Mormon Beliefs: Life After Life
Mel Borup Chandler is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormon"). He currently works in real estate investment and property management with his wife Sandra.
Because of revelation to modern prophets and the gift of recently revealed ancient scripture, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes nicknamed the "Mormon Church" know more about the afterlife than most Christians or members of non-Christian faiths. This knowledge brings a great deal of hope to Latter-day Saints and helps to mitigate grief over the loss of a loved one. Mormon funerals are full of hope and light and joy in the knowledge that in the after-life, we can be reunited with loved ones, so death is a temporary separation and not a permanent loss.
Does the Spirit Live On?
Many religions teach that the "soul" of Man is eternal. To some, this means that the body is left behind at death, but the spirit lives on in an afterlife. This is only partially true. According to Mormon belief, when a person dies, his body does decompose in the ground (later to be resurrected). The spirit goes to a world of spirits in the afterlife, called by Mormons, the "Spirit World." The spirit world has two areas, one is called Spirit Paradise, and the other, Spirit Prison. Righteous spirits dwell in Paradise, and wicked Spirits dwell in Spirit Prison. (When Christ told the thief on the cross that he would be with Christ in Paradise, this is what Christ was referring to.) Until the death of Christ, Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison were divided by a great gulf, but while His body lay in the tomb, the spirit of Christ visited the Spirit World. He enlisted the righteous of past ages to take the gospel to the spirits in prison, thus bridging this gulf. Spirits have the same personalities they had on earth. They can learn and make choices in the Spirit World, and can embrace the gospel that is preached to them there. Because of the ministry of Jesus Christ, spirits in prison can progress, repent, and move on to Paradise. (Read Prophet Joseph F. Smith's vision of the Spirit World.
The Spirit World is a temporary abode. It is where the dead await resurrection and judgment. The wicked who have rejected the gospel of Christ suffer for their own sins in Spirit Prison, so another name for it is "hell." But their suffering does not go on forever. It is "endless" suffering, however. Through modern revelation, we have learned what this means:
- "Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. 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" (Doctrine and Covenants 19:6, 10-12).
Spirits in Paradise enjoy the felicity of the relationships they formed on earth. These righteous will be resurrected at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, while those who remain in Spirit Prison will have to wait until the end of Christ's millennial reign to be resurrected.
The apostle Paul referred to kingdoms of heaven, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:40:
- "There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another."
Paul probably elaborated] on this matter, and probably on several occasions, but we only have a few of his words. Without modern revelation, we would be left to guess that Paul was referring to the three kingdoms of heaven. Through modern revelation, we know there are three main kingdoms, and that within each there are many mansions. We know that the resurrected bodies of those who dwell in these kingdoms will have varying amounts of light and glory — celestial bodies who dwell in the highest kingdom will have glory typified by the sun; terrestial bodies in the middle heavenly kingdom will have bodies typified by the light of the moon; people who dwell in the lowest kingdom will have glory typified by the stars.
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon beheld a vision of the kingdoms of heaven. They learned that there are three divisions in the celestial kingdom, and that God dwells there. Those who inherit the celestial kingdom eternally dwell in God's presence. The terrestrial kingdom receives the ministrations of the celestial and Christ, while those in the lowest kingdom, the telestial, receive the administration of the terrestrial inhabitants. In the vision of the kingdoms of heaven, these two men also saw who would inherit each one.
- The Celestial Kingdom — People who received the testimony of Jesus, were baptized by immersion by one having authority; who received the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; who kept Christ's commandments and were washed clean through [repentance and faith in the atonement of Christ; who overcame adversity and evil through their faith. These are "they who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace" (Doctrine and Covenants 76:94).
- The Terrestrial Kingdom — These are those who died without God's law; those who rejected the gospel of Christ on earth, but received it when preached to them in the Spirit World; honorable men and women of the earth who were deceived by the evil one; those who were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus during mortality.
- The Telestial Kingdom — These are those who reject the gospel of Christ but are not Sons of Perdition; they must suffer for their own sins for a time; these will not be resurrected until Christ finishes His work on earth. "These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie" (D&C 76:103).
Thus, even those who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ will inherit a kingdom of glory. Even the glory of the lowest kingdom "surpasses all understanding."
This is not to say that Mormonism has no doctrine of hell. Perdition, or "hell," or "outer darkness" is reserved for those who partake of the power of Christ and then deny Him, thus crucifying Him anew. This is called "the sin against the Holy Ghost, and it is unpardonable and unforgivable:
- Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power— They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come— Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power" (Doctrine and Covenants 76:31-37). The second death is spiritual death, defined as separation from God.
Some Christians claim that they are saved, and wonder when they ask Mormons if they are "saved" why Mormons stop and think before answering. The reason for the hesitation is the definition of salvation. From the above, it is apparent that Latter-day Saints believe nearly all who dwell on earth will inherit a kingdom of glory. Thus, it could be said that Mormons believe that salvation is free:
- "And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free" (2 Nephi 2:4).
Mormons who are active in the faith are concentrating on exaltation. Exaltation is salvation into the highest kingdom of the celestial realm, where families can be united eternally.
Resurrection is a free gift from God brought about by the atonement of Jesus Christ. The prophet Alma of the Book of Mormon gives a lengthy explanation of resurrection to his son (Book of Mormon, Alma 40). Alma also explains some things about the Spirit World in this chapter.
Resurrection is for every living thing on this earth. Said Alma:
- "The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame. And now, my son, this is the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets— And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God" (Alma 40:23, 24).
The loving bonds of family life can be the best thing we experience on earth, and losing a family member to death one of the most difficult experiences of mortal life. One of the most glorious messages of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that families can be reunited in heaven and even sealed together in eternal happiness. Families who center their life on on the Savior can make eternal covenants in Mormon temples. If they continue in faith, they may enjoy eternal happiness together. This blessing is reserved for those who make eternal covenants, bound by the proper authority bestowed by the Lord. Mormons urge and invite everyone to become worthy to enter Mormon temples and to partake of these covenants, which are part of God's Plan of Happiness.
Joseph Smith revealed to the early Latter-day Saints that parents who lose children to death may raise them in the afterlife to the age of adult prime (the age of all resurrected beings). What a gift this would be for bereft parents.
The Book of Mormon teaches that infant baptism is an abomination in the eyes of God, because little children are innocent, covered by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Babies and little children who die are exalted in the highest kingdom of heaven.