Did Samuel the Lamanite study Alma’s words to his wayward son Corianton as he prepared to preach to the Nephites in Zarahemla? He doesn’t use Alma’s name anywhere in the sermon, but I see clear references to Alma’s words, particularly Alma’s explanation of the law of restoration.
Alma met with Corianton immediately after they served together as missionaries to the Zoramites. Corianton had made serious mistakes during that mission, and his misbehavior had hampered Alma’s ability to share the gospel. “O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites,” he said, “for when they saw your conduct, they would not believe in my words” (Alma 39:11).
Alma wanted Corianton to recognize the consequences of his actions and to change his behavior. To accomplish this goal, he needed to correct a doctrinal misunderstanding. Corianton apparently believed that God could “restore” us “from sin to happiness” (Alma 41:10). Like a privileged young man with wealthy parents, he apparently believed that he could get away with a certain amount of misbehavior, and that God would shield him from the consequences of his actions. Alma categorically rejected this belief. To restore something, he said, is to return it to its natural state, not to change it into something fundamentally different. God will restore to us what is appropriate based on who we are and what we have chosen to do.
The meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful….
For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored.Alma 41:13, 15
“Wickedness never was happiness,” Alma said (Alma 41:10). If Corianton wanted to change and begin behaving in a way that would result in happiness, God was willing to help him do so. But he couldn’t keep behaving in a way contrary to happiness and assume that happiness would somehow magically follow.
Nearly 70 years later, as Samuel the Lamanite stood on the wall of Zarahemla to address the Nephites, he reiterated the same principle: “Ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain,” he said; “and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head” (Helaman 13:38, italics added). Then, he described the law of restoration using almost the same words Alma had used:
[God] hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.Helaman 14:31
To be clear, Alma and Samuel aren’t saying that we’re on our own, that God has somehow abandoned us and won’t provide the assistance we desperately need. On the contrary, they’re telling us that, because this assistance is available, we are accountable. God is willing to help us become the kind of people who “do good and…have that which is good restored unto [them],” but if we would rather do evil, we need to know that good will not follow. In the words of Alma:
Whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.Alma 42:27
And in Samuel’s words:
Whosoever will believe might be saved, and…whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation….
Whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.Helaman 14:29-30
That may seem like a lot of responsibility, but it represents God’s trust in us and His willingness to respect our agency. As Elder Dale G. Renlund has taught:
Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him.“Choose You This Day,” General Conference, October 2018
Today, I will remember the true meaning of the word “restoration.” I will strive to do better and to be better, remembering that blessings come from obedience to law. I will seek God’s help to understand and act in accordance with true principles.