One of the great hopes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can improve ourselves and prepare to return to our Father in Heaven. This ability to improve is part of the Plan of Happiness or Plan of Salvation that the Lord offers us. It is a gift that comes in several parts.
To understand it fully, we need to know how we fit into the “grand scheme of things.” Mormons believe that we lived before coming to this earth, that we are literal spirit children of our Father in Heaven and that we lived in His presence and wanted to be like him. In order to do that, however, we needed to receive bodies and have certain experiences we could not have in our spirit bodies.
So He made it possible for us to come to this earth to receive a body and learn to walk by faith. A part of that learning to walk by faith was that we would forget our prior life, passing through a veil of forgetfulness at birth.
In this life, we have experiences in our bodies that we did not have in His presence. We are tempted by physical appetites. We feel pain and suffer illness. And because we walk by faith, we make mistakes. In order to return to His presence, we must be clean. We therefore have problem: since we all make mistakes (sin) we are not naturally clean. How can we return to Him?
We can return thanks to the selfless gift of our older brother Jesus Christ who came to this earth, lived a perfect life and provided us an example and then offered Himself an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and was resurrected on the third day so that we also might overcome death.
The gift of the atonement comes in two parts – first because of the resurrection, all who lived on this earth will overcome death (when our bodies and spirits are separated) through resurrection (when our bodies, made perfect, will be reunited with our spirits), and second because of His atoning sacrifice which allows us to repent of our sins, allowing His suffering to replace our own. These two gifts demonstrate the grace and mercy of our loving Lord Jesus Christ and His Father.
After the resurrection we will ultimately be judged according to how we lived our lives here on earth. All will have had the opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ (not just those who hear it in this life). And those judged worthy by God will be able to return to His presence.
When I contemplate the Plan and its implications for me, it is quite astonishing. Though we talk about this subject often at church, when I take time to ponder the magnitude of the Savior’s gift, I am awestruck. And I’m certain that my understanding is still developing, so I suppose when I really understand it, I will be even more awestruck.