(This article is adapted from Darla’s book Trust God No Matter What! Follow this link to learn more.)
Author Note: Ever since my son’s death, I had found myself noticing scriptures, phrases in hymns, words of modern prophets that had previously had little personal meaning to me, but now burned bright in my heart. I felt the need to record the new understanding of and gratitude for some of the most hopeful ideas and promises I had found. And so, in April 2006, I wrote the following chapter.
Daffodils are blooming and globe trees herald the coming of spring with high domes of green filigree. I’ve always loved spring, All through muddy March I watch with great anticipation for green sprouts to push up from buried bulbs. I love the symbolism of the resurrection in all that, as well as in dead-looking branches budding and blossoming into a glory of pink flowers and green or burgundy leaves.
The promise of Easter is so well illustrated by all the newness of life I see around me—flowers, leaves and blossoms, new baby animals in the fields. Easter has always been a special and joyful time, but it has a new and deeper meaning for me now. I have scores of loved ones on the Other Side—all my grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, my Mom and Dad, my brother, many friends and now my son. I long to see them again, and I know I will.
My brother died when he was only three. My parents never could talk about him without tears, but not because of lack of faith. They loved quotes like the following from the Prophet Joseph Smith: “The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope.”
When Does the Second Estate End?
The lives of some of the loved ones I’ve lost have caused me to ponder long and deep the condition between death and the resurrection. What kind of progress is possible in that in-between place? Our First Estate ended when we left our Pre-mortal existence and were born on Earth. But does our Second Estate end the moment we die and enter the Spirit World? I’ve never been able to feel comfortable with that idea. So many people have never received a single clue concerning eternal truth during mortality. Millions have never heard one word about Christ, never known the true gospel, never experienced Christ-like love, never been cherished or given a sense of their worth—and certainly never had the opportunity for baptism by priesthood authority or temple ordinances. Many others who received baptism as children, never understood its importance and wandered off before they could gain a deeper understanding of Christ’s atonement or receive temple ordinances.
Only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds out the hope that sacred ordinances will be performed by proxy and that every person ever born will have the opportunity to be taught and really understand the gospel—and make their final choice to accept or reject the gospel and those temple ordinances on the basis of that understanding. Since that process happens in the Spirit World for so many millions, doesn’t that mean that the Second Estate includes the Spirit World existence—that it is not over until judgment day or even until the end of the Millennium? My sister listened as a temple sealer was asked recently why the sealing of deceased husbands and wives included the words, “for time and all eternity” if the “time” part was already past. The answer causes much food for thought: “Eternity” does not begin until the Millennium ends; until this earth receives its paradisiacal glory and becomes the celestial kingdom we are still in the “time” part.
President Joseph F. Smith said, “There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul.” [i] To me, this indicates that not only in the Spirit World, but beyond, the possibility of learning, accepting, and progressing exist.
President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “the Lord is just and will not deprive any person of a blessing, simply because he dies before that blessings can be received.”
Concern for Loved Ones
I have an aunt and uncle who were good people, completely devoted to each other, and kind and helpful to others. Although baptized as children, both had been totally inactive in the Church from youth. I have a son in the Spirit World who had so many celestial character traits that one of his friends said at his funeral, “Brian was the best person I ever knew.” He had been angry at the unkind way people were inclined to treat each other; he could not understand the corruption and dishonesty in the world and wanted no part in it.
Brian bent over backwards to be honest and fair; he had such a good heart and so much integrity. Sometimes I think his inner integrity prompted him to turn away from religion—which he experienced as a teenager as judgmental, stern, devoid of joy, divisive. He knew in his heart that God was not like that! Once he separated himself from family and church, however, he made many poor choices, suffered terrible depression, and eventually took his own life. Can I help but be earnestly, fervently concerned about his situation in the Spirit World?
The Condition Between Death and the Resurrection
Alma took his concerns about this subject to the Lord and received some answers. He said,
and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection. And now, concerning this space of time, what becometh of the soul of men is the thing which I have inquired diligently of the Lord to know; and this is the thing of which I do know.
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. [that sentence is very comforting to all of us who have lost loved ones.]
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. (Alma 40: 9, 11-12, insert mine)
I know my parents are in that category. They were faithful to the end. However, the question can immediately arise in regard to so many, how do you define “righteous?” How good do you have to be to qualify as “righteous?” How bad do you have to be to qualify as “wicked” and part of the awful fate Alma describes as he continues:
“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 . . . “ (Alma 40: 13).
Alma goes on to detail the miserable state of the wicked—capping it in verse 26 with an explanation of the second death which will befall them. I’ve sometimes felt, reading this, that without further understanding, this doctrine could be misunderstood to parallel the sectarian doctrine of only two conditions in the afterlife—a glorious heaven and an awful hell—with a terrible and arbitrary line drawn between—if you commit just one too many sins, you end up with the wicked. At what point of sinning does one “have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord?”
By and large not one of the relatives I cited chose evil works as such, but they missed out on a lot of good works because of their distance from the Church. Since they were baptized as children, some say, “They had their chance and they blew it!” What is a “chance?” Has someone had “their chance” when they turn away missionaries, not knowing what they are turning away? Have others had “their chance” when they leave the Church at a young age, not understanding what they are leaving?
