Friday, March 19, 2010

Adam's Transgression: A Necessary and Merciful Injustice

When I taught lesson 6 on "The Fall of Adam and Eve" from the Gospel Principles manual a month ago, and again last week while I listened to someone else teach the same lesson in Elders Quorum, the same question was asked:

"Why did the Fall have to involve transgression?"

It is a question on which the Church has no official position. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Quorum of the Twelve, taught in a 1993 General Conference Address titled, "The Great Plan of Happiness" (and it's a MUST READ), that "For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or ‘fall,’ could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a wilfull breaking of a law.” No one revelation has specifically answered this question, but I think an answer is at least suggested in the revealed canon of scripture.

My understanding of the need for transgression in the Fall stems from scriptures dealing with the resurrection. In the heavenly councils that preceded earth life, the Lord decreed that “they who keep their first estate shall be added upon” (Abr. 3:26), a scripture that the Gospel Principles manual explains gave all those who supported the Savior in his role as Redeemer “the right to receive mortal bodies” (GP 16). Our mortal bodies are the blessings which have been ‘added upon’ us as a reward for keeping our first estate. But scripture seems equally clear in explaining that the reward for keeping our first estate is not a mortal body; it is an immortal body. All who kept the first estate will receive a mortal body, and Alma teaches that every one of those mortal bodies will eventually be resurrected and become a perfect, immortal body, regardless of whether or not they keep their second estate here on earth: “The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form” and “this restoration shall come to all” (Alma 11:43-44). If the reward for keeping the first estate is a mortal body and all mortal bodies will unconditionally be resurrected, then it seems that the Lord’s real reward for keeping the first estate is that “all men become incorruptible, and immortal” (2 Ne. 9:13). This only seems just since “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” (2 Ne. 9:8), and those who kept their first estate would, ultimately, become the servants of Satan and those who lost their first estate with him.

Our sojourn on earth allows the Lord to see “who [will] keep their second estate” (Abr. 3:26) by obedience to his commandments and necessarily involves “opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11), so the Lord could not properly evaluate our willingness to keep this second estate if we enjoyed paradisiacal or immortal bodies in which “spirit and element, [are] inseparably connected” and perfectly harmonious (D&C 93:33). For this reason, we need to experience earth life in a fallen, mortal body in which we can learn how to make our own unruly, elemental “flesh becom[e] subject to the Spirit” (Mosiah 15:5) as a prelude to wielding divine powers of creation in the eternities after the manner of Jesus Christ, who created “all things . . . by the power of my Spirit” (D&C 29:30-31). We clearly need to experience mortality, but the Lord could not simply place Adam and Eve in fallen bodies because doing so would prevent him from fulfilling the unconditional promise that all those who kept their first estate would eventually receive immortal bodies. As Alma teaches, “the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil” (Alma 41:13), and if we had been created with fallen bodies, the Lord could not fairly reward “the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15) alike with perfect, immortal bodies; the wicked could not lay claim to an immortal body on the basis of their own merits or on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ. But, because Adam and Eve were given immortal bodies in the creation, immortality is what Alma calls our “natural frame,” and “all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption”

Christian theologians have spilled gallons of ink in explaining the justice of our Fall in Adam and Eve because they acted as representative heads of humanity, but Alma’s words suggest the exact opposite, that our birth into mortal bodies is technically unjust—in the same way that Eve technically transgressed God’s law by eating the fruit—because our natural state is one of immortality and incorruption. Jacob explains that “as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection” (2 Ne. 9:6). The resurrection must come because our Fall in Adam and Eve is an unjust but necessary consequence for actions over which we had no control, and the Fall, or death by Adam’s transgression, is merciful because it makes possible the trial of our second estate while guaranteeing that we will all receive the immortal bodies promised to us as a reward for keeping our first estate. In other words, revealed scripture seems (to me) to suggest that Adam’s transgression was necessary because it made it possible for the wicked to receive an immortal body—their reward for keeping the first estate—while still allowing them to “prove them[selves] herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abr. 3:25) while in mortality.

Without Adam's transgression, none of us would be entitled to an upgrade on our mortal bodies; the Lord could equitably only resurrect and immortalize those who exercised faith on him. As Alma notes, our redemption is separate from our resurrection because our release from death was necessary (according to God's justice), while our redemption from sin is a freely given gift; that is why the wicked dead can be "as though there had been no redemption made" even though they have already been resurrected (Alma 12:18). Adam's transgression is unjust because it unfairly consigns people who did not participate in the Fall to a mortal existence. It is merciful because it allows us all to prove that we will keep our second estate without risking the mortal body we won by keeping our first estate (forgoing double jeopardy, as it were). It is a merciful injustice.

“I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17), but I know God loves me, and I want to know more about his great plan of happiness. With this understanding of the need for transgression in the Fall, it seems I know just a little bit more than I did before.

1 comment:

Robert Hagedorn said...

Flogging my blog is oh so wrong.
But what else can I do?
I haven't a whole lot of time left.
So I do what I have to do.

It's all about Adam and Eve, you see.
It's not about lyrics that stink.
So focus a little on substance.
And forget about lyrics that stink.