Before you read this, it may interest you to know that I have added a section on the nature and characteristics of our spirit bodies to the previous entry in this series. You may find it of some value as you approach the subject of the spirit world. Click here to view the updated entry.
II. THE SPIRIT WORLD
The scriptures teach us that there is a time or a period between death and the resurrection (see Alma 40:6-7), and that this experience is not the same for everyone.
Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that 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. 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 40:11-14)
The wicked go to what the apostle Peter elsewhere describes as a prison (see 1 Peter 3:18-20), where they spend their time in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them. This is often referred to as hell in the scriptures.
The righteous, on the other hand, 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.
The state in which you spend your time the spirit world appears to depend largely
upon your feelings concerning the impending judgment of God.
Joseph Smith taught that all spirits, both good and evil, will find themselves in the same spirit world upon death.
“The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 310.)
I mention this because there are some who suppose that hell and paradise somehow represent two separate spirit worlds, but the scriptures make it clear that hell and paradise are divisions within a single spirit world. Further, these divisions have more to do with the state or condition of your spirit when you arrive in the spirit world than they do with any sort of geographical separation. If you have been righteous and you can look forward to God's judgement without fear, then you will find your time in the spirit world to be peaceful, and even restful. If, on the the other hand, you have squandered your time in the flesh in a life of iniquity and rebellion against God, you will likely find your time in the spirit world to be one of apprehension and darkness as you contemplate the day in which you will be brought to stand before God to face His judgement.
"It is the righteous who go to paradise. It is the righteous who cease from those things that trouble. Not so with the wicked. They remain in torment. They have their anguish of soul intensified, if you please, when they get on the other side, because they are constantly recalling to mind their evil deeds. They are aware of their neglected opportunities, privileges in which they might have served the Lord and received a reward of restfulness instead of a reward of punishment. And so they remain in torment until the time comes for their deliverance." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:229-230).
Interestingly, there is a good case to be made from the scriptures that the spirits of the righteous were separated in some way from the spirits of the wicked, and that there was an unbridgeable gulf between spirit prison and paradise, before the atonement and resurrection of the Savior, and the Savior's intervening sojourn in the spirit world..
"We have good reason to believe that the righteous spirits in paradise did not mingle with the unrighteous spirits before the visit of our Lord to the spirit world. He declared that there was a gulf fixed that could not be crossed which separated the righteous from the unrighteous, therefore there was no sound of the voice of prophets and the Gospel was not declared among the wicked until Christ went into that world before his resurrection. He it was who opened the prison doors." (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, pp.315-316).
Only Christ held the power and the keys to free the captive spirits in spirit prison, through the preaching of the Gospel.
1 Peter 3:18-20 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.
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
"Jesus was the first man that ever went to preach to the spirits in
prison, holding the keys of the Gospel of salvation to them. Those keys
were delivered to him in the day and hour that he went into the spirit
world, and with them he opened the door of salvation to the spirits in
prison."(Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 378).
From these scripture passages we learn that in the time between the death and
resurrection of Christ, He went (as a spirit) and instituted the
preaching of the Gospel to “the spirits in Prison.” These are the
spirits of people who, in their time on the Earth, had been disobedient
to the commandments of God. Each of these people will be given the
opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to accept or reject
the ordinances (such as baptism, see 1 Corinthians 15:29) contained
within that gospel.
We learn in the scriptures that Christ did not personally go among the spirits of the wicked during His time in the spirit world, but rather He taught those who had been faithful in life, and subsequently He organized the work in the spirit world so that others whom He had ordained might go among the unrighteous spirits to preach the Gospel of peace.
D&C 138:27-37 But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection; And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time. 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. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross. Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who had testified of him in the flesh; That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead, unto whom he could not go personally, because of their rebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.
