Monday, July 11, 2011

Captured Prisoners and Triumphant Atonement

Matters of life and death have preoccupied me lately, and no, I'm not speaking about the future of America here. I am guessing the hearts and minds of many parents and brothers and sisters are weighed down with the burdens they carry for the sins of their family members.

I hope I can begin to offer more light and hope to such in this post.

The Great Plan of Salvation

The great plan of salvation, synonymous in The Book of Mormon as "the plan of redemption," "the plan of mercy," "the plan of happiness," "the great plan of our God," (see Alma 42), involves more than merely hoping for someday "being in a better place." In the covenant relationship there is work involved on our part too. However, when one we love was incapable of doing the work required here, let us be assured that life continues beyond the veil.

I don't know how many times we heard, "He's in a better place now," in the final farewells to my brother Drew, but they were many. However, the scriptures are clear on this point regarding our works in the flesh when we depart from this life:

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil — for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house — and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.
. . . there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 40:11-14; 21, emphasis mine).

In that merciful "space" we know as the spirit world there is agency, progression, repentance and continuation beyond the grave. A better place? Perhaps, but there is only hope commensurate with the desires of one's heart, and that's a piece of judgment that is hard for us to measure. I would bet most of us desire to do better than we do. We know better, but we are routinely subject to the desires of the "natural man," aren't we? (See Mosiah 3:19). Works can be seen, but desires of the heart are God's business, as the Lord makes clear in D&C 137:9: "For I, the Lord will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts."

On one occasion some years ago, we joined together as a family and cast out some evil spirits who were still habitating a home. It was pretty obvious some dark happenings had occurred there, and when we cast them out one in the group asked, "Dad, when you cast out evil spirits where do they go?" It was a good question, and as I thought about it the answer seemed obvious. Lost and disembodied spirits whose tendencies were to do evil during their mortal probation could be invited to seek out the missionaries in the spirit world who have the fulness of the gospel to teach. Since then, that's what I've done -- invited the evil spirits to learn the gospel. I'm not certain what that would mean for unembodied spirits, but I suspect disembodied spirits who are looking for truth can be helped on the other side. For these reasons, I suspect the spirits of those who chose to do good are the missionaries and those who chose to do evil are the investigators. In order for that work to proceed in the spirit world, there is little doubt they would interact with each other.

President Lorenzo Snow
President Lorenzo Snow offered this bit of consolation and insight into the condition of the souls of our family members who may stray in this life:

"God has fulfilled his promises to us, and our prospects are grand and glorious. Yes, in the next life we will have our wives, and our sons and daughters. If we do not get them all at once, we will have them some time, for every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ. You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. . . . God will have His own way in His own time, and He will accomplish His purposes in the salvation of His sons and daughters. . . . God bless you, brethren and sisters. Do not be discouraged is the word I wish to pass to you; but remember that righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost is what you and I have the privilege of possessing at all times." (Lorenzo Snow, General Conference address given 6 October 1893, as quoted in Collected Discourses, 4 vols., comp. Brian H. Stuy [Sandy, Ut.: BHS Publishing, 1987], 3:364-65, emphasis mine).

We have before us the teachings of Amulek, who reminds us the same spirit or disposition we have in this life will be with us in the world to come (see Alma 34:31-35). Continuing in an evil addicted course would make it incredibly difficult to change, especially when the body and spirit are separated at death. But I would ask is it impossible? Too often, I believe, we tend to deny another the opportunity to change, but we all know people who do change here. Why would they be unable to change hereafter in the spirit world?

President Joseph F. Smith
During the past couple of weeks, I've been thinking and pondering, praying and reading about President Joseph F. Smith's vision of the post-mortal spirit world. I've been imagining how "the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel." I believe that word "all" is instructive.

Then I thought about this verse: "Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets." (D&C 138:31-32; emphasis mine). That's descriptive and non-restrictive.

This same principle is echoed in the words of President Wilford Woodruff: "I tell you when the prophets and apostles go to preach to those who are shut up in prison, thousands of them will there embrace the Gospel. They know more in that world than they do here." (Joseph F. Smith, "In the Presence of the Divine," as quoted in Messages of the First Presidency, 5:6-7; emphasis added).

I've thought about so many like Drew, weighed down by challenges and crosses, circumstances, injuries inflicted by others' abuse of agency, wrenching and difficult life situations that only God can see and comprehend. That is true of members of the Church as well as non-members without distinction. Our spectrum of knowledge of the true facts in people's lives is so limited. We see and smell with our senses what is obvious; the sweet aroma of cigarette smoke on someone's breath, drunken behavior, drug abuse and a thousand other behavioral shortcomings, but few if any of us know the back story.

