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“O how great the plan of our God!” Jacob exclaims. (2 Nephi 9:14) Yet for all its greatness, the word “plan” does not exist even once in the Old and New Testaments. This glorious idea that makes sense of our mortal days, that gives us courage for the weak moments and joy in the strong ones is implied, but not said specifically in the Bible. Do a word search on the computer for the scriptures and you’ll see the glaring absence of the word “plan” until you get to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, where the word is used richly and often.
What does it mean to us as we struggle in this life to know that behind it all there is a plan? Everything. This is not a random, miserable existence where everything is senseless, which begins and ends in vanity. It is instead a plan – and a great one indeed. It is not only a plan of salvation, but is also called the great plan of happiness. In that premortal realm when we understood the plan and saw that Jesus Christ would be the author of our salvation “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).
Existence on earth may offer some days when we might wonder if we personally raised our voices in that shout, but we did, shouting for the promise of progress and safety in the encircling arms of our Savior’s atonement. We understood there was a plan that would undergird and overarch our existence, and that joy is to be the long-term mainspring of our existence.
The Premortal World
Type the word premortal on a word processing program, and it will be immediately underlined in red – indicating a spelling error. The computer doesn’t recognize it as a word; to the world, it doesn’t exist. It never was. All the billions of us lived another existence for an undisclosed period of time before we came to earth and the world does not acknowledge it. For something of this significance to be hidden from knowledge must surely make it qualify as the best-kept secret.
In that grand council in the premortal world, the debate was not about the nature of the plan. The plan to save his children was God’s plan, and he did not need instruction or advice about the plan. However, the plan did require a redeemer, so the question posed was this: “Whom shall I send?” (Abraham 3:27). This was an offer for a volunteer. Perhaps such a weighty calling needed to be a gift, not an assignment. Christ had perfect understanding of his Father’s plan as he volunteered, saying, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). To volunteer to be our Redeemer was an act of incomprehensible love and courage by this Firstborn Son. What he would do for us in bearing our sins and infirmities, our wounds and pain, was something that we could not do for ourselves. We shouted for joy because he was one in whom we trusted to perform the atonement. We were basking in his love even as he volunteered.
Lucifer, also volunteered, but with a hideous twist. He said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). His offer was not based in love, but devouring self-interest. He wanted to become God by forcing righteousness. Yet, surely he must have known that forced righteousness is not righteousness at all, and even as he made what must have appeared to some a noble offer, it was laced with lies. His was an offer to stunt our growth and exalt only himself. What’s more, it was an offer to undo God’s own plan.
Because God said that he would send the first, Lucifer rebelled, was cast out of heaven, and became Satan, the father of lies. We understand from the scriptures that in that first estate, the premortal world, some exercised exceedingly great faith (Alma 13:3,4) and also that “there were many of the noble and great ones” (Abraham 3:22), but exceeding all was Jesus Christ who would be the Redeemer of us all.
Adam Fell, Christ Redeemed
Adam and Eve transgressed and fell, which entailed both physical and spiritual death. Though man is punished for his own sin and not Adam’s transgression, the children of Adam and Eve inherited both physical and spiritual death, cast into a world where we would die – and sin – banishing us forever from the presence of God. The first is physical death; the second is spiritual death. These deaths, our common lot, would be our common end if not for God’s infinite foreknowledge in preparing a way for our escape through the Savior. He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal, and earth’s earliest inhabitants understood it. The gospel Christ taught during his mortal ministry was not a new teaching that suddenly sprung into existence in the meridian of time as is taught by other religions. Adam and Eve knew that a Savior would come and understood the plan of salvation. In dispensations leading to the time of Christ’s ministry, prophets taught the gospel of redemption. Jacob taught us that, “none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ” (Jacob 7:11).
Adam’s fall required a Savior who could be resurrected and atone for our sins, He would take upon himself our sins and wounds that we might not have to carry those burdens ourselves. He said, “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 they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink. Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:16-19).
The intense agony Jesus faced in the garden was not from fear of death or the pain of crucifixion. As the Son of an eternal Father, no one could take His life from Him. But in these midnight hours He would face the ultimate contest with all the powers of darkness as He took upon Himself the pain, sin, infirmities, and anguish of a corrupted world.
Without this bitter cup, the drinking of whose dregs was the weightiest task in all the universe, we would be spiritually dead. Once having sinned, we would be unclean, unable to return to our Heavenly Father, debtors faced with an impossible debt.
Without repentance, the day will come when with absolute clarity we will stand before the bar of God and “shall have a perfect knowledge of all out guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness” (2 Nephi 9:14).With repentance, made possible by a perfect Son, a sacrificial Lamb, paying a price that was not His, our staggering burdens of sin and guilt can be lifted, and we can be given new life.
Who in this heartbreaking world of self-disappointment does not need this gift? When in the sorrow of our hearts we cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness,” (Alma 36:18), there is one who hears with mercy because of this night in Gethsemane.
The burden and blessing of our mortal lives is to come to understand this truth, and it is the key to our progression and where we will spend the rest of eternity. Christ’s atonement was prepared for in the premortal world and executed here, and the future for each of us is entirely dependent on our accepting that gift. The weaknesses of mortalilty can be turned to strengths, wounds can be healed and debts paid because of our Savior’s love.
The essence of the atonement is to become at-one, reconciled again with God that we can return to him. This, too, is the essence of the gospel and the plan of salvation.
Newell HarwardMay 19, 2017