“The Merciful Plan of the Great Creator,” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 8
Why does life seem so difficult? Why does there seem to be so much sadness, hate, and unhappiness in the world? Why do the innocent suffer? Through the prophetic words of Father Lehi, we know the intent of the Lord is for each person to find joy; indeed “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). Why, then, are there so many unhappy people?
Our Heavenly Father has prepared a plan for us to be happy. This plan is known as the plan of salvation. It is also mentioned in the scriptures as the plan of happiness (see Alma 42:8), the plan of mercy (see Alma 42:15), or the plan of redemption (see Alma 42:11). The Father’s objective is to grant immortality and eternal life to each of His children (see Moses 1:39). His plan includes the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement, with all the laws, covenants, and ordinances that allow us to be exalted and live forever as a family with God.
Nephi’s brother Jacob teaches us the basic doctrine of the plan of salvation with great clarity in 2 Nephi, chapter 9. He calls it “the merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Ne. 9:6). The central figure of the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ, who made exaltation possible through His infinite and eternal Atonement. Our Heavenly Father has revealed the plan of happiness through His prophets.
The Lord created all things spiritually before He created them physically: “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. … And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them” (Moses 3:5).
Before this world was organized, we had spirit bodies and lived in a premortal world with Heavenly Father, the father of our spirits. We knew Him personally just as He knows us. He desired that we become as He is—having eternal life and exaltation. He presented His plan to us in a great council during our premortal existence. As He taught us the great plan of happiness, we learned that, as spirits, our progress was limited. We needed to obtain a physical body. God’s plan would demand much of us; some would be lost if they did not have faith or keep the commandments.
Satan opposed this plan, and disregarding agency he promised that if we followed him no one would be lost (see Moses 4:1). A third of the spirits chose to follow Satan, rejecting the Father’s plan (see D&C 29:36). We, who accepted the plan of the Father, were born into this earthly existence. We agreed to do the best we could. We knew that we would make some mistakes, and because of our mistakes, we would not be worthy to return to the presence of the Father. But as a central portion of the plan, a Savior—who would make it possible for us to repent and be forgiven—was presented to us. We rejoiced when the great plan of happiness and our Savior and Redeemer were presented to us (see Job 38:7).
Temporarily leaving our Father’s presence, we were sent to this earth. Through mortal fathers and mothers, our spirits were placed in mortal bodies. A main purpose of our mortal life is to test our willingness to do all our Heavenly Father asks of us. Obedience is essential for us to obtain exaltation and eternal life and thus become like our Father—beings of flesh and bone, immortal, exalted, and glorified. Only then will we be heirs of all He possesses.
Amulek taught that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32). With our conscience, which comes from the Light of Christ, every one of us can discern between good and evil, between truth and error (see Moro. 7:16–19). With our agency, the right to choose and act for ourselves, we can choose to do what is right or what is not. We can choose to follow the plan of happiness and obey the commandments of God, or reject the commandments of God and not be happy, for “behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). The progress we make and the happiness we attain depend upon our choices (see 2 Ne. 2:27).
Adam was the first man created upon the earth. He is the father and patriarch of the human race. Eve, his companion and helpmeet, was the first woman. Their transgression in the Garden of Eden—partaking of the forbidden fruit—caused them to “fall” and become mortal. The Fall is the process by which humankind and all things upon the earth fell and became mortal (see Alma 12:22). The Fall was a necessary step for our progress.
As mortals, Adam and Eve became subject to sin and death:
“Our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord. …
“Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death” (Alma 42:7, 9).
Death is a part of the plan of salvation. Physical death is the temporary separation of the physical body (which is mortal) from the spiritual body (which is immortal). After death, our physical body decomposes to its basic elements. As for our spiritual body, the scriptures teach:
“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection— … the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body … are taken home to that God who gave them life. …
“… The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise. …
“… The spirits of the wicked … shall be cast out into outer darkness. …
“… Thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection” (Alma 40:11–14).
Atonement means reconciliation of man with God. Atoning means suffering the punishment for sin, thus removing the effects of the transgression of the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of making a perfect atonement for all humankind. He was able to do this because He was chosen and foreordained in the great council held before this world was created, because He was the literal Son of God in the flesh, and because He was completely obedient to the Father’s will. His Atonement includes the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane for the sins of humankind, the shedding of His blood, and His death and subsequent Resurrection. Because of the Atonement, all will arise from the grave with an immortal body. The Atonement also provides the means by which our sins may be forgiven and we may live forever with God. However, this reconciliation is possible only if we have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, receive the ordinances of salvation, and keep the commandments of God.
Because of His love for us, our Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth to show us the way and help us return to His presence: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection, we will all be resurrected. Jesus Christ is our Savior, for He saves us from physical death:
“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. …
“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, … shut out from the presence of our God. …
“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 Ne. 9:6, 8–10).
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we may be freed from spiritual death as well as physical death. If we repent of our sins, He takes from us the suffering we must otherwise endure because of our individual transgressions. “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all,” said the Savior, “that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16–17).
This redemption is conditioned on our having faith in His Atonement, our repenting from our sins, our keeping the covenants we make with the Lord, our obeying all His commandments, and our enduring to the end. Obeying the sacred covenants and all the commandments qualifies us to receive the remission of our sins, allowing us to live clean and pure lives in the presence of God as resurrected and exalted beings:
“O how great the plan of our God! … The spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls. …
“… And the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Ne. 9:13–14).
Why does life seem so difficult? Why does there seem to be so much sadness, hate, and unhappiness in the world? Why do the innocent suffer? Why are there so many unhappy people? Many are unhappy because they do not know the plan of salvation; others do not believe the plan of salvation; and others, although they believe, are not willing to pay the price for happiness now and for all eternity. Do you believe in the plan of salvation? Are you willing to pay the price for happiness?
Jacob described those who are willing to pay this price: “Behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (2 Ne. 9:18).
Our Heavenly Father wants each one of us to receive a fulness of His blessings. Will we become discouraged because of the adversities of the world? No! Let us be optimistic. Let us have faith in the future, knowing that the plan of salvation is true. Let us trust the Father and endure to the end. Let us never forget that we are children of Heavenly Father and that each one of us has the potential to become like Him. Let us have faith in Jesus Christ; let us have faith in ourselves. Then we will have joy in this life and throughout eternity.
Discuss the four questions in the first paragraph. Then read this article looking for ideas and scriptures that could help answer these questions. Consider in 2 Nephi 9 the first sentence of these verses: 2 Ne. 9:8, 10, 13, 17, 19, and 20; bear testimony of the Lord’s plan of happiness.
Invite family members to select a piece of paper from three labeled with “Creation,” “Fall,” or “Atonement.” Have them report what they learned from the article on the part of the plan they chose. What is the role of Jesus Christ in each part? What effect does each part have on us?
Read the last section of this article and share an experience when understanding the plan of happiness helped you through a difficult time.