"Before Christ bridged the gulf between paradise and hell - so that the righteous could mingle with the wicked and preach them the gospel - the wicked in hell were confined to locations which precluded them from contact with the righteous in paradise. Abraham told the rich man in hell that between him and Lazarus (who was in paradise) there was a great gulf fixed so that none could go from paradise to hell or from hell to paradise. (Luke 16:19-31.) Now that the righteous spirits in paradise have been commissioned to carry the message of salvation to the wicked spirits in hell, there is a certain amount of mingling together of the good and bad spirits. Repentance opens the prison doors to the spirits in hell; it enables those bound with the chains of hell to free themselves from darkness, unbelief, ignorance, and sin. As rapidly as they can overcome these obstacles - gain light, believe truth, acquire intelligence, cast off sin, and break the chains of hell - they can leave the hell that imprisons them and dwell with the righteous in the peace of paradise." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.755).
I want to stress the fact that each individual that
resides in the spirit world retains their agency (their free will or
right to choose) when they pass into the spirit world, and they can
elect to accept or reject the gospel and its associated ordinances if
they so choose.
“In the spirit prison [there] are the
spirits of those who have not yet received the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These spirits have agency and may be enticed by both good and evil. If
they accept the gospel and the ordinances performed for them in the
temples, they may leave the spirit prison and dwell in paradise.”
(“Chapter 41: The Postmortal Spirit World,” Gospel Principles, (2009),240–44)
goes on to explain why it was that the Savior caused the Gospel to be
taught to those disobedient spirits who had yet to be judged or
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)
It is necessary
for the sake of justice that each of God’s children be granted the same
access to the principles and ordinances of the gospel, so that we all
might be judged according to the same standard. The ordinances which we, the living, perform in temples on behalf of those who are dead, such as baptism, the endowment, and the sealing, are designed to provide all men with the same opportunity to receive the blessings which the Lord extends to His Children. Those who reside in the spirit world are not constrained or forced in any way to accept these ordinances, and just as in life, they can choose to accept or reject the gospel and these ordinances of their own free will.
These ordinances are essential in changing our nature and preparing our character (and giving us the knowledge we need) to enter the Lord's presence and to remain there, however those in the spirit world cannot perform these ordinances for themselves (as they do not have bodies of flesh and blood), therefore the work that we do in the temple is crucially important for the eternal welfare of those countless souls in the spirit world who have not yet received these things.
"We want to sacrifice enough to do the will of God in preparing to bring up those who have not had the privilege of hearing the Gospel while in the flesh, for the simple reason that, in the spirit world, they cannot officiate in the ordinances of the house of God. They have passed the ordeals, and are beyond the possibility of personally officiating for the remission of their sins and for their exaltation, consequently they are under the necessity of trusting in their friends, their children and their children’s children to officiate for them, that they may be brought up into the celestial kingdom of God" (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 406).
Compare those inhabitants on the earth who have heard the Gospel in our day, with the millions who have never heard it, or had the keys of salvation presented to them, and you will conclude at once as I do, that there is an almighty work to perform in the spirit world (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 377).
"We cannot enter into celestial glory in our present state of ignorance and mental darkness."(Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 378–79).
Reflect upon the millions and millions and millions of people that have lived and died without hearing the Gospel on the earth, without the keys of the Kingdom. They were not prepared for celestial glory, and there was no power that could prepare them without the keys of this Priesthood (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 378).
When we contemplate the untold number of individuals who have not yet heard the gospel, and who now reside in the spirit world, this task may seem impossibly daunting. However, modern prophets have taught that the work of preaching of the Gospel will be much more productive in the spirit world than it is here in this world.
"In 1893, President Lorenzo Snow, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve, declared in general conference his strong belief “that when the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success of that preaching will be far greater than that of the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable.” (Millennial Star 56:50.)" (Dale C. Mouritsen, "The Spirit World, Our Next Home," Ensign, Dec. 1977, lds.org).
Perhaps when a person realizes that there is indeed a life beyond the one which they knew in mortality they will be led to more seriously contemplate their existence and their very real need for the gospel and the atonement of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this new state of being, and a new state of mind, will help them to be more prepared to perceive and receive spiritual things.
