in all ages of the world (Alma 39:18–19; cf. Moses 6:45–7:1).
As in the theology of Isaiah, ruin would come before rebirth, suffering precede salvation, humiliation lead to exaltation, and so forth. But in this case the end would more than justify the means. God’s plan could not work any other way. Adam and Eve’s descent to a telestial state would gain them an even greater glory than they had enjoyed before. They had already inherited Paradise prior to coming here, but they had chosen to leave it for a time for the sake of their posterity (see 2 Nephi 2:22–25). Likewise, for the sake of a lost and fallen humanity, the Son of God would “descend below them all” (see D&C 122:8) but in the end ascend above all and inherit his Father’s glory (Luke 9:26). This “mystery,” this divine fairy tale, is for us to fathom and fulfill as well as Corianton.