The Great Plan of Happiness

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 298–301


Introduction

In 1993 Elder Boyd K. Packer, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, told teachers in the Church Educational System that along with a brief overview of the subject to be studied, they should give an overview of the plan of salvation at the beginning of every school year:

“A brief overview of the ‘plan of happiness’ (which is my choice, my favorite title, in talking of the plan), if given at the very beginning and revisited occasionally, will be of immense value to your students.

“I have an assignment for you. … You are assigned to prepare a brief synopsis or overview of the plan of happiness—the plan of salvation. Design it as a framework on which your students can organize the truths you will share with them.

“At first you may think that a simple assignment. I assure you, it is not. Brevity and simplicity are remarkably difficult to achieve. At first you will be tempted to include too much. The plan in its fulness encompasses every gospel truth. …

“This may be the most difficult, and surely the most rewarding, assignment of your teaching career.

“Your overview of the plan of happiness should be but a sweeping glance across the unfolded scroll of scriptural truths. Your students can thereafter locate themselves in respect to the plan. …

“I will give you the barest outline of the plan as a beginning, but you must assemble your framework yourself.

“The essential components of the great plan of happiness, of redemption, of salvation, are these:

“Premortal existence
Spiritual creation
Agency
War in heaven
Physical creation
The Fall and mortality
Principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ
(first principles: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,
repentance, baptism, … )
The Atonement
Life beyond the grave
Spirit world
Judgment
Resurrection”

(The Great Plan of Happiness [address to religious educators at a symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants/Church history, Brigham Young University, Aug. 10, 1993], 2–3; or Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. [1994], 113–14).

The following information is included to help you further understand the great plan of happiness and develop your overview. You may be tempted to teach more about the plan of salvation than the brief overview Elder Packer recommended. Please resist, keeping in mind that many of the details of the plan will be discussed in the course of your study of the Doctrine and Covenants. As you teach these principles during the school year, consider referring back to your plan of salvation overview.

The Plan of Salvation Is Like a Three-Act Play

In a 1995 fireside address to young adults, President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, said:

“The course of our mortal life, from birth to death, conforms to eternal law and follows a plan described in the revelations as the great plan of happiness. The one idea, the one truth I would inject into your minds, is this: There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy. Understand that and you will be better able to make sense of life and to resist the disease of doubt and despair and depression.

“The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act 1 is entitled ‘Premortal Life.’ The scriptures describe it as our first estate (see Jude 1:6; Abraham 3:26, 28). Act 2, from birth to the time of resurrection, is the ‘Second Estate.’ And act 3 is called ‘Life After Death’ or ‘Eternal Life.’

“In mortality, we are like actors who enter a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed act 1. The production has many plots and subplots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heroes and who are the villains. It is further complicated because we are not just spectators; we are members of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!” (The Play and the Plan [CES fireside for young adults, May 7, 1995], 1–2).

Premortal Existence

Before our mortal birth we lived with our Heavenly Father (see Job 38:4–7; Jeremiah 1:5; Abraham 3:21–23). Heavenly Father is a glorified, perfected, celestial being with a body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” (History of the Church, 6:305).

Heavenly Father is the father of our spirit bodies (see Numbers 16:22; Acts 17:29; Hebrews 12:9; Moses 3:5). He possesses a fulness of all godly attributes and joy, and He desires that His children become like Him (see Matthew 5:48; 2 Nephi 9:18; Moses 1:39).

Spiritual Creation

Abraham saw that all of Heavenly Father’s children were “intelligences” or spirits that were organized before the world was (see Abraham 3:18–23). President Packer taught: “The spirits of men and women are eternal (see D&C 93:29–31; see also Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith  … , 158, 208). All are sons and daughters of God and lived in a premortal life as his spirit children (see Numbers 16:22; Hebrews 12:9; D&C 76:24). The spirit of each individual is in the likeness of the person in mortality, male and female (see D&C 77:2; 132:63; Moses 6:9–10; Abraham 4:27). All are in the image of heavenly parents” (The Play and the Plan, 3).

In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the First Presidency stated: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102; see also D&C 29:31–32; Moses 3:5; Old Testament: Genesis–2 Samuel [Religion 301 student manual, 1981], p. 32).

Agency

“1. All beings are subject to divine law, obedience to which brings blessings. Disobedience results in suffering and damnation.

“2. Each person has the divine gift of agency to choose good or evil. A person may worship how, where, or what he or she may, but only by learning and obeying celestial laws can he or she be exalted.

“3. Each person can choose and act for him- or herself only as he or she gains knowledge of good and evil and is influenced by one or the other” (“Basic Doctrine,” Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. [1994], 85).

The proper exercise of our moral agency is essential to becoming like God (see 2 Nephi 2:14–16). There are, however, some consequences to granting us the opportunity to choose. As essential as agency is to our growth, it was inevitable that we would not always choose correctly. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This consequence was anticipated and provided for in the plan the Father presented to His children in a premortal council.

