Replies to Thomas

Tag: resurrection

The Seed Must Die: Creation in His Image

Dear Joseph,

I like what you’ve written to me about the need for faith, but I still find myself surrounded by evidences that God, as a supreme controller of all things (nature, human affairs, etc.), is cruel and unfair. For one, he put you and I into this cold and lonely world and then gave us sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness, on top of that.

If this is what it means to be “created in his image,” then why have him as my father? All he appears capable of producing is a sad world of hurt.



Dear Thomas,

“And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:10).

The commandment above is the theme of my letter to you, Thomas, and your ability to fulfill it will be at the root of your possible reconciliation with God. I assure you that at some day (hopefully sooner than the “last day”), you will recognize that our Father in Heaven is neither ‘cruel’ nor ‘unfair,’ but fair, loving, and wise in all his affairs with his children, whose names and circumstances he knows, including yours.

But his knowledge of even all things does not diminish or absolve your responsibility to choose him and to set aside your sins that you may regain his presence.

Now, there is a question found in the Bible whose answer, I believe, will help you understand how it is that God will be called “just” by all his Children at some future day. It was a question that Paul endeavored to answer, telling the Christians at Corinth that this question was going to arise among them (disclaimer: I’m going to assume in all of this that you understand that what is meant by “the resurrection” is a return of the spirits of all mankind to their bodies, per Christ’s actual, physical resurrection):

“But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35).

To which question Paul gives a terse but revealing answer regarding the nature of our short, mortal existence:

“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die” (1 Cor. 15:36).

Question: as humans what do we sow? Answer: other humans (children), who are then racked with ‘sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness,’ as you pointed out in your letter. Sowing seed as an analogy of human reproduction is key to understanding the rest of what Paul is talking about, as you will see.

Also note: what does it mean to be ‘quickened’? The Greek term is ζῳοποιέω zóopoieó, which means “to vivify” or “to animate,” and it is often used in reference to the notion of being alive.

With this understanding, let’s rephrase the above verse in extremely plain terms remembering that Paul is answering the question of the nature of a resurrected body:

“Thou fool, [the bodies] that are produced in our lifetimes are not fully alive unless they [first] die.”

This seems to be a strange state of things: our bodies are not alive unless they are first dead? What could Paul mean? Luckily he continues his explanation:

“And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
“But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body” (1 Cor. 15:37-38).

When a man plants a seed in a field, it is beyond plain that he is not sticking the final result into the ground (e.g. a stalk of wheat, or some other grain) but the necessary beginning of that which shall be. According to Paul, it is the same with our mortal bodies: they are the seeds to something greater that is yet to be, and yet mortality is necessary (on multiple levels, if you recall). Moreover, whatever that thing ‘to be’ is, it is given of God—and not to man—’to every seed his own body.’

A little later in the chapter, Paul continues to drive the point home that the species of man is not and can not be fully developed in mortality (i.e. before death; before resurrection), and he does so with the sustained motif of our current bodies being mere seeds. In fact, he goes on to say that our present state, besides being temporary—or preparatory—is also marked by its weak and frail setting, which shall not always abide:

“[The body] is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
“It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory:
it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
“It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

(Take solace in at least that knowledge, Thomas: ‘sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness’ is temporary! You will one day see that the suffering in body you go through now is not only a brief moment in grand scheme of things but also very instructive.)

But what shall this seed of a body eventually become? If we are merely in “seed form” (or, more aptly, embryo) at this time, ‘with what body shall [we] come’ when we are ‘quickened’ after death? Paul explains:

“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
Also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial, and bodies telestial; but the glory of the celestial, one; and the terrestrial, another; and the telestial, another.
“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (JST 1 Cor. 15:39-41, italics added).

Paul wants to make it abundantly clear that what will be—what we will be—is, to borrow the modern phrase, “an entirely different animal” from what we are now. And he literally uses the examples of various classes of animal life to reinforce the idea. In effect, he says that as things now stand we have humans, which are a thing different from bears, which are a thing different from dolphins, which are a thing different from sparrows. And where does all this lead? It leads to the continued statement that inasmuch as those things are wholly different from one another (though all are forms of ‘flesh’), there will be different types of ‘bodies’ given to mankind in their resurrected, final state that will be things wholly different from one another, here described as ‘celestial,’ ‘terrestrial,’ and ‘telestial’ bodies (note that this last term is added by Joseph Smith through divine revelation).

Now, these three differing ‘glories’ of bodies (as Paul puts it) provide the answer to the two questions he first predicted would be asked of him: ‘[1] how are the dead raised up? and [2] with what body do they come?’ Let us consider his answer to the latter first (number two).

We’ve already established that Paul considers our present bodies to be the embryos of something mature to come, and now he is telling us that this full-grown form will come in one of at least three general kinds. He continues to elaborate on their distinguishing feature—their degree of glory—by comparing each one to the apparent magnitude of easily differentiated luminaries: the sun (by and far the brightest), the moon (far less bright), and the stars (quite dim). We are to understand, by further revelation, that this is a reference to the very nature of resurrected bodies, some being of a higher quality or power than others:

“And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom [other than the celestial kingdom], even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
“For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory…” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:21-24, emphasis added).


