Summary: The prophet Alma taught that certain people were called as prophets and ordained to the holy priesthood “from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding good works and faith.” Does this mean that before the world was ever created God had already decided that certain people would be ordained to the priesthood while others wouldn’t, and that some people were destined to have exceeding good works and faith, while others didn’t? This article takes a close look at what Alma meant by this statement.
There came a time when the prophet Alma resigned his position as the chief judge over all the land of Zarahemla so that he could go and strengthen the church of God because it was having spiritual problems. To do this, he went from city to city, preaching the gospel of Christ.
However, when he came to the city of Ammoniah, he was met with such great hostility that they drove him out of their city. Nevertheless, being commanded by an angel, he went back and continued preaching to them. After getting into a debate with a man named Zeerom as to whether there was going to be such a person as Christ Alma explained how all the prophets had testified that he would come
Then Alma said to the people, “And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.… And this is the manner after which they were ordained – being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding good works and faith” (Alma 13:1,3).
It could be said that this verse shows that Alma taught the doctrine of predestination, which is that God determines ahead of time what we are going to do. Alma taught that before the world was even created, God had already determined who was going to be ordained to the priesthood, and this would include deciding who were going to become his prophets.
Therefore, this scripture can be interpreted to prove that people can only do what God had ordained them to do because some people were chosen to be godly men while others weren’t, which can be further interpreted to mean that God determines who will be saved and who won’t. But if that is true then we have no choice in how we behave because God has already made that decision for us before the world ever came into existence.
Alma further explained that this decision was made “according to the foreknowledge of God.” If God knows beforehand what we’re going to do before we ever do it, this seems to add greater confirmation to the idea that we have no choice but to behave exactly the way God wants us to. On the other hand, it’s argued that if we have the ability to choose for ourselves how we want to behave then God can’t possibly know ahead of time what we’re going to do. So, did Alma preach the doctrine of predestination or didn’t he?
To answer that question, we need to understand the plan of salvation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that long before the earth was formed, each of us lived in heaven with God, and it was there that we were born to him as spirit children, and where we grew up, and were taught by him. Back then we simply referred to God as our Father in heaven, and like all fathers, God’s desire was to teach us what he knows.
However, there came a time when we reached a point in our education where it was necessary for us to leave heaven in order for us to learn from experience things we could never learn in heaven, such as the difference between good and evil, and become acquainted with grief and temptation. Therefore, our Father in heaven presented a plan that would allow us to further our education away from our heavenly home, but there were some grave dangers associated with it, mainly, if we made wrong choices and sinned, we would never be able to come back home again because no sinful person can live there.
This situation is similar to children leaving home to be on their own away at college. However, once there, they decide they liked their freedom more than studying their lessons and choose to spend their time doing fun, non-academic things. As a result, they could either fail their courses or violate the college rules and be expelled from school. If either of those things were to happen, they would forfeit the glorious career they had come to attain, and instead find themselves living far below that which they could have had.
However, our Father’s plan provided a way to help save us from these dangers by providing a Savior who could right the wrongs we committed, and the person our Father chose to be our Savior we know as Jesus Christ.
But a brother of ours by the name of Lucifer didn’t agree with our Father’s plan and instead offered a plan of his own that would guarantee all of us would return to heaven and be awarded all the power that our Father has. However, his plan would leave us no choice to decide for ourselves, but rather we would forced to always do good.
But our brother Lucifer wasn’t convinced that our Father’s plan wasn’t a good one, so he presented one of his own that he thought was much better. Because he was so sure that his plan was the only right one, a war broke out over these two competing ideas and before long, sides were taken and irreconcilable lines were drawn. The choice each of us faced back then was to either follow our Father’s plan, where we accepted Jesus as our Savior, or we supported Lucifer’s plan where we pledged our allegiance to him. As the war raged on, there were many who sided with our Father and fought vigorously and valiantly and were steadfast and unwavering in their commitment to God and Jesus.
In a vision, the Lord showed Abraham those who lived in heaven before the earth was created and told him, “And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born” (Abraham 3:23). Those spirits who “were good” were those who strongly defended the Father’s plan, and for their faithfulness, he chose them to become his rules and prophets here on earth.
Alma explained that these men were “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding good works and faith.” If they were called to be ordained priests after the order of his Son and to be made rulers even before the foundation of the world had been laid, then their “good works and faith” must have happened before then. Therefore, back then God was well aware of their loyalty and commitment to him and Jesus Christ.
It was because of this foreknowledge, or the knowledge he had before the earth was made, that God chose, or called these people to be ordained to the priesthood after the order of his Son, but, like all callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a person has the right to either accept or reject them, and this is just as true in heaven as it is on earth. Those whom God called to be his earthly rulers weren’t forced to take on this assignment, therefore it is certain that they willingly, and no doubt gladly choose to accept God’s offer.
But not everyone who fought valiantly for God’s plan were called to be great rulers and prophets. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” (John 10:27) Just like sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice when he calls them, so also those who fully supported our Father’s plan and accepted Jesus as their Savior in their premortal life, will recognize that plan when they hear it preached to them in this life and will be more inclined to follow it as they did once before.