The Grand Council and the War in Heaven

After our Heavenly Father provided us with spirit bodies in that premortal world, we were more like Him, but we still lacked many essential attributes. He is an exalted and perfected being with a glorified physical body; we were not. The Father called His children together in a grand council in heaven and presented His plan for helping us become like Him (see Moses 4:1–4; Abraham 3:22–27).

President Packer said:

“In the council of the Gods, the plan of the Eternal Father was sustained (see Alma 34:9; see also Teachings [of the Prophet Joseph Smith], 349–50). The plan provided for the creation of an earth whereupon his children would receive physical bodies and would be tested according to his commandments (see Moses 6:3–10, 22, 59; Abraham 3:24–25; 4:26–27). Each spirit in premortal life was provided opportunities for learning and obedience. Each was given agency (see Alma 13:3–5).

“A grand council in heaven was convened (see Teachings, 349–50, 357). The divine plan required one to be sent as a savior and redeemer to fulfill the plan of the Father. The Firstborn of the Eternal Father, Jehovah, willingly volunteered and was chosen (see Moses 4:1–2; Abraham 3:19, 22–27).

“Most sustained this choice. Others rebelled, and there was a war in heaven. Satan and those who followed him in rebellion against the Father’s plan were cast out and denied mortality (see Revelation 12:7–13; D&C 29:36; 76:28; Moses 4:3).

“Those who kept the first estate (you are among them) were to be added upon with a physical body and were permitted to live upon the earth in this planned second estate (see Abraham 3:26). Each was appointed the times and the bounds of his or her habitation (see Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26). Some were foreordained to be prophets (see Alma 13:7–9; Abraham 3:23; see also Teachings, 365)” (The Play and the Plan, 3; see also Bible Dictionary, “War in Heaven,” p. 788).

Physical Creation

The physical creation of the heavens, the earth, and all things thereon was another essential step in helping us become like our Father in Heaven (see Moses 1:33–39; Abraham 3:24–26). When God created the earth it was “very good” (Moses 2:31) and a place of beauty and abundance (see Genesis 1–2; Moses 2; 3:7–25; Abraham 4–5; see also D&C 59:16–20; Old Testament: Genesis–2 Samuel, pp. 27–36).

President Packer taught: “An earth was then organized (see Abraham 5:4). Adam and Eve, in a paradisiacal state, were the first man and first woman (see Moses 1:34; 3:7; 4:26; 6:3–10, 22, 59). They were married eternally and were given commandments (see Moses 3:23–25). They were in a state of innocence and knew no sin (see 2 Nephi 2:23)” (The Play and the Plan, 3).

The Fall and Mortality

The Fall of Adam and Eve was the next step in the great plan of happiness. The Fall brought about the conditions of mortality, including spiritual and physical death (see 2 Nephi 2:19–25; Alma 42:1–10). Mortal life on earth is essential to becoming like God. It provides us with the opportunity to gain a physical body and to be able to continue to grow and learn by having the freedom to choose to follow the counsel of God or the enticements of Satan (see Alma 42:1–12; D&C 29:36–43; Moses 5:9–12). It is by the choices we make that we “prove” ourselves (see Abraham 3:25; see also Old Testament: Genesis–2 Samuel, pp. 39–43).

Referring to his metaphor of existence as a three-act play (see p. 298), President Packer gave the following counsel about our mortal condition:

“As part of the eternal plan, the memory of our premortal life, act 1, is covered with a veil. Since we enter mortality at the beginning of act 2 with no recollection of act 1, it is little wonder that it is difficult to understand what is going on.

“That loss of memory gives us a clean start. It is ideal for the test; it secures our individual agency and leaves us free to make choices. Many choices must be made on faith alone. Even so, we carry with us some whispered knowledge of our premortal life and our status as offspring of immortal parents.

“You were born in innocence, for ‘every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning’ (D&C 93:38), and you have an inborn sense of right and wrong, for the scriptures tell us in the Book of Mormon that we ‘are instructed sufficiently that [we] know good from evil’ (2 Nephi 2:5). …

“If you expect to find only ease and peace and bliss during act 2, you surely will be frustrated. You will understand little of what is going on and why things are permitted to be as they are.

“Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. …

“Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of this great drama, you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much. Some are born in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering. Some experience premature death, even innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We have seen a lot of that recently.

“Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for his own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.

“There exists something of a script for this great play, the drama of the ages. …

“That script, as you should already know, is the scriptures—the revelations. Read them. Study them. …

“The scriptures speak the truth. From them you can learn enough about all three acts to get your bearings and get direction in your life. They reveal that ‘ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth;

“‘And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come’ (D&C 93:23–24).

“Act 1, act 2, and act 3” (The Play and the Plan, 2).

The Mission of the Church and the Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel

The Fall of Adam and Eve was not a mistake or a surprise. Had they not chosen to become mortal, neither they nor the rest of Heavenly Father’s children could progress to become like God (see 2 Nephi 2:22–25). The Fall was a necessary part of the plan, but there are some negative consequences from which we need to be saved (see the commentary for Genesis 3:19 in Old Testament: Genesis–2 Samuel, p. 42).