Borrowing the names Paul uses in describing the degrees of resurrected glory (i.e. celestial, terrestrial, and telestial), the above revelation states that the type of body one receives at the resurrection will determine the level of Heaven one can be admitted to (Paul spoke of the “third heaven” once, which corresponds to the ‘celestial kingdom’ named above; I have written to you about these levels or degrees before).

Now that we have it established that our fully grown stature will be one of three general forms—with the kind designated as celestial being the greatest of all of these (by a long shot if we’re talking about a difference commensurate to the change in magnitude between the sun and moon), terrestrial being the middle, and telestial the least—we can turn to Paul’s answer of the first question he posed for himself (number [1], above): ‘how are the dead raised up?’ The answer is in the names he gave the types of bodies that will be in the resurrection: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial.

The original Greek that Paul used for these words is known for two of the words, namely: celestial and terrestrial. Those words were ἐπουράνια epourania (“heavenly”) and ἐπίγεια epigeia (“earthly”), respectively. The King James translators, for whatever reason, rendered these instances of the words in their Latin/Old French forms, familiar to us today for their continued usage in modern English, but in other places in the King James Version of the Bible the words are rendered as heavenly and earthly, respectively, as they literally mean such.


“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?” (1 Cor. 15:32).

The third term, however, telestial, is, as mentioned before, a product of revelation through the prophet Joseph Smith. The term first appears (in conjunction with the other two, known terms) in a revelation he received concerning the resurrection of the dead while revising the Bible where necessary, going through it verse by verse, through direction from God. Sometime later, when reaching the verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the word again appeared in its already understood place.

That said, the word has proven to be somewhat problematic for scholars who refuse to recognize the calling of the prophet Joseph. For one, it is not a word that exists in our known English lexicon; furthermore, the word is set inline with two other known terms that, though their meanings are clear, go against any perceivable pattern that Joseph Smith seemed to establish.

For example, the three degrees of Heaven refer to the eventual glorified destination of us, God’s children: the celestial inheriting as their kingdom, in fact, the earth on which we now live (though glorified—do you remember that?). Based purely on lexical meanings, it would seem more appropriate for the earth to be associated with the middle kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom (after all, it does mean “earthly”) and not the celestial. Nevertheless, the revelations state that righteous will inherit the earth as the kingdom of the celestial.

To add to this seeming inconsistency on the part of Joseph Smith’s revealed eschatological system, the connection between 1 Corinthians 15 verses 40 and 41, is further derided by critical scholars in that Paul connects the light of the sun as being typical of this celestial degree of glory and not the earth, and the terrestrial seems to lose all relatedness when the moon is set forth as its symbol.

But symbol of what? It would be well for the student of the scriptures to remember that Paul is here answering specific questions. We will return to this in a moment.

The claim put forth by Joseph Smith is, in essence, that Paul’s original letter contained a third term in the Greek that we are not now familiar with: telestial. That word can be demonstrably shown to be derived from τέλος telos, which means “an end” or “consummation” (see Strong’s Greek Concordance, 5056). It is related to the English word “telescope,” whose function is not fully realized until the tool is extended to its ‘end.’ The Latin/Old French suffix “-al” is imposed on the Greek τέλος telos to produce an unfamiliar but agreeable new adjective to describe the lowest form of resurrected bodies.

But how do we reconcile celestial (“heavenly”), terrestrial (“earthly”), and telestial (“final”) as descriptors of these bodies? Again, we turn to the question Paul is endeavoring to answer all along (question [1], above): ‘how are the dead raised up?’

Through a revelation from the prophet Joseph Smith, we find the key:

“[Regarding those who obtain celestial bodies:] these shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
“These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection….”
“These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:62-64,70, emphasis added).

Beside the celestial, who will come from heaven, all other resurrections will take place upon the earth, the terrestrial coming forth in the first resurrection (see John 5:29; also Doctrine and Covenants 76:17), the telestial at the second, which will be at the end of the earth’s temporal history:


“[Regarding this who obtain telestial bodies:] these are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:85, emphasis added).

So let’s recap: the first resurrection will take place at Christ’s coming, the celestial coming in from the clouds “of heaven” (ἐπουράνια epourania) and the terrestrial coming forth out of their graves on the earth (ἐπίγεια epigeia); then the telestial will come forth after the millennial reign of Christ, at the world’s end or consummation (τέλος telos). That is ‘how’ the ‘dead are raised up,’ and their respective glories (as discussed above) are ‘with what body’ they do ‘come.’

Thus, the adjectives Paul ascribes to the third, second, and first heavens represent the manner of resurrection its inhabitants will go through; whereas the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars represent the kinds of bodies, in terms of glory or power, that its inhabitants will possess.

So back to your original question:

“If [sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness] is what it means to be ‘created in his image,’then why have him as my father?”

