The after life
One of the great questions humans want answered in any set of religious beliefs is: “What happens when we die?” In the Book of Mormon, ideas regarding the after life are dominated by two beliefs:
That every human being has an immortal soul.
That every person’s body will be raised from the dead, reunited with its soul, made into an immortal person and will stand for judgment. The end result will be either endless happiness or endless torment.
We will first review unambiguous statements from the Book of Mormon on these two topics and then note the implications they have for other aspects of religious teaching. However, before doing so we should note that these two teachings stand in sharp contrast to Biblical revelation. The Bible is perfectly clear:
The whole person is a “soul” and is never said to be immortal. The “soul” is not a separate, thinking, conscious part of the individual:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul…[the punishment of death is] dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 2:7; 3:19; 7:22-23; etc.)
The only persons who are raised from the dead to receive immortality are those who believe in God and are faithful to Him. Some of the unfaithful, or wicked, may be raised from the dead but their end is to perish for ever: “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, honor and immortality, eternal life…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 2:7; 6:23). Living forever is thus not an inherent quality for every person. It is the special gift of God to the faithful. Look also at the most familiar of verses: “…[God] gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him [that is, only believers] should not perish [the natural end of all mankind], but have everlasting life [which only comes to the faithful]” (John 3:16). This is clear: God has placed before us life or death, not life or eternal life in torment.
Book of Mormon statements on the immortality of the soul
Speaking of the person who “cometh out in open rebellion against God” we read “if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt…mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment”. By way of contrast are those “that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed…to dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:37-41). In this teaching, the alternatives are not life or death as everyone lives forever. According to Mormon theology the alternatives are eternal happiness or eternal torment.
These words are recorded as being from King Benjamin to his Nephite subjects in 124 B.C. He goes on in a further description of the fate of the wicked: “If they be evil, they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return…And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mosiah 3:25-27).
Such references to the inherent immortality of all human beings is a fundamental idea throughout the Book of Mormon: : “Therefore as the soul could never die…” (Alma 42:9, also Alma 12:18; 41:4). “And land their souls, yea their immortal souls at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven…”. (Helaman 3:30 ).
Universal resurrection and judgment
Because everyone is said to have an immortal soul, some everlasting fate is said to be in store for every human being who ever lived. In fact, what is described is that every person’s soul and body is reunited at the resurrection, all bodies are made immortal and everyone stands for judgment as to his/her fate from that point onward.
Probably the most succinct description of the teaching is found in Alma 11: “…the day cometh that all shall rise from the dead and stand before God, and be judged according to their works…The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form both limb and joint shall be restored to it’s proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God…Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame… I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption” (Alma 11:41-45).
A similar detailed picture is drawn in 2 Nephi 9:11-19. There a few details are added: “they who are filthy…shall go away into everlasting fire…[which] has no end [and] is endless torment” while the righteous “inherit the kingdom of God…” (vv. 16-19).
Some questions answered and others left in confusion
The picture drawn above leaves some rather obvious questions. The answers we find in the Book of Mormon are sometimes clear and sometimes confusing.
What happens between death and the resurrection? “This much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works” (Alma 40:21).
Does “all” really mean ALL in the sense of a universal resurrection and judgment? Yes, without question it does as is made clear in several places.
“And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil” (Mormon 3:20).
One can’t get much clearer!
Mosiah 27:30 adds: “…and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.”
What happens to children who die young, too young to intelligently obey God? The matter is extensively dealt with in Moroni (the last book in the Book of Mormon) chapter 8. (V. 8) “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God… ‘little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me…(v.11) little children need no repentance, neither baptism…(v.12) little children are alive in Christ…(v. 13) if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell. Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness [a very strong rejection of infant sprinkling/baptism]…(v.17) all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation’ “ .
The same point was made earlier in Mosiah 15:25: “And little children also have eternal life.”
The teaching is thus clear: the Book of Mormon contends there is universal resurrection, immortality, judgment to endless paradise or endless torment, and universal salvation of children.
But what about those who have lived without coming under the word of God? This would include the vast majority of mankind during the generations from creation to the present. Scripture reveals they enjoy this life for a season and then are “like the beasts that perish” (Psa 49:12, 20; 146:4, etc.). Of course, believing in an immortal soul and universal resurrection, the Mormon prophets can not state the Biblical truth. So what does the Book of Mormon say?
“Wherefore he [God] has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him. For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 9:25-26).
Mosiah, who had comments regarding children, also comments on “the ignorant”: “For behold, and also his [Christ’s] blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. But wo, wo (sic) unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God…” (Mosiah 3:11-12). Mosiah’s depiction of the fate of the ignorant is left incomplete at this point but later in his book we find: “these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord” (Mosiah 15:24).
Some reasonable conclusions
So what do we make of this? We can only conclude the Book of Mormon teaches that the “ignorant” do not experience endless torment and are given a blessing of endless peace with God. If this is the case, why preach? Why not leave people in ignorance where they are guaranteed an eternal existence of blessing? This, of course, is just one more problem of believing in an immortal soul.
There are additional problems: the Book of Mormon includes Isaiah 2 and 11 both of which speak emphatically of the kingdom age when Jewry is restored amidst great blessings. When does this happen? If before the resurrection, Christ has no saints to rule with him yet a universal resurrection and universal immortalization leaves no mortals to be the subjects of the kingdom!
Lord willing, these and other issues will be addressed in future articles. Next “The Restoration of Israel”.
Don Styles (Ann Arbor, MI)