The gospel of Jesus Christ provides the way for all mankind to be saved in the presence of God and to become like Him if they will (see 2 Nephi 31:10–21; Mosiah 3:19; Alma 7:14–16; 3 Nephi 27:13–22; Moses 5:9; Articles of Faith 1:4; see also the commentary for Genesis 4:1 in Old Testament: Genesis–2 Samuel, pp. 51–52). If we refuse to follow the plan and do not accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we cannot be redeemed from our sins and perfected (see Mosiah 2:36–39; 4:1–12; Alma 11:40–41; D&C 29:43–44).

In every dispensation, prophets have been sent to teach the gospel to God’s children on earth. The Church of Jesus Christ has been established in these latter days to invite all to come unto Christ by proclaiming the gospel to the world, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead (see Amos 3:7; Ephesians 4:11–15; D&C 1:4–23; 110:11–16; 138; Articles of Faith 1:5–6).

The Atonement

Because of the Fall of Adam we will all die (physical death), we are all cut off from the presence of God and cannot return to Him on our own (spiritual death), and we all live in a world of toil, sin, and sorrow. The Atonement of Jesus Christ provides for the resurrection of all mankind, with immortal physical bodies, thus overcoming physical death. The Atonement ensures too that all mankind will be redeemed from the Fall and brought back into the presence of God in their resurrected state for the Judgment, thus overcoming the first spiritual death (see 2 Nephi 9:15, 21–22; Helaman 14:16–18; Bible Dictionary, “Atonement,” p. 617; “death,” p. 655). Through the Atonement, if we repent we can also be cleansed from personal sins and changed from our fallen condition to become like God our Father (see 2 Nephi 2:5–10; 2 Nephi 9:4–14, 19–27; Alma 7:11–13; 12:32–34; 34:8–16; 42:11–28; D&C 19:16–19; Articles of Faith 1:3; see also “The Grand Council and the War in Heaven,” p. 299).

No ordinary man could have brought about the Resurrection and atoned for the sins of all mankind. Only one who had power over death and the power of a sinless life could have done so. It required the sacrifice of a God (see John 10:17–18; Alma 34:9–14; D&C 45:4).

Life beyond the Grave

The Spirit World

Physical death is the separation of the body and the spirit. At death the spirits of all of Heavenly Father’s children go to a spirit world to await the Resurrection. In the spirit world there is a separation between those who accepted the gospel and kept the commandments and those who did not. As President Packer explained: “It is happiness, a paradise, for the righteous. It is misery for the wicked (see 2 Nephi 9:10–16; Alma 40:7–14). In either state, we continue to learn and are accountable for our actions (see D&C 138:10–22)” (The Play and the Plan, 3). For more information about the spirit world, see Doctrine and Covenants 138.

Judgment

When the Father presented His plan and proposed the creation of an earth, His purpose was to “prove” His children to see if they would keep His commandments (see Abraham 3:25). Through the Prophet Joseph it was revealed that we will be judged not only on the basis of what we do but also on what we desire in our hearts (see Alma 41:3–6; D&C 137:9).

The Judgment and the Resurrection are closely intertwined, and part of our final judgment will take place as we are resurrected. All will come forth in the Resurrection with perfect bodies, but they will differ in glory. All will be raised with a body appropriate to the kingdom they will inherit, be that celestial, terrestrial, or telestial. Sons of perdition will be resurrected but will not be given any degree of glory; they will be cast into outer darkness (see 1 Corinthians 15:35, 39–42; D&C 88:28–32).

President Packer said:

“After all have been dealt with equally, a judgment will be rendered (see Mosiah 3:18; see also Teachings, 218–19). Each will be resurrected in his or her own order (see 1 Corinthians 15:21–23). The glory one receives, however, will depend on obedience to the laws and ordinances of our Father’s plan (see 1 Corinthians 15:40–42).

“Those who have become pure through repentance will obtain eternal life and return to the presence of God. They will be exalted as ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Romans 8:17; see also D&C 76:94–95; 84:35; 132:19–20; see also Teachings, 374).

“Provision is made in the plan for those who live in mortality without knowing of the plan: ‘Where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation … because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him’ (2 Nephi 9:25).

“Without that sacred work of the redemption of the dead, the plan would be incomplete and would really be unfair. The ordinances of the temple—the endowments, the sealing in eternal marriage—are worth all the preparation required. Do not do anything that may make you unworthy to receive them or act 3 of this eternal drama will be less than you are now free to make it” (The Play and the Plan, 3–4).

Resurrection

Everyone who has ever lived on this earth, righteous or not, will be resurrected with an immortal physical body. This is a gift because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:19–22; 2 Nephi 9:6–15, 19–22). Not all are resurrected at the same time, “but every man in his own order” (1 Corinthians 15:23; see also Mosiah 15:20–26; Alma 40:1–2; D&C 76:15–17).