The point of this whole explanation is to show you that what you are now is not God’s final creation—in other words, you are not yet in ‘his image,’ but you may become such when you, as a seed, die and then resurrect. How can it be said that you are ‘created in his image’? Because this is the way that he was made, to quote the prophet Lorenzo Snow, as also Joseph Smith:

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”
“Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor?”

Paul makes this point also, pointing to the great head of our human family on earth, Adam, and how it was that he too underwent this process, and that we too will undergo it:

“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
“Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual….
“And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:45-46,49).

Thomas, there is a path established by God whereby you too can obtain a resurrected body of celestial glory—to ‘bear the image of the heavenly’—which body will come from the heavens with the Son when he comes to reign in glory. This path has been made clear by the words of living prophets, and it all begins by following the example of the Savior by going down into the waters of baptism to be born of water by an authorized minister—someone who holds the true priesthood delegated from Jesus Christ himself.

For each of us, the commencement of this path begins with faith, and the fruits of faith is repentance, and the fruits of repentance are in the saving ordinances, beginning with baptism. Do everything in your power, Thomas, to obtain that celestial body through the sacred ordinances that have been brought from heaven for that purpose, for it is what your Father has done, and it is what He asks you to do.



The Holly and The Ivy

Breaking from the usual letter-response format of my blog, I’m posting a poem I’ve written for this Christmas season that I would like to share with my readers. A little background will go a long way to appreciating the content of this poem:

In olden times, a Christmas tradition was a song competition between the men and women of a given town. The contest was to see who could sing the highest praise of their respective symbol: the men were to sing of the holly; and the women, the ivy. At the end of the singing, the two groups would reconcile beneath a row of mistletoe. Many of these songs have been forgotten to time, but some, particularly those sung by the males, have survived. The carol, The Holly and the Ivy, is a product of such remembered songs. I’ve combined those ancient themes, along with the legend of mistletoe being the Herbe de la Croix, whose wood was said to be that used to make the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, to form an original poem set in the meter of said carol and using Middle English (as best I could).

The Holly and The Ivy
A Retelling of a Classic Carol

  1. As the snow falls at that dark and dreary time of year,
    Friends and fam’ly gather to grow a feeling, O so dear;
    To remember what was born, and ended with a pall,
    When a love and a life was giv’n, at once to save us all.
  2. But seldom is remembered, the story of a pair;
    Whose budding romance betoken’d our savior, O so fair.
    When the woods are blast by ice, and in color are grey,
    These lovers then appear evergreen, in the light of day.
  3. The holly and the ivy, when they were both full grown,
    Upon the wintry day did meet, when they were both alone.
    The holly loved the ivy, and she did love him too;
    But she kept her feelings hidden, to see if he’d be true.
  4. “Now Christmas is tomorrow,” said the doting holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “These days I am striving outwards, to be like Jesus Christ.
  5. “I started in October, to blossom and to bud,
    “So animals I could give food, when else is draped in mud.”
    The holly stood uprightly, and said, with humble heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  6. “In May I bore a blossom as white as any milk;
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, and swaddled him in silk.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is on us now; by new year I’ll be dead.
  7. “Now hear the words I say,” continued the old holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “There’s yet more ways in which I try to be like Jesus Christ.
  8. “Though other shrubs can’t abide, ’till spring my fruit I keep,
    “My berries black feed the fowels, who neither sow nor reap.”
    The holly hunched uprightly, and said, with trembling heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  9. “In fall I bore a berry as red as any blood,
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is past us now; by new year I’ll be dead.
  10. “Now hear the words I say,” pleaded the aged holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “There’s one more way in which I try to be like Jesus Christ.
  11. “I only grow my flowers high atop my briery face,
    “Kept neither under bushel nor in any secret place.”
    The holly stooped uprightly, and said, with fainting heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  12. “Beneath I bear a bark as bitter as any gall,
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is long past us; and now I shall be dead.”
  13. “Now Christmas day is long past us?” questioned the ivy.
    “But thou my spouse I planned to make; to fill my life with thee!”
    “Not so,” cried the lone ivy, “now thou art grey and iced.
    “There’s one last way I wish that I could be like Jesus Christ.”
  14. “To restore that which is lost?” came a voice from above,
    “To conquer death, to green the wood, to mend forever love?”
    “Who art thou?” asked the ivy. “Doth thou the savior know?”
    Then softly came the stranger’s voice, “I am the mistletoe.
  15. “I know sweet Jesus Christ,” said the old plant draped in frost.
    “I was once a great tree from whom they fashion’d out His cross.
    “For that painful sacrifice, the Lord gave a power;
    “Kiss thy man beneath my care and have him from this hour.”
  16. Then the faithful ivy, crying teardrops like a mist,
    Picked up her cold, dear loved one, and gave unto him a kiss.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay,” came the voice of he who once was dead,
    “The new year is upon us now; this day we shall be wed.”
  17. Now for always remember, the story of this pair;
    Whose flowered romance betoken’d our savior, O so fair.
    When thy woods are blast by ice, and in color are grey,
    Through Him thy love shall be evergreen, in the light of day.


Heaven or Hell?

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.


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.