Weep Not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband – weep no more;
Grief-stricken son – weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter – weep no more;
She’s only just gone home.
James Weldon Johnson[i]
The Spirit World
Death, regardless of method, results in the separation of the soul. The body goes into the ground, and the spirit goes into the spirit world to await the resurrection.
The spirit world is comprised of two major divisions. The righteous – those who have accepted and lived the gospel – go to paradise. Paradise is “a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”[ii] Those who have not accepted or have not lived the gospel go to spirit prison. This is where those who have actively rejected the gospel pay for their own sins.[iii] This time of suffering is what we call hell.[iv]
In the spirit world, we will be reunited with our loved ones who have pre-deceased us. Joseph Smith said:
I have a father, brothers, children, and friends who have gone to a world of spirits. They are only absent for a moment. They are in the spirit, and we shall soon meet again. . . . When we depart [from this life], we shall hail our mothers, fathers, friends, and all whom we love, who have fallen asleep in Jesus. . . . It will be an eternity of felicity. [v]
What is a Spirit?
A spirit is a non-corporeal person. Spirits are adults – even the spirits of people who died as children. Our spirits were adult before we were born into mortality, and they still are.[vi] They look like they did in mortality, but they are perfect in form. They take with them all the attitudes and appetites they had in mortality.[vii] According to a revelation received by Joseph Smith, spirits are material – simply a finer grade of matter than we are.[viii]
Where is the Spirit World?
The spirits who have accepted the gospel and received the needed ordinances don’t get to spend all their time lounging around, however. They are actively engaged in teaching the gospel to the spirits in prison[xi]. Once one of the spirits in prison accepts the atonement they are cleansed from their sins, and once their ordinances have been done, they move to paradise. There is, you might imagine, some urgency on both sides of the veil to get this work done. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, an apostle, estimated that there are seventy billion people in the spirit world.[xii] What percentage of those are in spirit prison is unknown, but consider that the majority of humanity has lived in a time when the gospel and its ordinances were not available. Each of those must have the gospel presented to them in the spirit world, and the ordinances performed on their behalf in the mortal world, before their final judgement can occur. During the millennium, the temples will be open 24 hours to catch up on all the ordinance work which will be possible once we can consult the resurrected dead directly about when and where they lived, and how they fit into the overall family tree.
Resurrection is the joining of the spirit with a perfect and immortal body. This will happen to everyone ever born on the earth[xiii] as a result of the Atonement. This is a gift from our Heavenly Parents and Jesus. Jesus was the first person resurrected, and others who had died before him were resurrected at the time of his resurrection. Since Christs’ resurrection, individuals have been resurrected when it was necessary to their mission. As an example, Moroni died sometime after A.D. 420, but he was a resurrected person when he appeared to Joseph Smith in 1822. Additional examples include John the Baptist, (who restored the Aaronic priesthood [xiv]) and the apostles Peter and James (who, along with John the Beloved[xv], restored the Melchizedek priesthood [xvi]).
The Morning of the First Resurrection
When Christ returns at the beginning of the millennium, the righteous among the living will be caught up to greet him, and the righteous dead (those who accepted his gospel on earth, or who never had the chance to hear it on earth but accepted it in the spirit world) will be resurrected to descend with him. Once Christ has descended to the earth, there will be another resurrection of those who were unwilling to accept the gospel in mortality, but accepted it in the spirit world. These two resurrections are what Christ referred to as the resurrection of life.[xvii] It is also referred to as the resurrection of the just.[xviii]
The Resurrection of Damnation
Those who reject the gospel in the spirit prison will remain there until the end of the millennium. They will then be resurrected in what Christ called the resurrection of damnation.[xix]
After the millennium, and after all of us are resurrected, comes the final judgement. Each of us will stand before Christ and be judged for our actions in mortality.[xx] We say “stand before” Christ, but I believe it will be more along the lines of a private interview where we will review our life with Him, and we will come to a mutual agreement as to where we should go. Christ will be our judge because he paid the debt for our sins and suffered our afflictions in the Atonement, and is thus best able to give a rendering of our account which is both just and merciful. The final judgement will determine where we go for eternity. Both grace and works will factor into the determination, but the precise mix is unknown. As I mentioned in the religion poll, my understanding of grace is evolving.
