Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What happens to us when we die? Part VII: What happens to people of other faiths after they die?

Click to go to a previous installment:

Part VI: What is Hell?

Part V: Degrees of Glory

Part IV: Judgment

Part III: Resurrection

Part II: The Spirit World

Part I: Death

According to the LDS church, what happens to people from other religions after they die? How do they fit into this plan?

A: The Prophet Joseph Smith had an older brother named Alvin who died without ever having been baptized into any church much less the restored Church of Jesus Christ (which was not yet organized at the time that Alvin died). Joseph Smith was told by the family’s minister that Alvin was going to go to hell because he had not been baptized. This disturbed Joseph Smith deeply, and years later, when he received a vision from the Lord concerning the requirements to inherit celestial glory, he marveled to see that his brother Alvin would someday inherit the celestial kingdom. In that vision, the Lord taught him the following principle:

D&C 137:7-9 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

It is my opinion that the above is mainly true because such individuals will have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit world, where they most likely will accept it as readily as they would have if they had heard it while in this life.

However, if one hears the gospel in this life and chooses to reject it, that person will still be judged by the light and knowledge to which he had access in this life. I met a handful of people on my mission who were what we jokingly referred to as “dry Mormons” which meant that they did many things that a baptized member of the LDS church would do (i.e. go to church every Sunday, and a couple of them even paid tithing), except for the fact that they would not be baptized. These individuals and/or their friends and family would often joke that they would “get baptized in the spirit world”. However, according to the Book of Mormon prophet Alma, “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” He goes on to beseech of us “that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.” He goes on to teach us that the reason why we can’t put off our repentance (and conversion) until after this life is because “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (see Alma 34:32-35) I concur with his assessment- if you’re not inclined to accept the Gospel here and now, what makes you think that you’re going to be a different person on the other side of death?

On a related note, those who know what is required of them under the gospel and choose to sin anyway reject the Savior through their actions, and make a mockery of the atonement.

First, a definition of sin by the Apostle James, as found in James 4:17.

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

And then this warning from the Apostle Paul, as found in Hebrews 10:26-27.

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

As for those who have not accepted Christianity, their fate will be similar to those who are within traditional Christendom. It is my opinion that there are Buddhist monks, and Muslim imams, and Hindu clerics, and many good people in all faiths and creeds who, when instructed as to what God requires for our exaltation (be it in this life or the next), will accept it and follow it wholeheartedly, and with joy. I feel that it is not a matter of accepting any creed other than God’s, and as a friend put it to me yesterday, God is God, he has given certain rules and guidelines (namely the principles of the gospel and their associated ordinances) to help us to return to him and he has extended the call to do so (through his church) to all the ends of the Earth. Peter said it best in Acts 10:34-35, after he was instructed in a vision to preach the Gospel to all the world and not only those within Jewish society:

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

In all, I think that what is important is that God is the father (and ultimately the only judge that matters) of the whole human race, and that he loves us all equally. Our God is a just God, and his judgments will be personal and individual, and ultimately, perfectly just. Joseph Smith understood this when he declared that:

“… While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ [Matthew 5:45.] He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, ‘not according to what they have not, but according to what they have’; those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right [see Genesis 18:25]…God judges men according to the use they make of the light which He gives them…Men will be held accountable for the things which they have and not for the things they have not. … All the light and intelligence communicated to them from their beneficent creator, whether it is much or little, by the same they in justice will be judged, and … they are required to yield obedience and improve upon that and that only which is given, for man is not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), 35: 401–11)

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