Heaven or Hell?

by Joseph

Dear Joseph,

Mormon doctrine teaches that God manipulated pre-existing matter? Is that accurate? So . . . he “built” then, right? He didn’t create. And if THAT’S accurate then I would wonder why we are accountable to him in the first place. We are his children, yes, but a child does not live under his father’s rule his whole life. Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority. A child has his own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn. So now, God is not a crazy ex-boyfriend, he’s an overbearing parent. Sort of amusing, on a side note, that Jewish mothers have a bit of a reputation for that very thing. Hehe, wonder where they got it from? 


“We will all be rewarded for choosing Christ as our redeemer in the council held in the pre-existence. But for those who again (but this time through faith in this life) choose to follow Christ, an even greater reward is at hand.”


And that is fine, and fair, and how it ought to be! Unfortunately, that’s not what other denominations teach, and those teachings seem lacking in logic to me.

And I would be extremely interested in another version of “Heaven and Hell.”


I also want to add that I very much appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion with me. I’m sure you’re “happy to do it” and all that, but it’s still time out of your day that could just as easily be spent doing other things that could make you equally happy, so I’m grateful that you picked writing to me as the way to use your time.

—Thomas 

P.S. 
I love the analogy with the son and the “shiny car”. That is inspired.


Dear Thomas,

You’re right, I am ‘happy to do it,’ and it makes me even happier that you appreciate my time. So thank YOU for sitting through what I imagine must be hours of squinting to decipher my ramblings. I can be verbose at times and I hope you can forgive me if I wander here and there. Your respect of my beliefs has equally fueled my drive to spout more information your direction. So thank you!


“Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority.”

Yes, you’re on to more than you know. Mormon doctrine does teach that in the Celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heavenly glory, where God dwells) we will again live in or be able to enjoy the presence of the Father, but that is not the only distinction between it and the other kingdoms. We define exaltation as being saved in the highest degree of glory within the degree of the celestial kingdom (that means, yes, the highest level within the highest level), and people in this station not only live in the Father’s presence, they receive “all the Father hath” including living as the Father lives. As you mentioned above, it’s sort of a logical step—that is, if eternal families are like mortal families (and they are, minus the depravations of mortality)—to assume that someone who grows up to become an adult goes on to establish their own home and have their own kids.

Likewise, those who not only enter into the baptismal covenant but who are also are married in a sacred covenant in the temple can be together for time and eternity. This is why my wife and I were married in one of our LDS temples; sacred ordinances—far too sacred for a public viewing unlike baptism—can only be performed in a place built specifically for it. There we were married not until at “death do [we] part,” but forever. Why forever? Because we will set up our own Heavenly home and have our “own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn,” someday gaining a body on an earth and having their own children, etc., which pattern we catch a generational glimpse of while here on this earth.

There is a famous Mormon couplet of poetry penned by one of the early prophets that puts it this way: “As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may be.” This doctrine is very sacred and rejected by mainstream Christianity (along with many of our other beliefs), but that’s why we call ourselves the “restored” church, and not another “reformed” one.


So when our Heavenly Father pleads for us to follow Christ, it’s not just because He’ll get anything more from it, but also because He knows the purest happiness and joys the universe has to offer and wants us each to be able to live like He does and enjoy what He enjoys. But he does gain glory in our eternal life, if we attain it. Just imagine if there was no death so that all of your progenitors still lived on the earth. Doubtless you’d still have left your mother and your father and cleaved unto your wife, as you have now and as the Bible teaches we should, but what would your relationship be like with your grandfather? Or great grandfather? Or great, great, great, great, great grandfather? The farther back you go, the more respect and veneration you would find by nature of his position within the family; put differently, it’s his descendants who would revere him and give him his honor. In the same manner, our Father in Heaven receives His glory from below, not above. 

You brought up another good point though, if God just “organized” stuff that was already around, why do we owe Him our allegiance? God knows the whole spectrum of existence already, and I think part of our being here is for us to learn that what He calls happiness actually is happiness. It’s like, if there was no veil of forgetfulness at the time of our births, we would look around and be like, “Oh yeah, you’re right, this place wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be.” A school of hard knocks, kind of. We are all, at some point, the prodigal son. The thing is God realizes that some of His children will prefer to dine with the swine instead of feasting on the fatted calf, and He will let them do as they choose! In the end, He will place us where we are happiest.


Another reason we ought to give allegiance to Him is because He is the architect of our existence and eventual salvation. Like St. John saw in vision, even the beasts fall down to worship God because they owe their happiness to His creative hands (animals have spirits too). The familial relationships analogy works here too. Though a child won’t necessarily choose to or even want to see his parents again, the fact of the matter is that he wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for them, let alone have some college money to blow, etc. Similarly, whether or not we choose to praise God for organizing the unorganized into our spirit bodies, and later physical bodies, the fact is that He did it, and we owe our current happiness to Him for it.



