What Is a “Probationary State?”

When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became mortal. As the prophet Lehi explained to his sons, everything was static before that time: “If Adam had not transgressed…he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created” (2 Nephi 2:22). So by eating that fruit, Adam and Eve initiated life as we know it, with change, decay, illness, and suffering, and therefore with opportunities to develop our character, to overcome obstacles, to prove ourselves, and ultimately to find true happiness.

In order to achieve those goals, God gave Adam and Eve the gift of time. The consequence of eating the fruit was certain death, and the fact that they would eventually die was now a constant reality for them, as it is for all of us. But they didn’t die immediately. “The days of the children of men were prolonged,” Lehi said, “that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation” (2 Nephi 2:21).

The word probation comes from the Latin word probare, which means “to test” (Online Etymology Dictionary). When a person is on probation, they are given privileges for a period of time, and they are observed to see if they can be trusted with those privileges on a permanent basis. Criminals are placed on probation to allow them to demonstrate that their behavior has improved. A person taking on a new responsibility may have a period of probation to verify that they can fulfill their new duties effectively. (See “probation,” Oxford English Dictionary.)

But as the prophet Alma pointed out in the city of Ammonihah, and again in a private interview with his son Corianton, our time of probation is more than a time to be tested; it is also a time of preparation:

And we see that death comes upon mankind…; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead (Alma 12:24).

There was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God…. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state (Alma 42:4, 10).

Therefore, every day in mortality is precious. It represents an opportunity to prove ourselves and to improve ourselves. Nephi warned us that if we seek after wickedness during this probationary time, we will not fare well in the final judgment (1 Nephi 10:21). Samuel the Lamanite reminded the Nephites in Zarahemla that the time of their probation was finite, and that they should therefore not procrastinate their repentance (Helaman 13:38). And the prophet Jacob warned us not to waste the days of our probation (2 Nephi 9:27).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “The days of our probation are numbered, but none of us knows the number of those days. Each day of preparation is precious” (“Time to Prepare,” General Conference, April 1998).

Today, I will be grateful for the time I have been given to prove myself and to prepare. I will remember that every day is valuable, and I will strive to use the time I have been given wisely.

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