So, I will now return to the main subject of this blog, which today is that big question: What Comes Next? This is the question to which everyone, sooner or later, wants an answer; the answer! Some people ponder it throughout their lives, others don’t give it a serious thought until faced with their own mortality, maybe in their last few seconds as they lay dying. “What now?”
There are as many different answers as there are religions. Christians believe in resurrection and immortality but have different definitions as to what exactly that entails. Some believe that our spirits sleep in the grave with the body until the day of resurrection; or not. Most Christians and Muslims believe in an entirely spiritual afterlife with no physical body; that resurrection is just the spirit being brought back to life.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe that like any essential philosophical question, this one must be answered by God, through His Holy prophets. So, what exactly do the prophets have to say on this matter?
From the very first Book of Scripture, Genesis, we learn that man has a spirit. What is a spirit?
In Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” In Hebrew, the word translated as “breath” is “neshamah”, which in other places in the Old Testament is translated as spirit. So, we can see that God created man, and then placed his spirit into him. Many Christian sects believe that this is the point at which the Spirit is created. Thanks to other ancient prophets, as well as revelation in our day, we know differently. The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah lived before he was born, because God knew him, sanctified him, and ordained him before he was “formed in the belly.”
Men and women are eternal beings. They have always existed and will never cease to exist. Before this earth life we all existed as spirits. When we were born we gained bodies, albeit imperfect ones. When we die we will lose those bodies again, because they are imperfect, and in spite of any medical advances that may extend life, they will eventually fall apart and waste away.
Jesus’ resurrection brought about a future resurrection for all. Everybody. Good or bad. The resurrected bodies will be perfect, and eternal; they will not fall apart and waste away but will continue for eternity. Here is a short You Tube video about resurrection and immortality:
So, what is the point? If everybody will be resurrected in perfect immortal bodies, why do we need to worry about keeping commandments or repenting. Everybody is going to end up equally eternal in the next life, right? Well, yes, and no. We need to be concerned not so much with whether we will live again, but rather how we will live again. Through modern revelation we learn the difference between immortality and eternal life. Here is another You Tube presentation that explains this difference:
Immortality means just what you think. No longer mortal. Living forever, never dying, again. This a gift given us by Jesus Christ; everyone will be resurrected to immortality. Eternal Life? Well, that means something a little different. Through a revelation given to Joseph Smith, we learn that “Eternal” is one of Heavenly Father’s names, or titles. In this context, Eternal Life would mean “God’s Life”, or the type of life that Heavenly Father experiences. This is not a gift, in the same way that immortality is a gift. Eternal Life must be purchased, and it has a high price: perfection; a sinless life. Since none of us get out of this life in pristine condition, none of us can qualify for Eternal Life, at least not on our own. But luckily for us, the purchase price has been paid, and we our left with something comparatively easy to pay, easily doable for the weakest of human beings. We need to repent. We will talk more in depth about repentance in another post down the road. For now, a simplified explanation of repentance is to ask forgiveness for your sins, and then do your best not to commit them again. It has to be a real effort. You really have to try your best. Here is a wonderful modern-day parable that explains the atonement of Jesus Christ, and how repentance fits into the plan:
As we continue to repent each day, and improve ourselves little by little, and become just a tiny bit more like Jesus, we are fulfilling His commandment to “be ye therefore perfect.” Don’t worry about whether you can become perfect in this life. You just have to be on the road to perfection, walking in the right direction, and making some progress.
So, you have spent your life repenting and trying your best to improve. So, what’s next? What exactly does eternal life entail? Will you sprout angel wings, and sit on a cloud, playing a harp? Hardly. Do you really think that is what God does? Because Eternal Life, is His life. This silly idea, like so many sectarian notions, is a good example of why so many rational, clear-thinking people, leave religion behind, becoming atheists and agnostics. Atheists are not bad people. They just refuse to believe in silly ideas that are irrational to them. If I had not learned the true gospel of Jesus, I would have become atheist long ago. In my youth I was already starting to be become somewhat agnostic, doubting the religion in which I had been raised. Thank goodness that when we pay attention to what God has revealed through prophets, past and present, the gospel becomes much clearer, makes more sense, and the silly ideas dreamed up by people throughout our history fall by the wayside. And some of those ideas relate to concepts of Heaven and Hell, as described by most denominations. First, let’s talk about Hell, a very misunderstood concept.
The English word “Hell” is a translation of the Hebrew word “Sheol” and has a similar meaning to the Greek word “Hades”. It refers to the place where the spirits of those who have died go to reside. Traditionally it has come to signify the place where the spirits of the wicked go to be tormented for eternity (see Inferno, by Dante Aligheri).
But the scriptures don’t actually describe it as such. Early understanding of these words was that they referred to a place for all the spirits of the dead, and was divided into two parts: a paradise, and a place referred to as “Gehenna”. The earthly Gehenna was a place outside of Jerusalem where, during a period of Jewish wickedness and idolatry, children were sacrificed to the god Moloch. It later became a place where the city’s trash was taken to be burned. The constant burning of trash, and likely a bad smell, is probably what people were thinking of when they described Hell as a place of eternal flames and brimstone (which is another name for sulfur. Ever smell sulfur? Smells kind of like rotten eggs.)
These descriptions are illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke Chapter 16:
19 ¶ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
(Abraham’s Bosom is a metaphor for Paradise, where Abraham was to have resided after his death).
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
The word ”Hell” in the scriptures is actually used to refer to three completely different things. The first one is this hell referred to above in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In the Book of Mormon, we learn that this particular division is a temporary one for spirits awaiting the resurrection, and the final judgement.
11 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.
12 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.
13 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.
14 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.
21 But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say; but this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works (Book of Mormon, Alma 40:11-14, 21).
So, if this paradise and darkness (or hell) is temporary, and only lasts until the physical resurrection, what comes next? What the scriptures refer to as “judgment” or “final judgment” is the next step in the process. It is at this point where it will be decided how each of us will spend his/her immortality. See the following link for a description of that final judgment:
And this will be the topic of our next discussion on Monday, October 11, 2021. See you then.