CLICK HERE to read Alma 42.
This chapter concludes Alma, Jr.’s speech to his son Corianton.
He opens by addressing Corianton’s concerns that a good God would not punish people, because that’s unfair. Corianton has told his father that he supposes “that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery” (verse 1). To explain, Alma goes all the way back to the garden of Eden (verse 2). He explains that for us to truly have the ability to choose to love God or not, we must have choice. Without choice, we cannot choose. So we are sent to Earth for a time of testing, given the ability to choose. Our choices demonstrate, prove, show whether or not we love God, and how much.
But even in our failings, we are not condemned, because our Father knew we were only His children, not yet grown to “adulthood” as He is, and so He knew we could not do it perfectly. Rather than this being a setup where we would surely fail, He did arrange from the beginning – a part of the plan, always, ahead of time, before any of us were even born – He did arrange for the Savior’s atonement to cover us, and He provided prophets (the flaming sword) throughout time on Earth to teach us that plan and point us to the atonement, for it is the only way (verses 2-3, 5). But to apply that atonement, for it to be used for our own sake, we must claim it through repentance. In this way, our lives are the time to learn how to make good choices, and to repent and claim the atonement when we do not. “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (verse 4).
So we were all sent here, away from His presence, to be tested as to what choices we really would make. Most kids are good when their parents are watching, when they can see them and know they are paying attention. It’s usually when we know no one is looking that we are naughty. So we were sent here, away from His presence, to be tested, for our “true colors” to show (verse 6). On Earth, in our current mortal lives, we are cut off from the physical and spiritual presence of the Lord, and left to our own devices (verses 7-9). However, He did not abandon us completely, as He has provided a way for us to be reunited with Him in the future (by the atonement of Christ), and a way for us to have His presence with us now (by the Holy Spirit).
But we have to be worthy of the presence of the Holy Spirit, for it is holy, and we have to do the work of claiming (submitting to) the atonement of Christ. It is this process that cleanses us of what is not-of-God, so that we can be made more like our Father. This process prepares us to return to His presence, making this lifetime only a “preparatory state”, a “probation” (verse 10).
Thus if it were not for the atonement of Christ (necessary also for the gift of the Holy Spirit), we would be entirely cut off from God (verse 11). Further, this would be our own consequences for our disobedience, our poor use of the freedom to choose, and our failing to develop that skill well (verse 12).
So it is that God is not going to force us to love Him, because love is always a choice. This is why it is not injustice to cast out those who do not choose to love Him. If he forced people to stay with Him, it would not be a choice; if He forced people to love Him, it would not be love. “God would cease to be God” (verse 13).
Each of us – all of us – must develop this ability to choose and choose to follow God. Until we do, we are fallen, and still “in the grasp of justice”, which cuts us off from His presence (verse 14). It is the atonement of Christ that paid the price of justice, so that God may show us mercy: “therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, 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” (verse 15).
So we have the choice to either claim mercy through repentance by the atonement, or to accept our consequences (verse 16). Laws and commandments are given so that we might become more like our Father, through the atonement of Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is punishment, or consequences, because there is a law – choices – saying what is good and right, and what is not. And having an option for what is not, means that we need a way provided for repentance or else we would be lost completely and forever (verses 17-19). And without a way for repentance, there would be no way for mercy (verse 21).
But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God (verse 22).
But we are not left hopeless! And God does not cease to be God!
… mercy claimeth the pentitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into His presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice (verse 23).
So the atonement meets the demands of justice, and so we find mercy.
But only those who claim the atonement can find mercy (verses 24-25).
This is how mercy was part of the plan all along, even though we were sent here to be tested according to the law. “And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world (premortality!). And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and mercy” (verse 26). So we have the ability and freedom to choose to be redeemed with mercy, or to be left to our own consequences; no one is compelled (verse 27).
But we will get what we choose. We will reap the harvest of what we have sown. We will get the consequences we earned by what we do not, what we choose now, how we interact with each other today.
… 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 (verses 27-28).
So we should not be troubled by not understanding, or thinking we cannot know. We do know, and it has been explained to us. Instead, we should focus on our own sins, and let those trouble us, so that it may “bring you down unto repentance” (verse 29). We should not excuse ourselves “in the least point” because of our sins, but claim the atonement in every way (verse 30), and “let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering, have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (verse 30).
He then calls Corianton to step up and return to his mission, to preach and teach to the people, “that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them” (verse 31). This is mercy, even by example, inviting Corianton to repent and return to what he has been asked to do, rather than condemning him or giving up on him. Not only this, but Alma sees that his son needs more time with him, that they need to serve together so that his son can gain experience and testimony and have the example and leadership of his father. So the following chapters are about their mission together, with Alma and his sons.