Joseph Smith (oops, I mean Jacob) shares a lot of his concepts about the Fall, sin, punishment and mercy. I remember reading this chapter as a kid and in seminary and it always seemed like such an important chapter. Look at all this cool stuff he's saying! What I didn't realize, of course, is that it's complete hogwash. It sounds like Smith is just making this stuff up off the top of his head.
Screwing with Cause and Effect
Smith talks a lot about how horrible our fates could be without the Plan of Salvation (although it's not referred to by name). But the focus is on HOW HORRIBLE OUR FATES WOULD BE and there's no explanation of why they would be so horrible. In verses 8 through 10, he proclaims:
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, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself, yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
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.
Reading this passage as a faithful Mormon, my reaction was, "Sounds pretty grim. Good thing God loves us!"
Reading this passage as an unfaithful ex-Mormon, my reaction is, "Wait...exactly how does that work?" He's saying that if there were no resurrection, our spirits would all be at the mercy of the devil and we'd all be stuck in Hell for an eternity. But why?
If there's no resurrection, then our bodies would never be reunited with our spirits. That's all that means. How does it go from that to being cut of from the presence of God and becoming as evil and miserable as Lucifer himself? This is the doctrinal equivalent of A + B = Q. What happened to C?
Teaching People Not to Think
Verses 28 and 29 of this chapter were one of my favorite scripture masteries when I was in seminary. Besides their intended meaning, I thought these verses were written in a very badass way. Now they kind of disgust me. Observe:
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
The church stresses the value of education. It wants people to go to college. But it also wants people to hold fast to the things they've been taught should they learn things in their studies that contradict what they thought they knew. These verses are probably hung on the wall of every office in FARMS and FAIR.
It's these kinds of verses that are designed to influence people not to doubt. Mormonism attempts to get everyone to dismiss their doubts as dangerous temptations from the devil himself. It's fine to want to keep people in your religion, but it's not fine to go to the point of trying to discredit other belief systems and quash members' attempts to think for themselves.
And more than that, this chapter, especially including verses 30, 42 and 43, sound like they were written by Joseph Smith, not Jacob. Smith was poor and poorly educated, and this chapter sounds as though the writer has a bit of a chip on his shoulder concerning the upper class. Sure, plenty of rich people are full of themselves and plenty of smart people think they know everything, but geez, man, let it go!
Undermining Your Own Doctrines
My favorite part of this chapter, hands down, is verse 25. To explain why, I'll start in verse 24:
And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.
Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.
So...this means that if God makes no laws, he doesn't need to punish us and the mercy of the atonement can save us. So that means, if he'd given us no commandments and still sent his son to die for us, we'd ALL be saved. And not only that, but damnation is God's creation. He's the one that decided people should be damned. I was taught that God operated according to laws of right and wrong--that he can't save a damned man from being damned simply because that was wrong and God couldn't do anything wrong. But if the whole thing was his idea, it makes it look like he's thrusting someone down to hell for an eternity because he's pissed off at him.
Lucifer's plan from the War in Heaven is starting to make more and more sense. If God doesn't have to damn anybody and is capable of saving everyone through his son's atonement...why exactly does anybody have to wind up in Hell? Wouldn't it be more loving (and Godlike) to save everyone?
Oh, right. Eternal Progression. Whatever.