But Alma also said that these people were not only called, but they were also “prepared from the foundation of the world.” God didn’t send into the world those he would later call to be his servants without first preparing them for their mission. Therefore, they were instructed, schooled, and taught, along with being given guidance, counsel, and directions on what they were expected to do and how to fulfill their duties once they entered mortality. Although, once they were born into mortality and consciously lost the memory of that training, it is nonetheless still there somewhere inside of them.
During all of this, at no time did anyone lose their freedom to choose for themselves. People willingly choose to fight for God’s plan, and after the war, they willingly choose to accept the call their Father had given them. Therefore, when they came to earth it was nearly a foregone conclusion that despite what challenges and temptations they’d encounter, it was certain that they would continue making that same choice to faithfully follow the Father’s plan because there was no logical reason for them to do otherwise. If God had any doubts about that, he wouldn’t have called them to such an important position.
Therefore, just because it had been determined ahead of time that certain people would become prophets and rulers, destined to do very specific things, doesn’t mean they had no control over their life. We can liken this to someone spending their time in high school and college playing football because of their love for the game. Then, one day, because of their skill, they’re selected to play on a national football team. No one who has been given such an honor would then go out onto the field during a season game and not play their best.
But just because they follow the rules of the game, do what their coach instructs, carry out the plays they’ve practiced, and execute the calls made by the quarterback, doesn’t mean they’ve lost their freedom to decide for themselves. Rather, before they ever joined the team, they had already decided to do whatever was required of them because of their love for the game of football.
In the same way, those who willingly went up against a ruthless adversary to defend the Father’s plan, did so because of their love of the Father. Therefore, when he asked them to champion his cause here on earth, they no doubt felt it was a great honor and came here determined to “fight the good fight” all over again against that same adversary.
The perfect example of this was Jesus. He boldly declared that he came, not to do his own will but the will of his Father who sent him (John 6:38). He later declared that the words he spoke were not his but that of his Father (John 14:10). Jesus didn’t come to earth simply because he wanted to, but because he was sent here by God, his Father, and was given a commandment to proclaim the Father’s words to the inhabitants of the earth. (This is why he’s called the Word of God.) But Jesus wasn’t forced to do this. Rather, he willingly agreed to do as he was asked.
As Jesus suffered in great agony in the garden of Gethsemane, so much so that he bled from every pore because of the excruciating pain, if there was ever a time when he had a choice to do something different than what was expected of him, this was it. In fact, he pleaded with the Father, asking that this bitter cup be removed from him, yet, even under such agonizing circumstances, he deliberately chose to submit himself to the will of the Father, not because he had no choice but precisely because he had the ability to choose.
From the days of Adam, it had been prophesied that the Messiah would come to redeem his people. The sacrifices that the Israelites performed in their temples foreshadowed Christ’s bloody death, and Isaiah gave a detailed account of Christ’s life. There was nothing more certain than that Christ would come and shed his blood to atone for our sins, and this was planned from before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).
But despite this event being predetermined, Jesus always retained his freedom to choose to do whatever he wanted. However, the choice he always made was to do the will of his Father, no matter what, and the reason why was because of his love of the Father.
But if God’s prophets and rulers always retain the right to make their own decisions, doesn’t that mean they are capable of choosing to do something different than what God wants them to do? Of course, and as we look at the life of the prophets, we see they all had their weaknesses, except Jesus, which clearly shows that being predestined doesn’t mean we have no control over what we do. But God didn’t send us to earth to fail, therefore, he is committed to helping us fulfill the callings we freely accepted from him. In the church we refer to this as supporting someone in their calling.
An example of this is when Joseph Smith asked the Lord if he could let Martin Harris take the newly translated manuscript back to Palmyra to show his wife. Twice the Lord told him no, telling him it was not a good idea, but as Joseph persisted, the Lord agreed to his request, not because he changed his mind, but to teach this young prophet a lesson.
When that manuscript became lost, God chastised Joseph, took back Mormon’s plates and took away Joseph’s gift of translation. When that happened, Joseph though he had lost his salvation and that his soul was destined for hell. But when God eventually did return the plates and the gift of translation, the fear that Joseph had gone through made him determined that no matter what happened, he would fear God more than fear what men would do to him.
Joseph learned a hard lesson from that experience, but it helped him to fulfill the mission God had given him, and which he had agreed to in his premortal life. Had Joseph failed to live up to his pre-mortal commitment, God wouldn’t have given up on Joseph, but instead would have applied more discipline in an effort to help Joseph complete the mission he had previously agreed to accept.
But God doesn’t do this only for his prophets. God extends callings to each person who comes into his church, and to him the role of a Primary teacher is just as important in their sphere as the calling of a prophet is in his. In the church, whenever anyone accepts a calling from God, their name is presented to the congregation for their sustaining vote, but when that happens God also raises his hand to signify that he too supports us in our callings. This is what he did with Joseph Smith when he lost the translation manuscript, and he does the same for each of us in our callings.
Therefore, when we accept any call from God, whether in his life or in our previous life, God not only expects us to honor the commitment we’ve made to him, but he will do everything he can to help us succeed in fulfilling it. It’s in this sense that we are destined to fulfill it.
What we see then is that to be predestined simply means that two people – one of whom is God – have agreed among themselves ahead of time, to perform a certain task while living in mortality. But, rather than this doing away with our agency, it actually confirms and enhances it. Therefore, when we come to properly understand this principle, we find that predestination is a true doctrine.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God