The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—teaches that paradise is that part of the spirit world in which the righteous spirits who have departed this life await the resurrection. It is a state of peace and happiness.
Paradise is best understood in the context of God’s great plan for His children. All humans are spirit children of Heavenly Father. Before coming to earth, Heavenly Father’s spirit children lived with Him in heaven. In the Church of Jesus Christ, this is sometimes called the premortal life or premortal existence. Each person came to earth to obtain a physical body of flesh and bone. This life is a probationary state, for men and women to prove to God that they will follow Him and keep His commandments. Heavenly Father knew that as mortal beings, His spirit children would sin. And no unclean thing can dwell in His presence. Thus, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to perform the Atonement to prepare a way for us to return to His presence.  When a person dies, his or her spirit and body separate—the spirit moves on to the spirit world, and the body to the grave. This is called physical death. The body of every person who has ever lived will be reunited with his or her spirit in what is called the Resurrection. All of this is possible through the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. During the time between death and the resurrection, every spirit will go to one of two places: paradise or spirit prison. It is important to note that the time in paradise or spirit prison is temporary. It is not the final judgment.
What is Paradise?
Paradise is the rest of the righteous, a place in the spirit world designated for those who have been baptized by proper priesthood authority and remained faithful to their covenants. (The priesthood is the power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of His children.) In the Book of Mormon—another testament of Jesus Christ and a companion scripture to the Bible—the prophet Alma taught:
- The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow (Alma 40:12).
- My father . . . talked to me during the nights as he approached death. He spoke of joyous reunions that were coming soon in the spirit world. I could almost see the bright sunlight and the smiles in that place of paradise as he talked about it with such assurance.
Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ, said:
- Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost. Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. … Moreover, we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.
- Our limited perspective would be enlarged if we could witness the reunion on the other side of the veil, when doors of death open to those returning home. Such was the vision of the psalmist who wrote, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15.)
Paradise is a state of happiness and peace, free from the care and sorrow of the world—but not free from the labors of the Lord. Spirits in paradise are “commissioned . . . to go forth, and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness . . . thus was the gospel preached to the dead” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:30).
What Is Spirit Prison?
A prison is a place where someone is forcibly confined and denied freedoms. In the spirit world, prison has the same meaning—each is forcibly confined and cannot escape, whether by choice or by circumstance. Not all of the spirits confined to prison are wicked. Some died without knowledge of the gospel or the ability to receive the saving ordinances—or the ordinances necessary to obtain the highest level of happiness and glory in the eternities (Doctrine & Covenants 138:32). But each spirit in prison is confined and unable to progress to paradise unless and until certain conditions are met. First, each spirit must accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and live according to its precepts. That is the reason that the spirits in paradise teach the gospel to those in spirit prison. Second, the spirit’s ordinances must be performed vicariously by the living in holy temples. The scriptures as well as the prophets teach that each person who has ever lived on this earth will have the opportunity—either in this life or the next—to learn of the gospel of Jesus Christ and accept or reject it. The scriptures teach that the spirits are classified according to the purity of their lives and their obedience to the will of the Lord while on earth.
For the righteous spirits who did not have the opportunity to learn of the true gospel of Jesus Christ during their time on earth, spirit prison is a time of learning and anticipation for their work to be performed by the living. When their work is completed, they are released from “prison” into paradise. For the wicked who rejected Jesus Christ during their time on earth, the prophet Alma (in the Book of Mormon) taught:
- And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
- Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection (Alma 40:13–14).
They, also, will have the opportunities to learn of the gospel of Jesus Christ and either accept or reject its precepts. If they reject Christ in the spirit world, they suffer for their own sins until their resurrection. Only those people who have seen Christ in the flesh and knew for a certainty that He is the Son of God, and then deny Him, thus “crucifying Him anew” will fail to inherit a kingdom of glory, but will dwell forever in outer darkness as Sons of Perdition.
What Happens to Little Children Who Die?
It is important to note here the doctrine concerning little children who die. The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that the age in which a person is accountable to God for his or her actions is 8 years old. Before that time, a child is sinless and innocent—unable to understand and be fully responsible to God for his or her actions. Thus, any child who dies before the age of 8 years is not sent to spirit prison, but is sent to paradise. These children do not need to be baptized—either on earth or by proxy. Moroni, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, teaches:
- Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
- And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world (Moroni 8:10–12; see Moroni 8:10–21.)
What Is Redeeming the Dead?
In the Church of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of redeeming the dead is twofold. First, the gospel of Jesus Christ must be taught to those in spirit prison. Second, members of the Church of Jesus Christ must perform the ordinances vicariously for those who have passed on without the knowledge and ordinances of the gospel. President Eyring described a vision that Joseph F. Smith, a past prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ, saw of this work:
- He saw in vision what happened in the spirit world when the Savior appeared there between the time of His death and His Resurrection. President Smith saw the joy of the spirits when they learned that the Savior had broken the bands of death and because of His Atonement they could be resurrected. And he saw the Savior organize His servants among the spirits to preach His gospel to every spirit and offer the chance to choose the covenants and the blessings which are offered to you and which you want for your ancestors. All are to have that chance.
- President Smith also saw the leaders the Savior called to take the gospel to Heavenly Father’s children in the spirit world. He named some of them: Father Adam, Mother Eve, Noah, Abraham, Ezekiel, Elijah, prophets we know from the Book of Mormon, and some from the [modern] days, including [past presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ] Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. Think of the power of those missionaries to teach the gospel and to touch the hearts of your ancestors.
- Many of your deceased ancestors will have received a testimony that the message of the missionaries is true. When you received that testimony you could ask the missionaries for baptism. But those who are in the spirit world cannot. The ordinances you so cherish are offered only in this world. Someone in this world must go to a holy temple and accept the covenants on behalf of the person in the spirit world. That is why we are under obligation to find the names of our ancestors and ensure that they are offered by us what they cannot receive there without our help.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
- The Prophet Joseph Smith . . . learned that the spirits awaiting resurrection are not only offered individual salvation but that they can be bound in heaven as husband and wife and be sealed to their fathers and mothers of all generations past and have sealed to them their children of all generations future. The Lord instructed the Prophet that these sacred rites are appropriately performed only in a house built to His name, a temple.
- Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls “are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge” or that “people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.” They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,” but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership.
A just and merciful Father in Heaven would not condemn to eternal damnation His spirit children who did not have the opportunity to obtain knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and partake of the saving ordinances therein. Thus, the light and knowledge of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be taught to all of His children—past, present and future—who have ever lived on the earth. His work will not be completed until that time.
What Are the Different Scriptural Contexts of Paradise?
When Jesus Christ was dying on the cross, the thief being executed next to him said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The Savior replied, “Verily I say unto thee, To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This does not make sense in the context of paradise being a place for the righteous who have received the ordinance of baptism by proper priesthood authority. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that this was actually a mistranslation; what the Lord said is that the thief would be with Him in the world of spirits—the spirit world, or the world in which Heavenly Father’s spirit children dwell.
In 2 Corinthians 12:3-4, the Apostle Paul said:
- I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
In this instance, Paul is probably referring to the celestial kingdom—which is the highest of the three degrees of glory to which a person can attain in the eternities.
- Henry B. Eyring, "The Power of Teaching Doctrine," General Conference, April 1999.
- Russell M. Nelson, "Doors of Death," General Conference, April 1992.
- "The Postmortal Spirit World," Gospel Principles, (2011), 240–44.
- Henry B. Eyring, "Hearts Bound Together," General Conference, April 2005.
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," General Conference, October 2000.