Oh yes, Heaven and Hell. As you could probably deduce from my description of the three kingdoms of glory, nothing in that sounds quite “hellish” to our limited, mortal understanding, does it? Well, there is a place called “outer darkness” that will be pretty awful apparently, but we don’t know much about it besides the fact that it’s reserved for the devil and his angels. It’s not surprising that God has chosen to reveal to us more about our highest possible potential than the opposite so as to keep our minds on the goal. We know from modern revelation too, however, that there will be some mortals who will go to outer darkness, but they will be few and far between. They must be the types who say, “there is no sun,” at noonday, sinning against the Holy Ghost. I can name a couple notables who will probably go there, though judgement is obviously reserved for God: Cain and Judas Iscariot. Again, not official doctrine on the names of those who will go to outer darkness, but I feel pretty sure that of all people, they qualify.


But that’s not the whole of it. I mentioned a place called the spirit world in my last message. The spirit world is where our spirits go when we die, when our spirit body separates from our physical body. This spirit world is here on the earth, just invisible (to most of us). The spirit world is composed of two bodies of peoples, those who rest in the glory of God having a knowledge of His plan, and those who are pretty freaked out that they are still alive after leading a terrible life. Okay, I’ve probably generalized that too much, but you get the point hopefully: spirit “paradise” and spirit “prison,” we call it. The essential division is between the righteous and the wicked. This sphere is not just inhabited by the dead, but also by the angels and demons who seek to help or destroy us.

I don’t know how much more to say about it, but it may be interesting to know that the righteous dead who have received the Gospel are trying to preach to the wicked dead who perhaps never had an opportunity to accept it. That is why, as you have probably heard, we do ordinance work—like baptisms and marriages—for the dead in our temples. We don’t dig up corpses and baptize them or something bizarre like that, but we stand in place of them, so that if in the spirit world they accept the work, it has been completed in their behalf and they can receive the blessings as if they had been physically baptized while living (ordinances must be accomplished with a body, you see). We focus this work primarily on our own ancestors though we also do work for all that we can. This doctrine should help drive home the point that God gives ALL of His children an opportunity to become like Him.


In the New Testament, spirit paradise has a couple names including “paradise” itself (Jesus spoke it to the other man on a cross), and “Abraham’s bosom” (one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, Luke 16). If you read in Luke 16, you’ll see how the rich man describes his feeling of losing out on his chance of being with Abraham (a righteous, departed spirit) as being “tormented in this flame” and desires Lazarus (another righteous, departed spirit) to “dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24). Now, I’m not intentionally trying to set up a logical argument here, but merely prove a point: if the fire of “hell” is actually a pit of fire, how does a dude’s finger extinguish it with just a touch? Obviously, this is an analogy to the forgiveness the rich man desires for his unrighteousness so that he can be counted with the righteous. Likewise, it is part of our doctrine that the fire and brimstone, and “smoke that ascendeth up forever,” etc., are all describing the feeling of unbearable guilt that will beset you when you wake up to the bad choices you were making all along.


That is nearest to what we would call hell, but it is not our ultimate destination. Some day all men will be resurrected (the righteous at the beginning of the millennial reign, and the wicked at the end), and the resurrection marks the reuniting of our spirit bodies with our physical bodies, no matter what we did (or did not) in this life, forever. Then our bodies will be perfect and without flaw, and we will not age, get sick, or die. Christ was the first to be resurrected—He was the only one who could do it—and because of Him and His atonement (which includes the resurrection) we will all live forever. Why are we all gifted back our bodies? Because our bodies are the reward for those who chose Christ in the pre-mortal council, and they are key to enjoying the happiness Heavenly Father now enjoys. 
Who didn’t make that choice, and who will not and have not received bodies? The devil and his angels.

So there will come a day when we will all leave spirit prison regardless of what we’ve done—yes, what we teach is that there is an exit to hell (though we might not say it in those words because it would seem like incentive to blow our money on that shiny car)—and that day is called the resurrection. But then comes final judgement, where exaltation is shown to be ultimately our choice. Again pointing to God’s fairness and love, just as we have no choice but to die in this life, we will freely be resurrected to die no more; just as it is entirely our choice to sin and cut ourselves off from His presence, it is entirely our choice to return “home” by choosing to follow Christ as we did before this life.


And that’s only the surface. Even so, I understand that some of what I’ve shared is very deep to tread in. Please remember that if there are flaws in what I’ve said they are from me, not the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know these things are true.

—Joseph

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