With a very few exceptions, our eternal destination will not be a punishment. It will be a reward for the level of faithfulness we showed in mortality. In the Joseph Smith article, Mojeaux made the following comment in reply to Creosote Achilles:
Mojeaux on September 17, 2018 at 12:39 pm
“Not bad, but no where near as good as it could be.”
But you might not be comfortable in what is as good as it could be.
This is a crucial point. Because Christ is a merciful judge, we will be sent not to a place which will make us miserable, but rather to where we will happiest. We would not want to be in a place of greater glory than we are able to bear. The prophet Moroni said:
Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.[xxi]
Kingdoms of Glory
In a response to Tundra in the first article, I said (in part) “There isn’t really a burning hell in Mormon theology, simply various degrees of distance from God.” This was the seed which grew into these articles on the Plan of Salvation. The degrees of distance are, with one exception, referred as kingdoms of glory. The kingdoms are named the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom, and their glories are compared to the sun, moon, and stars respectively.[xxii] The final destination is not a kingdom of glory, and is simply referred to as Outer Darkness. What follows are brief descriptions of the kingdoms, and what kind of people will live in them. For full descriptions, see D&C Section 76.
The Celestial Kingdom[xxiii]
The glory of the sun. This is the brass ring. This is the kingdom every member aspires to. Those who live in the Celestial Kingdom will dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Parents forever. Christ and the Holy Ghost will also live here This is eternal life.[xxiv] The people who reach this kingdom will be gods.[xxv]To reach this kingdom, one must have accepted Christ and His Atonement, received the necessary ordinances, and lived in accordance with the teachings of the gospel. The exception to this rule is little children. Little children who die before the age of eight are innocent, and will live in the Celestial Kingdom.[xxvi] Also, those who had no opportunity to accept the gospel in this life, but did accept it in the spirit world will live here.
The Terrestrial Kingdom[xxvii]
The glory of the moon. Christ and the Holy Ghost visit, but not our Heavenly Parents. This is the kingdom of the less valiant. These are the people who rejected the gospel in mortality, and accepted it the spirit world, or were members of the Church who didn’t live up to the principles of the gospel.
The Telestial Kingdom[xxviii]
The glory of the stars. The Holy Ghost visits here, but neither our Parents, nor Christ come. This is the kingdom for the unrepentant who accepted Christ neither in mortality, nor in the spirit world. These are the people who stayed in the spirit prison, paying for their own sins, and only came out in the resurrection of damnation.
This is not a kingdom of glory. No member of the godhead comes here. Those who dwell here are permanently cut off from the presence of our Parents.[xxx] Getting here requires a total rejection of God’s plan after knowing the truth of it. Satan and his angels will be here. The people who go here from mortality are referred to as the Sons of Perdition. These are the damned, and this is as close as our theology gets to the classical burning hell. They have voluntarily put themselves into a state where they are incapable of repentance. Of these, Joseph Smith said:
He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it;[xxxi]
Compared to the kingdoms of glory, not many mortals will wind up here. It requires deliberately rejecting a level of spiritual knowledge most simply cannot attain.
It should go without saying, but the kingdoms of glory are incomprehensibly better than our lives here. When Joseph Smith was shown the vision recorded in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, his description of the Telestial kingdom – the lowest kingdom of glory – was “And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;”[xxxii] Imagine how much better the others are. Compare the brightness of the stars in the night sky to the brightness of the moon or the sun.
[i] James Weldon Johnson, God’s Trombones Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (New York, Penguin Books, 1927) “Go Down Death” 27
[v] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1980) 6:316
[vi] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine Sermons and Writings of President Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1919) 455
[xii] Neal A. Maxwell All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 99