Spiritual Death

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "The Nature of the Natural Man" in the book The Fortunate Fall.)

The foreordained Fall brought “spiritual death” (Helaman 14:16) to Adam and Eve and to all mankind. Spiritual death includes what is referred to in scripture as being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 9:6; see also Helaman 14:16) and what President Joseph Fielding Smith described as “a state of spiritual alienation from God.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland provides more detail in the following statement:

“When Adam and Eve willingly stepped into mortality, they knew this telestial world would contain thorns and thistles and troubles of every kind. Perhaps their most challenging realization, however, was not the hardship and danger they would endure but the fact that they would now be distanced from God, separated from Him with whom they had walked and talked, who had given them face-to-face counsel. After this conscious choice, as the record of creation says, ‘they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence’ [Moses 5:4]. Amidst all else that must have troubled them, surely this must have troubled them the most.”

Most of us have experienced the deep and difficult feelings that often accompany long but necessary separations from those we love. Even though we may understand the necessity of such departures and that they are often a part of the Lord’s plan, such separations bring genuine sadness and longing to be with loved ones again.

Other times the separation we experience is spiritual and occurs because of someone’s sin or misdeed. When my oldest daughter, Jessi, was four or five years old, she had done something that resulted in my sending her to her bedroom as a consequence of her behavior. I remember her crying in a mixture of anger and sorrow, “Daddy, you don’t love me!” I did my best to explain to her that maybe the reason she wasn’t able to feel my love was that her anger was getting in the way. Jessi, as precocious as she was, may have been a little young to understand my theological explanation, but I believe what I was attempting to teach her is a true principle. After explaining “whom I love I also chasten” (D&C 95:1), the Lord taught a group of early Latter-day Saints, “If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness” (D&C 95:12; emphasis added; see also JST, Matthew 7:33). King Benjamin spoke of the same principle when he stated, “If ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you” (Mosiah 2:36; emphasis added).

After their transgression and before God formally removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Moses 5:1), they began to distance themselves from His presence. When they “heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, . . . Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden” (Moses 4:14). We know that partaking of the forbidden fruit was a transgression and not a sin because it was ultimately God’s will for them to do so, but their act of attempting to “hide themselves” from God may have been Adam and Eve’s first real sin. Some of the negative consequences of the Fall that we read about in scripture came because Adam and Eve withdrew themselves from their Father. Some of these aftereffects were necessary, and others were not.

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