The prophet Alma told his son, Corianton, "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" (Alma 41:10).
This often quoted verse is well known to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but still there are many who question the validity of such a noble philosophy when they see wickedness prevailing in the world around us. Increasingly, it seems that people who do wrong not only get away with their unrighteous behavior, but even seem to prosper and gain the admiration of others.
There are countless examples that could be given of where people have lied, engaged in adultery, abused the power of their office, abused others, either physically or emotionally, engaged in fraudulent practices, used unethical business transactions, inflicted injure on others, or even committed murder and have seemingly gotten away with such unrighteous acts. And even if caught, they somehow manage to circumvent the legal consequences that are meant to provide fair and equitable justice. Under such circumstances, it is hard for some people to believe in out national motto "liberty and justice for all."
At the same time, there are even more examples of people who have lived an honorable life and have become the victims of wickedness. Good, honest, god-fearing people have been robbed of their money, fleeced out of their life's savings, emotionally traumatized, severely injured or outright killed. Again, the cry goes out: "Where is the justice in all of this?"
The skeptic points to such instances as these to defend their belief that there cannot be a loving God worthy of worshipping. The ministers of God counter by saying that God causes it to rain upon the just and the unjust, meaning that no matter what we do, God's mercy and love is extended to all people. However, that does little to explain why bad things seem to happen to good people and seemingly good things happen to bad people, or at least, they seem to get away with their wickedness. This makes some people seriously wonder if we really do reap what we sow.
Alma's son, Corinaton, was one such person. He was ordained to preach the gospel to the people along with his father, yet, he "didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron, .... after the harlot Isabel" even though he knew "that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord" (Alma 39:3,5). I'm sure he thought to himself, "What harm is there in this?" Seeing none, and suffering no negative consequences for his action, he continued doing that which was unacceptable to God. However, other people did suffer because of what he had done. His father explained, "For when they [the Zoromites] saw your conduct they would not believe my words" (Alma 39:11).
Therefore, it would seem that when Corianton did that which was wrong, it was others who suffered as a result his misdeeds rather than him paying the penalty himself. It seems that the only punishment Corianton had to endure was to listen to his father lecture him. What kind of justice is this?
Alma gave his son the answer to that question when he talked about what the scriptures mean by the term "restoration."
He first explained, "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" (Alma 40:21). Far too often, even for Christians, we tend to view our life upon this earth as though it were our only existence. When we see someone's lifeless body being placed in the grave, we behave as though it is the end of living for that person. With nothing more than faith to help us believe that our life continues on after death, the great majority of people have a hard time accepting the idea of an immortal soul. But precisely because it does take faith to believe in an after-life, the justice of God become even more effective.
When you put a seed in the ground, you don't pour water on it one minute and the next minute start pulling fruit off of a fully grown plant. It takes time for the seed to germinate, sprout, grow, develop and finally bear fruit. The same is true of our actions. In most cases, we don't do something one minute - right or wrong - and the next moment reap the consequences of our action. The scriptures tell us that our life here on earth is as a vapor (James 4:14). We are born, we live, and before we know it, we've passed from this earth. If we think that our life is made up of only the time we spend here in mortality, we then expect to see justice happen while we are alive on earth. Although we can see some results of our behavior during this time, the real fruit of what we've done during mortality doesn't become fully mature until we've left this world.
Alma explained, "For behold, this is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors" (Alma 34:32). A laborer is paid at the end of his duties, or the end of his appointed time, not while he works. And so it is with the way God deals with us. The reward for our labors - the full consequence of our actions - comes at the end of our appointed time to be tested. Life on earth is the time for us to labor in building our character, our habits, our desires, and our identity. It is after our day on earth is through that we more fully receive that which we have earned.
And how will we be rewarded? Alma explains, "And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also... be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them evil" (Alma 41:3,4).
The word "restore" as used here doesn't mean that if we do evil we will receive happiness. It means "you get what you give." Alma explained it this way: "The meaning of the word restore is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish - good for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful" (Alma 41:13).
In the LDS church we use the word "restore" in talking about a lot of things. We talk about the restoration of the gospel, the restoration of the priesthood, the restoration of Christ's church, and the restoration of essential covenants. We often use the phrase "truth restored." We refer to the Book of Mormon as the restoring of lost scriptures. We believe that the Israelite nation will once again be gathered (i.e., restored) and that the earth itself will be restored to its paradisiacal glory (Articles of Faith #10). The Bible even tells us that before Christ comes again in glory there must be a "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21).
To restore something means to bring it back or return it to its original state or condition. Therefore, if we do good to others, that goodness is part of us and it will have to be restored back to us. In the same way, if we do evil to others, that too is part of us and must likewise be restored or returned to us. Whether we want to refer to this as a universal law, or the justice of God, or the natural way of things, is immaterial. whatever we do - good, bad, or indifferent - will be restored, or returned to us. In the Far Eastern religions, they refer to this as Karma.
Knowing this principle, Alma strongly counseled, "Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually." Why should we behave this way? Alma explained, "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; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again and be restored" (Alma 41:14,15, emphasis added).
The problem most people have is that when they don't see this restoration happen during their life on earth, they become disillusioned, thinking that such noble sounding words have little to do with reality. But the "reward" (as Alma calls it) comes after our life is done. Before then, a merciful God has given us time to repent or repair the damage we've done (see Alma 42:4). This earth life provides us with the opportunity to undo the wrong we've committed. And if we can do that, then we have corrected our faults, therefore eliminating the need to have anything negative restored or returned back to us.