Why does a person become addicted? Why do some reject the gospel? Why does a child rebel and stray from home? Can we discern accurately? Are we in a position to pass appropriate judgment and close the doors to future recovery and reconciliation? Any drug rehabilitation expert will tell you about the high recidivism rates among those they treat on this side of the veil. Could we hope for better results in the spirit world.?

I have been reconsidering my perspective over the years as I have witnessed the breakage in so many lives of good people. Based upon my personal observations and the word of scriptures and prophets, I believe when a person passes through the veil of death, one who has a sincere desire to rise above wickedness but was tormented by his sins in this life, they will see things differently and more accurately than they ever did here. All the impediments and challenges and crosses to bear that were beyond one's power to control — sexual abuse, drug addiction, neglect, immoral environment, false traditions of the fathers, etc. — all of it will dissolve. Then perhaps they shall, as President Woodruff suggested, see and feel things that they could not see and feel before. Remember, these spirits may be as old as this universe, (2.555 billion years, said Joseph), and to think our performance in this brief mortal probation is the only accurate data point in our eternal existence makes reason stare.

President Boyd K. Packer
President Boyd K. Packer offered this contemporary insight:

"It is a great challenge to raise a family in the darkening mists of our moral environment. We emphasize that the greatest work you will do will be within the walls of your home, (see Harold B. Lee, in CR, April 1973, 130) and that 'no other success can compensate for failure in the home.' (See David O. McKay, in CR, April 1935, 116). The measure of our success as parents, however, will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.
"It is not uncommon for responsible parents to lose one of their children, for a time, to influences over which they have no control. They agonize over rebellious sons and daughters. They are puzzled over why they are so helpless when they have tried so hard to do what they should. It is my conviction that those wicked influences one day will be overruled. . . .
"We cannot overemphasize the value of temple marriage, the binding ties of the sealing ordinance, and the standards of worthiness required of them. When parents keep the covenants they have made at the altar of the temple, their children will be forever bound to them." (Boyd K. Packer, in CR, April 1992, 94-95).

While it is true Satan captures many prisoners these days in the battles for the souls of men, he will one day be overthrown and the captives will be set free. Jacob tells us about the ultimate victory:

Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.
For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement — save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. (2 Nephi 9:5-10, emphasis mine).

Salvation, Exaltation, Eternal Life

Throughout the scriptures the various prophets have set forth repeatedly what it means to be "saved" and how men and women may qualify for exaltation or eternal life.
Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith taught:  "Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet." (TPJS, 297).

He said on another occasion: "Salvation is for a man to be saved from all his enemies; for until a man can triumph over death, he is not saved. A knowledge of the priesthood alone will do this." (TPJS, 305).

In his Seventh Lecture on Faith, the Prophet Joseph taught:

"As all the visible creation is an effect of faith, so is salvation also — we mean salvation in its most extensive latitude of interpretation, whether it is temporal or spiritual. In order to have this subject clearly set before the mind, let us ask what situation must a person be in in order to be saved? or what is the difference between a saved man and one who is not saved? We answer, from what we have before seen of the heavenly worlds, they must be persons who can work by faith and who are able, by faith, to be ministering spirits to them who shall be heirs of salvation; and they must have faith to enable them to act in the presence of the Lord, otherwise they cannot be saved. And what constitutes the real difference between a saved person and one not saved is — the difference in the degree of their faith — one's faith has become perfect enough to lay hold upon eternal life, and the other's has not. But to be a little more particular, let us ask — Where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimilated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or, in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain without much difficulty what all others must be in order to be saved. We think that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings who are unlike each other cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved; and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved. We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude, as to the answer of this question, there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this, that he is the prototype or standard of salvation; or, in other words, that he is a saved being. And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved? the answer would be — because he is a just and holy being; and if he were anything different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change, in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitute salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him. Thus says John, in his first epistle, third chapter, second and third verses: 'Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.' Why purify themselves as he is pure? Because if they do not they cannot be like him. . .

"These teachings of the Saviour most clearly show unto us the nature of salvation, and what he proposed unto the human family when he proposed to save them — that he proposed to make them like unto himself, and he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings; and for any portion of the human family to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed; and on this hinge turns the door of salvation." (Lectures on Faith 7:9, 16, emphasis mine).

This is but one sample of the use of this word "salvation." In virtually all cases (there are only a few exceptions), salvation is synonymous with the words eternal life, exaltation, and eternal lives. Consider more examples:

In Alma 11:40, Amulek instructs: "And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else." 

In D&C 6:13, we read: "If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation."

In D&C 14:7, this passage: "And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God."

