Mormon Beliefs: Life After Death
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often erroneously called "Mormons") believe in life after death. In fact, they look forward to it. The doctrines of the LDS Church are more detailed regarding life after death than those of any other Christian faith, and this, because revelation to modern prophets has given us more information to add to that of the Holy Bible.
The Plan of Progression
Mormons view life as an eternity of progress, and believe that all of us existed for eons before we were born on earth as mortal beings. In the Pre-Mortal Life we were beings of spirit, sons and daughters of God. God has given us His mission statement in scripture:
- For this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Pearl of Great Price Moses 1:39).
"Eternal life" is defined in Mormon belief as an eternity in the presence of God, whose realm is the highest kingdom of heaven. Immortality is ours through the atonement of Jesus Christ. His resurrection guaranteed resurrection for all men and women, regardless of their worthiness. Thus, we are all immortal beings, but eternal life is conditional upon our faithfulness.
Receiving eternal life means to enjoy the life that God Himself lives, and thus Heavenly Father's goal is to help us to become like Him. Eternal progression is the means to this end. We began as spirits before the world was created. During mortality we have corruptible mortal bodies. During mortality, we can learn, develop faith, perform ordinances, and establish relationships with others that can be eternal. During mortality, we can be tempted to use our God-given free Agency to rebel against the laws of God, but we can also repent. The atonement of Jesus Christ] covers our sins, if we repent and follow Christ.
Life After Death
Death is the portal to the afterlife. It is the temporary separation of the spirit from the body. The spirit goes on to a place called the "Spirit World," which is divided into two areas — "Spirit Prison" for the wicked and those who have not yet accepted the gospel of Christ, and "Paradise" for the righteous who have repented on earth. This is what Christ was referring to when He spoke to the thief upon the cross: "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Before the crucifixion of Christ, there was a great gulf between Spirit Prison and Paradise, and it could not be traversed.
During Christ's three days in the tomb, He visited Paradise and organized a mission to spirit prison wherein those living there would have another opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ, and to repent. This was especially important for those who had not the opportunity on earth, and to those who were deceived on earth, or who misunderstood the gospel message. Those spirits in prison who repent may then go on to paradise.
This process was seen in vision by Mormon prophet Joseph F. Smith and is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138. It shows that God is just. Mormon doctrine teaches that men cannot be held accountable when they sin in ignorance. Here are a few verses from D&C 138:
- I opened the Bible and read the third and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly impressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:
- “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:18–20).
- “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).
President Smith saw the righteous spirits in Paradise who were awaiting resurrection, which they knew would occur when Christ was resurrected:
- All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand (D&C 138:14, 15).
Spirits in paradise enjoy the company of their loved ones, but still look upon existence without a body as a sort of bondage.
- While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
- But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised..." (D&C 138:18-20).
- And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them; But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
- And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets (D&C 138:29-32).
Ordinances for the dead are performed in Mormon temples, because spirits cannot perform these ordinances for themselves. They may accept or reject them as they will, and this while they dwell in the spirit world. Those who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ on earth, still have another chance in the spirit world. If they reject the gospel again, they must suffer for their own sins. This is one definition of "hell." This torment is called "endless torment," but it does not continue forever. This seems like a contradiction, but God has explained what "endless torment" means...
- "Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
- "I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore— Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment" (D&C 19:6-12).
There is another definition for "hell" in Mormon beliefs. This is called "outer darkness" or "perdition," and in this case, torment continues forever. Perdition is only for the very few who have committed the "sin against the Holy Ghost." In order to commit this sin, which is unforgivable and unpardonable, a person must have the heavens opened to him (or her) and have seen the Christ and partaken of His power, and then must have denied Him, thus "crucifying Him anew." Cain committed this sin.
All others but the Sons of Perdition will obtain a kingdom in heaven and receive a portion of the glory of God.
Mormon Beliefs — The Kingdoms of Glory
When Christ's Second Coming occurs, a great resurrection of the just will occur, and the spirits of those in Paradise will be resurrected and judged. The wicked will be resurrected after the millennial reign of Christ ends. Upon judgment, the resurrected dead will be assigned to a kingdom of heaven.
In the Bible we have a little bit about the three kingdoms of glory from the apostle Paul. He must have known and even taught much more than this regarding the kingdoms of heaven.
- There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:40-42).
- "And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
- "And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— (vs. 19-23).
Joseph and Sidney briefly saw perdition, and then the three kingdoms of heaven, and they added their testimonies to Paul's that the glory of these kingdoms differed as do the sun, the moon, and the stars. The bodies of those who dwell in these kingdoms also differ in light and glory. A person who can abide a celestial glory has a celestial body, and so on, as Paul explained. God dwells in the highest realm of the celestial kingdom. Christ ministers to those in the terrestrial kingdom, but does not abide there. The people in the lowest kingdom, the telestial, receive the ministration of those who dwell in the terrestrial kingdom. These are the kinds of people who dwell in this lowest kingdom of heaven:
- "These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus. These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit....These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work. These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial...(vs. 81-86).
- "These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie" (v. 103).
And this is what Joseph Smith said about the telestial (the lowest) kingdom of heaven:
- "And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding..."(v. 89).
Although the dead do not graduate from one kingdom to another, all except the Sons of Perdition are able to progress eternally and enjoy eternal glory. As the Lord has said, within the kingdoms of heaven are many mansions — many levels. Mormon beliefs describe life after death as more forgiving and glorious than any other Christian faith. God is Love, and His love is manifest in this great, eternal plan. His great love is again manifest in the Mormon belief, based on scripture, that infants and little children are innocent, covered by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Children who die before the "age of accountability," which is age 8, and those who are mentally disabled and never become accountable, are saved into God's presence, the highest level of the celestial kingdom. (See Moroni 8.)