The irony of all of this is that since God has not given us any concrete proof that life lives on after death or that our reward comes more fully after death, we tend to behave as though the law of restoration doesn't exist. As a result, we delude ourselves into thinking we can continue to behave anyway we want and somehow get around any negative consequences we might face.
Then comes death. But by that time, it's too late to avoid the consequences. Our opportunity to repent is gone and the paymaster is ready to reward us for our labors.
At death, we get to take a close-up look at ourselves. We will see ourselves, not as we imagine, but as we really are. And then all the good we've done, however much or little there is, is given back to us. And the same is true of all the bad we've done. The pain, heartache, sorrow, anger, hurt, grief, worry, torment, and distress we've caused in others, will all be returned to us. Likewise, all the happiness we've created in others because of a helping hand, a comforting word, a listening ear, a gentle voice, a healing touch, a courteous attitude, or just a cheery smile will also be restored to us. In this life we have just the smallest taste of what that kind of restoring is like. However, after death, we then receive the full reward of our actions.
Alma explained it this way: "Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection.... 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.... Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in a darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God" (Alma 40:11,12,14).
The apostle Paul wrote about this in these words: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians.6:7-9)
Perhaps it might help us to better understand this principle if we look at a real-life scenario. Let's say that a terrorist plants a bomb in a busy, crowded location, and when it detonates, a lot of innocent people are killed and injured. But there has been much more damage done than just to those directly harmed. For a long time afterwards, hundreds of family members and friends of the victims will also mourn and suffer in anguish of spirit because of this one act of horror. The terrorist may never be caught, and even if he is, his associates in crime will hail him as a hero. If the bomber willing commits suicide to carry out his act of terror, his comrades will view him as a martyred saint for giving his life for their cause. Thus, they heap praise upon him and cherish his memory.
Those who are grieving long to see justice meted out to those who took the life of their loved ones. Yet, when they see the guilty escape punishment and so easily thwart the laws of man and God, they cry to heaven, out of the anguish of their hearts, "How can God allow such a thing to happen?" When they see good people murdered or badly injured and the perpetrator gets away free, they have a hard time believing that there really is such a thing as the law of restitution.
But that's only because they are looking for it in this life.
At some point all of us will die. The victims of a terrorist's bombing were going to die at some point anyhow. And, at some point, the terrorist will also die. And so will the victim's family members and friends. It's not when we will die or even how we die that's important. It's what kind of a person will we be when we do go to that state between death and the resurrection that has real significance for us.
The terrorist may have his moment of glory while he lives among those who are likeminded, but when his soul passes to the next state, then he will fully have restored to him all that he has done. The more people he has hurt, the more hurt will be restored back to him. When someone is grieving for the loss of a dear loved one, that pain alone can become also unbearable to endure. But imagine having to endure the pain and grief of hundreds of such people. That's what the terrorist has to look forward too.
If someone could hand the terrorist over to the angry relatives of the dead, and let them do to him whatever they wished, they could not even begin to cause the kind of torment he will endure as his actions are restored back to him. Yet, it is not God who is inflicting this punishment upon him. The man has done it to himself, and can't blame God, or anyone else for what he must suffer. As Alma explained, "for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil" (Alma 41:7).
We can illustrate it this way. Imagine one night someone crashes their new car into a tree while driving home extremely intoxicated. The next day when this person awakes in a hospital, they are told that their car is damaged beyond repair, that they've suffered multiple internal injuries and won't be able to return to work for at least six months, that the bank still expects payment on the damaged car, that their automobile insurance won't pay for the damages because of drunk driving, and they have no insurance to cover the hospital costs. Upon hearing all of this dire news, the person can't blame God or the insurance company, or the hospital or anyone else for their situation. The only person responsible for all these problems is the driver of the car.
In the same way, it isn't so much God punishing us like a parent punishes their child. Instead, He merely restores to us that which we have done. It's like holding up a mirror in front of us and letting us see who and what we really are. If we can't face the image before us, that's not God's fault but our own. Thus, whatever we receive comes from what we have given to others.
The person who's heart becomes filled with hate because of what the terrorist did to their loved one will someday die themselves. When that day comes, if they haven't learned to let go of their hate and overcome it, then, in the next state, they will have restored to them all the hate which they desired in their heart to give out. On the other hand, if they've learned to forgive, despite having a heavy heart, and move on in life, treating others with kindness and love, then that's what will be restored to them after they've died. Their heavy heart will only be for a short moment while they live in mortality, but that which they have done to others will affect them throughout all eternity.
The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, "Therefore I command you to repent - repent lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth and by my wrath, and by my anger and your sufferings be sore - how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent then they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit" (D&C 19:15-17).
This life affords us the opportunity to repent of our evil ways and have the atonement of Christ take them away from us. If we chose, through our own free agency to repent of our sins, they are forgiven and forgotten. In which case, there is nothing left of them to have restore to us. However, if we chose, through our own free agency, not to repent of our sins, then they must be restored to us. There is no getting away from it, avoiding it, or delaying it. And when we are brought to that awful state, we can't blame others for our fate, because we truly did do it to ourselves.
This, then, is the justice of God.
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