If Joseph Smith meant to tell us something different than the precise usage of the words he used, he easily could have done it. Almost always, salvation and eternal life are equated; they are the same.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:

"We are ofttimes prone to create artificial distinctions, to say that salvation means one thing and exaltation another, to suppose that salvation means to be resurrected, but that exaltation or eternal life is something in addition thereto. It is true that there are some passages of scripture that use salvation in a special and limited sense in order to give an overall perspective of the plan of salvation that we would not otherwise have. (2 Nephi 9:1-27; D&C 76:40-49; 132:15-17). These passages show the difference between general or universal salvation that consists of coming forth from the grave in immortality, and specific or individual salvation that consists of an inheritance in the celestial kingdom. All men will be resurrected and all men (except the sons of perdition) will thus be saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment. But only those who keep the commandments will "be raised [both] in immortality [and] unto eternal life." (D&C 29:43).

"Since it is the prophetic purpose to lead men to full salvation in the highest heaven of the celestial world, when they speak and write about salvation, almost without exception, they mean eternal life or exaltation. They use the terms salvation, exaltation, and eternal life as synonyms, as words that mean exactly the same thing without any difference, distinction, or variance whatever. Thus Amulek says that 'no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven,' and then asks: 'How can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven?' He teaches that men 'cannot be saved' in their sins; that Christ will come to 'take upon him the transgression of those who believe on his name;' and that 'these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.' Having thus spoken of the salvation which the saints seek, he also says: 'The wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made, except it be the loosing of the bands of death,' meaning they shall come forth in immortality. (Alma 11:37-41). Thus all men — except the sons of perdition who are cast out into an eternal hell — are saved, in that they become immortal and go to a telestial or terrestrial inheritance, but only those who believe and obey become inheritors of that celestial rest which the whole body of revealed writ speaks of as salvation." (The Promised Messiah, 129).

As we recognize our fallen condition and humble ourselves, we claim the merits of Christ's perfection in our covenant relationship. The brother of Jared understood perfectly and speaks of his weaknesses in the flesh because of his fallen condition: "O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires." (Ether 3:2).

Aaron taught these truths to King Lamoni  in Alma 22:13-14: "And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name. And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king."

If The Book of Mormon is ever accused of being anything, it should be accused of being "The Book of Deliverance," preaching nothing but the merits of Christ's atonement and His mercy and patience.

Abinadi challenged the priests of wicked King Noah's court with the question about how salvation comes. He asked them was it by the law of Moses? And then answered his own question in Mosiah 13:27-28:  "And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses. I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie offers this explanation: "Now let us suppose a modern case. Suppose we have the scriptures, the gospel, the priesthood, the Church, the ordinances, the organization, even the keys of the kingdom — everything that now is, down to the last jot and tittle — and yet there is no atonement of Christ. What then? Can we be saved? Will all our good works save us? Will we be rewarded for all our righteousness?
"Most assuredly we will not. We are not saved by works alone, no matter how good; we are saved because God sent his Son to shed his blood in Gethsemane and on Calvary that all through him might ransomed be. We are saved by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
"To paraphrase Abinadi: 'Salvation doth not come by the Church alone; and were it not for the atonement, given by the grace of God as a free gift, all men must unavoidably perish, and this notwithstanding the Church and all that appertains to it.'" (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 76).

The Apostle Paul reminds us, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
"In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
"That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
"Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:10-14, emphasis mine).

On occasions like Drew's funeral, we are reminded with a token down payment where we are transported momentarily and given a glimpse of the glories of eternity that lie ahead, that we are the "purchased possessions of Christ" when we claim Him as our Redeemer. Salvation is in Christ, which is eternal life and exaltation. There are few requirements beyond our best efforts to live the gospel, keep the commandments, repent when we don't, serve others and live so we may someday be comfortable in His presence. The truth is we are already in His presence, we just can't see Him (see D&C 38:7-8).

President Brigham Young
In the meantime, while we continue to toil here below, a word of counsel from Brigham Young in conclusion:

"It is present salvation and the present influence of the Holy Ghost that we need every day to keep us on saving ground. When an individual refuses to comply with the further requirements of Heaven, then the sins he had formerly committed return upon his head; his former righteousness departs from him, and is not accounted to him for righteousness: but if he had continued in righteousness and obedience to the requirements of heaven, he is saved all the time, through baptism, the laying on of hands, and obeying the commandments of the Lord and all that is required of him by the heavens — the living oracles. He is saved now, next week, next year, and continually, and is prepared for the celestial kingdom of God whenever the time comes for him to inherit it.
"I want present salvation. I preach, comparatively, but little about the eternities and Gods, and their wonderful works in eternity; and do not tell who first made them, nor how they were made; for I know nothing about that. Life is for us, and it is for us to receive it today, and not wait for the millennium. Let us take a course to be saved today, and, when evening comes, review the acts of the day, repent of our sins, if we have any to repent of, and say our prayers; then we can lie down and sleep in peace until the morning, arise with gratitude to God, commence the labours of another day, and strive to live the whole day to God and nobody else." (JD, 8:124-5).

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