In Alma 34:32 we read, “therefore, I beseech of you, that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed” (Alma 34: 33).
Many have taken that scripture to verify that the Second Estate ends with our last breath and that no progress or repentance can be made thereafter. Alma, taken literally could mean that the minute anyone leaves this life, their probation is over, period—which would leave a lot of people in spiritual limbo. Would my dear kind relatives, then, be cast out along with those who had chosen evil, who had “sold their souls to the devil” being bound by his awful chains and drug down to hell? Every feeling of my heart rebels against such an idea.
My aunt, uncle and son were NOT wicked or evil, yet all three committed a lot of “sins of omission” not being valiant in the faith to which they were born and baptized as children, not serving in the Church, not progressing to temple ordinances. In the case of my son, Only God knows the extent of his “sins of commission” (such as choosing to use alcohol and Marijuana, then ending his life by suicide) and how accountable he was for them, taking into consideration the deep depression he experienced, his lack of adult mentors, and everything else that could have contributed to his problems… If the Second Estate ended the minute any of them died, it would be “too late” for them (and everyone else like them) to learn the fullness of the gospel, to choose temple ordinances, to repent.
The very next verse gives hope. Alma explains that “Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, [referring to death] that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34: 34, emphasis mine).
My relatives all had good, kind, honest truth-loving spirits. Yet not one had a deep understanding of the gospel or a strong enough testimony of Christ to motivate them to activity on the Church. What was their situation when they entered the Spirit World and what is it now? What is the situation of the millions who never had a chance as children, who were never taught the truth in mortality? Doctrine and Covenants section 38, which I will quote from later, shines a mighty light on the whole subject.
Joseph F. Smith’s Vision
Since my son’s death, I have read and re-read and rejoiced in President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead in D&C 138. He said, in part:
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
These were taught faith in God, repentance from sins, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirits.
And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross. (D&C 138: 30-35)
The last verses of that section summarize this hopeful doctrine:
I behold that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead.
The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God.
And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.
Thus was the vision of the redemption of the dead revealed to me, and I bear record, and I know that this record is true, through the blessing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, even so. Amen. (D&C 138:57-60)
My father was a faithful elder, an untiring missionary all the days of his life. I can easily imagine him joyfully sharing the fullness of the gospel with loved ones who had not understood in this life. In my mind’s eye I can see my relatives gladly listening, and saying, when they really understood, “Oh, so that’s it! So that’s how it is!” I can see my son rejoicing in the doctrine of the Atonement once he really understood it. I can imagine him being willing to pay any price (pay the penalty of his transgressions, as is mentioned in verse 59) to be able to stand with the righteous.
The Prophet’s vision revealed the “redemption” of the dead—and he said those who are willing to repent there “are heirs of salvation.” We don’t know about their possible exaltation. But we know enough to merit rejoicing!
So Much to Rejoice Over
Just as the Holy Ghost is called the Spirit of Truth, I suspect truth is the essence of all our spirits. That would explain why we are so miserable when our minds believe lies. Incongruence, disharmony is never comfortable. In a class I attended, a Church educator said that in the spirit world we are shown the truth of every experience we had on earth. I would think truth is the whole essence of our post-mortal existence. Imagine how different things would look after you were shown the truth. I got the reassurance that Brian knows now—that he has been taught, been shown the truth, and later the impression swept over me that he had accepted it. If there is one quality Brian had it was being honest in heart. There is great peace for me in that. Can I let my grief be swallowed up in that reassurance? He is now surrounded with perfect love, light and truth. I can relinquish him wholeheartedly to the Lord and trust that all is well with him.
I rejoice to know the universality of the Lord’s invitation to come to Him: “Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden . . . he inviteth them all to come unto him, and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him” (2 Nephi 26: 28, 33).
I rejoice to live in the day when “The Prophet Elijah was to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to their fathers, Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fulness of time, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents” (D&C 138: 47-48). We have had Brian’s endowment work done in the temple. I felt that he was aware, was accepting.
I rejoice to live in a day when a living prophet has seen in vision those who had departed mortal life “assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 138: 26-17). Each of us will have spirit and body united, never again to be divided.
I rejoice to know that I will see my mother and father again. I will see Brian once more, all 6′ 5” of him. I will see his brown flashing eyes, his great smile. He will embrace me and I will embrace him. I will know that he knows how very much I love him. The extent of the joy I will feel at that reunion I cannot begin to comprehend.
I rejoice in my testimony of the Savior, of His life and resurrection, His love and mercy, His constant invitation to come unto Him and partake of the great blessings He offers to all. Because of it I know I can trust the Lord no matter what happens. 2 Corinthians 1: 9-10 tells us, “We should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.”
I love the scriptures. Here are three more that offer great hope: ”they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I am he; yea, I am he that comforteth you” (2 Nephi 8: 11-12). “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). “For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).
Where there was sorrow, there will be comfort; where there was pain, there will be strength; where there was darkness, there will be light and love. All the scripture promises cradle my heart with the gentle warmth of heaven’s embrace. What a glorious future we all have to look forward to—here and hereafter!
[i] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 456.
Author Note: Check out the following link for my newest interview with Nick Galieti, host and producer of the “The Good Word” podcast.