"When the spirits leave their bodies, … they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things." (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 376–77)
Even given the (apparently) relative ease with which people in the spirit world may choose to accept the gospel, it will still require much diligence and care on our part, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not be the only ones contending for men's souls in the spirit world. The devil will still have power to tempt some who reside in the spirit world (in accordance with the principle of personal agency and opposition in all things).
"If we are faithful to our religion, when we go into the spirit world, the fallen spirits—Lucifer and the third part of the heavenly hosts that came with him, and the spirits of wicked men who have dwelt upon this earth, the whole of them combined will have no influence over our spirits. Is not that an advantage? Yes. All the rest of the children of men are more or less subject to them, and they are subject to them as they were while here in the flesh." (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 379).
“In the spirit prison [there] are the
spirits of those who have not yet received the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These spirits have agency and may be enticed by both good and evil.”
(“Chapter 41: The Postmortal Spirit World,” Gospel Principles, (2009),240–44)
Naturally, there is an incredible amount of work that must be done to preach the gospel to all those in the spirit world who have not yet had the opportunity to hear it, and therefore all who are worthy will be called upon to participate in the work. For this reason, while the righteous are described in the scriptures as residing in a "state of rest," this does not mean that they are not busy.
Brigham Young taught that many of the great priesthood leaders of
this dispensation, and indeed, "every other good Saint, are just as busy
in the spirit world as you and I are here. They can see us, but we
cannot see them unless our eyes were opened. What are they doing there?
They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us
to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere." (Brigham
Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 378).
faithful man’s labor will continue as long as the labor of Jesus, until
all things are redeemed that can be redeemed, and presented to the
Father. There is a great work before us"(Brigham Young, Discourses of
Brigham Young, 378).
"Some derive from these words that rest means no work and merely languid passivity. In fact, the rest described is from the troubles, cares, and sorrows of this world.
To begin with, a certain peacefulness and restfulness will occur in paradise, because the faithful will see things with a more complete, restful, and reassuring perspective. Nonetheless, the faithful will soon be caught up fully and be "anxiously engaged" in the vast work underway in all the spirit world (D&C 58:27). So many of the cares and demands of the of the world which press upon us here and now, including doing the chores of this world, will not dominate us there. Hence, paradise will be, comparatively, "a state of peace." Furthermore, the spirit body will not suffer certain of the ills and constraints which now beset the mortal body. The result will be added zestfulness there, as described by Elder John Taylor: "[Death] this dark shadow and valley is so trifling . . . [one is] passed from a state of sorrow [and] grief, . . . into a state of existence where I can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body. . . . I thirst no more, I want to sleep no more, I hunger no more, I tire no more, I run, I walk, I labor, . . . nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor"" ("Discourse by Elder John Taylor." Deseret News, 28 July 1874, p. 1). [Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, p. 106]
"When we get through this state of being, to the next room, I may call it, we are not going to stop there. We shall still go on, doing all the good we can, administering and officiating for all whom we are permitted to administer and officiate for, and then go on to the next, and to the next, until the Lord shall crown all who have been faithful on this earth, and the work pertaining to the earth is finished, and the Savior, whom we have been helping, has completed his task, and the earth, with all things pertaining to it, is presented to the Father. Then these faithful ones will receive their blessings and crowns, and their inheritances will be set off to them and be given to them, and they will then go on, worlds upon worlds, increasing for ever and ever."(Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 376).
I want to emphasize that this spirit world, regardless of how you spend your time there, is not our final destination (in the traditional Christian sense of Heaven or Hell), and that all of this precedes, and is preparatory to, resurrection and judgment. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explains:
“Like other Christians, we believe that when we leave this life we go to a heaven (paradise) or a hell, but to us this two-part division of the righteous and the wicked is merely temporary, while the spirits of the dead await their resurrections and final judgments. The destinations that follow the final judgments are much more diverse, and they stand as evidence of the magnitude of God’s love for His children—all of them.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Fundamental Premises of Our Faith - Talk Given at Harvard Law School on 26 February 2010)