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That happens after we die? This is a very relevant question that most people think about and seek answers for. Based on Hebrews 9:27 ("it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment"), Christianity in general believes that humankind's final eternal destiny is determined and permanent immediately upon physical death. Here it is explained how Mormonism, in contrast to Christianity, has developed an elaborate teaching concerning an after-death spirit-world, a corresponding salvation scheme for the dead, and why Joseph Smith declared to the Latter-day Saints that "the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead."
Christians are aware of the ministry story of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, but may be surprised to discover that Elijah played a major role in Mormonism's doctrine of salvation for the dead as emphasized in Doctrine and Covenants.
Mormonism oddly asserts that the latter-day ministry of Elijah to authorize Mormons to perform the salvation temple ordinances for the dead is referred to in Malachi 4:5-6: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers." Mormons emphasize that Elijah appeared to Peter and John with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, at which time Jesus is said to have given them the divine ruling keys, authority, and power of the kingdom of God on earth. On September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni apparently told Joseph Smith that the Lord would give him the priesthood authority through Elijah in fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6.
In Mormon thinking, Moroni's declaration was fulfilled on April 3, 1836, when Elijah supposedly visited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple, and ordained them with the sealing authority and power of the kingdom of God to bind on earth and in heaven. According to Mormons, this visitation of Elijah in the Kirtland temple inaugurated the latter-day Mormon salvation that could extend to both the living and the dead.
Appealing to Jesus' words in Matthew 18:18, "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven," Mormons believe that God has given the LDS male priesthood the salvation power and authority to bind on earth and seal eternally in heaven. In other words, Mormonism believes that the latter-day spirit of Elijah is the Mormon priesthoods' divine ability to redeem the dead, which enables them to bind in heaven all LDS covenants, obligations, vows, and ordinances made on earth. Latter-day Saints are told that all the covenants and ordinances performed on earth that are not directly sealed by the LDS priesthood are temporal and end when someone dies.
The Mormon Spirit-World
Mormons teach that after people die, they will go to dwell in a place identified as the spirit-world. The spirit-world is a temporary home for all disembodied human spirits where they will exist between their death and future resurrection. Many Latter-day Saints apparently believe that the spirit-world is located right here on earth. They emphasize that a very thin veil exists between the living and the dead, and that their dead family members are near them at all times.
Based on the Book of Mormon's Alma 40:11, the general Mormon understanding of the spirit-world was initially revealed by an angel. It reads: "Concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection-Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel." But Mormonism's detailed salvation scheme for the dead is primarily based on the modern revelations found in Doctrine and Covenants sections 2, 127, 128, and 138 and Enrichment O, and not in the Bible.
According to Mormonism, after people die they are sent by God to one of two places-either paradise or spirit-prison-in this intermediate spirit-world. Worthy Mormons will enter paradise, but everyone else-including unfaithful Mormons, Christians, and the rest of humanity-will be sent to spiritprison to atone for their sins. Mormon theology teaches that everyone in the spirit-world will live and function exactly as they did while living on earth, possessing the same beliefs, attitudes, and talents.
After they die, all faithful and worthy Mormons will enter a glorious dwelling place in the spirit-world called paradise. This understanding is supported by the following statement found in the LDS official manual True to the Faith:
Paradise designates a place of peace and happiness in the postmortal spirit world, reserved for those who have been baptized and who have remained faithful.
The Book of Mormon's Alma 40:12 describes paradise in the spirit-world as a wonderful place of happiness and peace:
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.
While living in paradise, faithful Latter-day Saints will continue to grow and prepare for their final destiny in either the Celestial or Terrestrial kingdom after their resurrection, depending on their personal worthiness.
Unfaithful Mormons, Christians, and the rest of humanity will be sent to spirit-prison-also known as hell or outer darkness by Latter-day Saints-in the spirit-world. Those in spirit-prison will have an opportunity to pay for their sins, learn the gospel of Jesus Christ, and receive LDS temple ordinances. Spirit-prison is a condition and place of self-determined spiritual imprisonment and torment. This is the description of spirit-prison found in the Book of Mormon's Alma 40:13-14:
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.
Those dwelling in spirit-prison will suffer a spiritual death of tormenting hell, and will experience nonstop weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth under the wrath and judgment of God. This is how Bruce McConkie describes the terrible experience of spirit-prison:
That part of the spirit world inhabited by wicked spirits who are awaiting the eventual day of their resurrection is called hell. Between their death and resurrection, these souls of the wicked are cast out into outer darkness, into the gloomy depression of sheol, into the hades of waiting wicked spirits, into hell. There they suffer torments of the damned; there they welter in the vengeance of eternal fire; there is found weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; there the fiery indignation of the wrath of God is poured out upon the wicked.
Spirit-prison is a very dark place of deep depression and awful fear where people will suffer torment and pay for their earthly sins as they wait for the final judgment of God. Following the resurrection and God's final judgment at the end of the millennium, those still dwelling in spirit-prison will either go to the Telestial kingdom or be condemned to eternal hell.