Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Plan of Salvation -- Post-Earth Life

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on the Lord's plan for our eternal happiness. It presents answers to the questions:
  1. Did I come from somewhere before earth, or was conception/birth the beginning of my existence?
  2. Why am I here? I mean, really?
  3. Is there any truth to the theory of the afterlife, or is death the end of my existence?
Part 1, titled "Pre-Mortal Existence" answered question number 1. Likewise, part 2 answered question number 2.  Therefore, this part will answer question number 3. But please remember that in order to accept these answers as truth, you need to be willing to believe in the following:
  1. The existence of God
  2. Absolute truth found in the Holy Scriptures
  3. The idea that you have greater potential than you realize
What happens after this life?
We know that it's important to get an education/to learn. We want to have cherished friendships. Many of us desire family connections. But what's the point if this life is all there is? Why are we, as humans, naturally driven to want to know things, have hobbies, and excel in something if we're just going to die in a few decades anyway? God sent us to earth to become like him. That implies that after this life, there's definitely something coming. So, what exactly is going to happen?

A good place to start is with death. The Bible reads that while on the cross, Christ told the man who recognized him as the Savior that "To day thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). However, we learn from scholars and prophets that the word "paradise" is not exactly correct.
"King James' translators make it out to say paradise. But what is paradise? It is a modern word: it does [clarify] the original word that Jesus made use of. Find the original of the word paradise. . . . There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise; but it was 'This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: that I will teach you all about it and answer your inquiries.' And Peter says [Jesus] went and preached to the world of spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19). . . . Hades, the Greek, or Sheol, the Hebrew, these two significations mean a world of spirits. Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one; it is a world of spirits." (Source)
Upon death, all who have ever lived, currently live, and will live on this earth will go to a place called the Spirit World. But just like the Heaven from whence we came, we are not sitting on clouds playing harps as we wait for judgment day. Those who lived according to the Lord's standards on earth will be in paradise, where they will have rest from "earthly care and sorrow." Thus, they will be enabled to teach the gospel to those who are in what is called the "spirit prison." These people either never heard the gospel or chose not to accept it on earth. Therefore, they are not yet at rest from their earthly sins because they have not completed the proper steps toward forgiveness. God is just, and everyone will have a chance to hear His gospel, accept it, and honestly repent before they are presented to Him on Judgment Day. Whether they accept it or not is, and always will be, their choice.

In the Spirit World, we will be able to recognize those with whom we associated with in this life; our personalities will not change, nor will our appearance (Alma 34:34). Link: What is the spirit world like?

Many have heard of the Second Coming of the Savior to the world. This will indeed happen, and many of the signs of His coming have been, are being, and will be fulfilled as time goes by. It is around this time and afterward that the resurrection of the dead will occur; that is, over a period of time, everyone's body and spirit will be permanently reunited in a perfect, immortal form. Regardless of our actions on earth, all people will be resurrected. This is possible because of the resurrection of Christ: he overcame physical death through his own resurrection, thus we are given that gift as well.

Immortality is our gift, but living with God in heaven for eternity requires more on our part. After we are resurrected, we will be presented to God for our final judgment. We will be judged based on our thoughts, words, and actions. It is at that time that we will find out if we will dwell in God's presence for eternity or not. But there are more options for our eternal rest than just Heaven or Hell. In 1 Corinthians 15:40-41, we learn about not one, but three possible final destinations for us after the judgment:
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is 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. 
The Celestial Kingdom, otherwise known as Heaven, is where those who lived the Lord's gospel (shown through their thoughts, words, and actions) and who relied on the mercy of Christ for forgiveness of their imperfections will go after the judgment. But what about everyone else? There are people who will be brought to stand before the Lord who either didn't do quite everything they could or just simply chose to live in sin. On one hand, it's not fair for them to live with those who did do their best, and dwelling in the presence if God while having a conscious awareness of your unrepented sins would be too much for anyone to handle. On the other hand, should a mass murderer and a good person who just didn't quite do his/her best have to live with each other for eternity after the judgment? That doesn't seem right, either.

God prepared places in addition to the Celestial Kingdom for these people. Those who were good people in this life, but did not accept/live the Lord's gospel either here or in the Spirit World will have their eternal dwelling in a world called the Terrestrial Kingdom. 

The Telestial Kingdom is the world that those who never accepted the gospel and did not live honorable lives (lived in sin and did not repent) will be assigned to at their final judgment.

But what about Hell? Everyone's heard of Hell, yet according to the LDS belief system, it seems like no one actually goes there. What's up with that?

What most are already aware of is that Hell is where the devil and his angels (the one-third of our spirit siblings who rebelled in our pre-earth life) will eternally reside. However, it takes very serious spiritual sins to be sent there after the final judgment. Because of the Atonement of Christ, forgiveness and mercy are possible for almost every type of sin/imperfection that you or I could possibly commit. Thanks to the Atonement, most people will be sent to either the Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial kingdoms, but there are some things that will not be excused. Actions like the ones made by Cain (who killed his brother Abel) are among such examples. It was not the murder of Abel that condemned him to Hell; it was that he listened and chose to continually follow Satan after walking with God. Because of this, he was called a son of perdition, and will be in Hell (also referred to by LDS members as "outer darkness") after the judgment.

We are God's literal spirit children. Because God loves us as only a parent can, he prepared a way through which we could have the chance to become as he is. In the book of Moses, we learn the following about the Lord:
And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so another shall come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:38-39)

He wants us to learn and grow in the same way he did: through experience. It is through this experience on earth that we can learn to trust in the Lord and walk by faith, not by sight. We can do our part by studying the scriptures, heeding the words of the living prophet and apostles today, and living the Lord's gospel. As we do our part and rely on the Lord, the Holy Spirit can guide us and help us to know whether or not we're on the right path. 

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