Thursday, February 25, 2010

What happens to us after we die? Part I: Death

A friend of mine sent me a question concerning life after death, and I gave him more answer than I think he wanted. With his permission, I am publishing my response in installments, as it is quite long.

In order to fully address your question, it becomes necessary to make a distinction between what happens to us when we die, and what happens to us when we are resurrected, which as you’ll see, are actually two separate and distinct aspects of life after death.


There are two kinds of death:

Physical (or temporal) death: which means the separation of our bodies from our spirits.

Spiritual death: which means separation from God because of sin. (See Isaiah 59:1-2, 1 Nephi 10:20-21, Alma 11:37)

Sin (spiritual death) and physical death are the two main obstacles that keep us from returning to the presence of the Lord. These obstacles came upon us as a consequence of the fall of Adam (in a nutshell, Adam and Eve were told by God that when they ate the forbidden fruit they would “surely die” thus separating them from their bodies (eventually), and when they were cast out of the garden of Eden for disobedience they were separated from God because of sin).

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Jesus Christ overcame the effects of both physical death and spiritual death when he completed the resurrection and made it possible for our bodies and spirits to be reunited (and also enabling us to stand before God to be judged), and when he paid the price for our sins, thus making it possible for us to be reconciled to God, which means that not only will we be able return to God’s presence, but that we will be able to stay there through the redemption of Christ.

God’s “work” and his “glory” is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (See Moses 1:39). Immortality and eternal life can only be obtained through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and each of them is a gift from God that comes to us through the atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes it possible for us to repent of our sins (see Helaman 14:15-19).

Immortality: Overcoming physical death to be resurrected (through Christ), and thus live forever

Eternal Life: Overcoming the effects of sin (once again through Christ) so that we might live forever in the presence of God.

So basically immortality is about quantity of life, and eternal life is about quality of life.

First let’s examine what actually happens to each of us on a physical (and metaphysical?) level upon death.

a. Our bodies and our spirits separate. Our bodies remain here (are buried, cremated, etc.) and our spirits “return to God”.

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. (Ecclesiastes 3:20)

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

I should clarify that in this instance “dust” refers to our bodies. Remember that, in the language of the Bible, Man was formed of the dust of the Earth and that is why it is a tradition among some people to say “dust to dust” at funerals. (See New Living Translation Bible 1 Corinthians 15:47).

What is the nature of our spirits, and what are some of the characteristics of a spirit body?

“Spirits are capable of intellectual advancement, love, hate, happiness, sorrow, obedience, disobedience, memory, and other personal characteristics. Latter-day Saints believe that "all spirit is matter," but this matter is so fine that it cannot be discerned by mortal eyes.” (D&C 131: 7-8). (Wilson K. Anderson, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p.1405)

“‘God created man in His own image.’ This is just as true of the spirit as it is of the body, which is only the clothing of the spirit, its complement—the two together constituting the soul. The spirit of man is in the form of man, and the spirits of all creatures are in the likeness of their bodies. This was plainly taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 77:2).” (First Presidency, “The Origin of Man” (From Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 75–81), Ensign, Feb 2002, 26)

“Spirit beings have the same bodily form as mortals except that the spirit body is in perfect form (see Ether 3:16).” [I should add here that spirit bodies are intangible (see D&C 129:1-9; Luke 24:36-43)]. “Spirits carry with them from earth their attitudes of devotion or antagonism toward things of righteousness (see Alma 34:34). They have the same appetites and desires that they had when they lived on earth. All spirits are in adult form. They were adults before their mortal existence, and they are in adult form after death, even if they die as infants or children.” (“Chapter 41: The Postmortal Spirit World,” Gospel Principles, (2009), 240–44)

“According to Latter-day Saint doctrine, the spirit (sometimes called the soul) does not die (Alma 42:9; cf. James 2:26). However, a spirit, though immortal, cannot have a fulness of joy without being inseparably connected to a resurrected physical body (D&C 93:33-34;138:50).” (Wilson K. Anderson, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p.1405)

This raises an interesting question, however. We know from the scriptures that we won’t be resurrected until Christ’s coming, so what are all those spirits doing up there? What about the spirits of the wicked people that did not repent in this life? Are they living with God alongside the righteous?

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