Author’s note: I spent most of last year writing a book of comfort for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Of course, the one to benefit most was me! Since losing my son in October of 2004 I’ve had an insatiable desire to know more about what happens after death. The most comforting thing I’ve found is documentation that our Second Estate continues in the spirit world. The rest of this article is an excerpt from my book summarizing what I’ve learned. There is comfort here for anyone concerned about the progress and well-being of a loved one in the spirit world.
One day in early July I was lying in my back yard hammock, watching summer sunlight filter through the leaves of the trees, pondering the journey I’ve taken in my quest to understand what happens in the spirit world.
From the time I was a child I heard that missionary work was going on in the spirit world. That knowledge had made me question the idea that “if you don’t understand and repent by the time you die it is too late.” I started this book with only a tentative hope that our second estate probation continues after death, because “second estate” is usually defined as our time “on this earth.” Because it seemed like such a major issue to me, I looked at that from every angle and decided that part of the assurance I was looking for might be in the documentation I’d found that the spirit world is “on this earth.”
As a robin swooped low over the hammock, then perched in the tree nearest me, I thought of the day I found those quotes. Elder Parley P. Pratt wrote that the spirit world “is here on the very planet where we were born; or in other words, the earth and other planets of like sphere, have their inward or spiritual spheres, as well as their outward, or temporal. The one is peopled by temporal tabernacles, and the other by spirits. A veil is drawn between the one sphere and the other, whereby all the objects in the spiritual sphere are rendered invisible to those in the temporal.”1
Also, Brigham Young spoke extensively about the spirit world and said it is “right here.”2 I was so excited to think of my loved ones being so near. But did that prove anything about the second estate continuing?
Another landmark was finding the article “The Spirit World, Our Next Home,” by Dale C. Mouritsen, an area director of seminaries and institutes (a must read). To summarize, he said that the spirit world is a tangible, substantial sphere incorporated with our earth, the focal point of a massive missionary effort.3
I concluded that whether we call our time in the spirit world an extension of our second estate or something else, there would be no point of preaching the gospel in the spirit world if those who heard the preaching couldn’t benefit from it. We know those in the spirit world are still able to choose to accept or reject the gospel as well as the proxy ordinances we do for them. And that was as far as I had come with the subject when I started this book.
I smiled, climbed out of the hammock, and went into the house. I was eager to get back to my computer because now I could write the best part! I had continued to search for verification that the second estate does not end when we die. This was an important issue and I wanted to know for sure! Imagine my delight when Jenny, an e-mail friend and griever, sent me a quote from President Marion G. Romney that specifically said that! In a talk titled “We Are Children of God, 4 he plainly defines the second estate as the mortality we are now experiencing AND our sojourn in the spirit after we die.
But the best was yet to come. (And hearing this you will understand better why I had to keep writing and rewriting this chapter.) During the final stages of creating this book I learned that Elder Neal A. Maxwell, in his book The Promise of Discipleship, had written an entire chapter on the spirit world! I obtained a copy of the book and read chapter 9. (It starts on page 105.) Elder Maxwell’s words are so full of hope for our departed loved ones! In that chapter called simply “The Spirit World,” I found the following quote:
We tend to overlook the reality that the spirit world and paradise are part, really, of the second estate. The work of the Lord, so far as the second estate is concerned, is completed before the Judgment and the Resurrection . . . He gave us our spirit birth, bringing the first estate to all. He gave the gift to us of mortality, or the second estate, where all might be “added upon” . . . He provides in the spirit world a continuum of mortality’s probation, the great opportunity for all. 5
How could it be any different? God is both merciful and just. What else would make sense?
Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead
For a long time, my best comfort had been President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead in Doctrine & Covenants 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 sin, 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 Spirit.
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 beheld 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.
The dictionary definition of redemption is, “To free from captivity by payment of ransom.” Those who accept the gospel and the Savior in the spirit world will be ransomed by the Atonement and freed from their sins. And look at this verse again: “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” (138:32). No matter what was going on in the lives of our loved ones who took their own lives, surely they would be included in that promise. The only purpose for teaching the dead about the mission of the Savior, as Section 138 so clearly says will be taught, is that the blessings of the Atonement are extended to them still.
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 it in this life. In my mind’s eye I can see Brian gladly listening, and saying, “Oh, so that’s it!” I can see him rejoicing in the doctrine of the Atonement once he really understood it. I can imagine him willingly paying any price (the penalty of his transgressions, as is mentioned in verse 59) to be able to stand with the righteous.
It’s hard for me to imagine anything closer to hell than the condition of mind that prompts suicide. But after they have repented they can proclaim: “Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15). Repentance opens the door to redemption.
Evidence That People Repent in the Spirit World
I kept finding more evidence, such as Brent and Wendy Top’s book Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door: Gospel Insights into Near-death Experiences. Tops reference many other books that recount or analyze near-death experiences. They clearly state that the gospel blesses us with the understanding that death does not mark the final judgment and that even in the world of spirits opportunities to come unto Christ are afforded to mankind by a merciful, loving, and fair God. They show that many near-death experiences offer compelling evidence to substantiate this belief.
In his superb book, The Infinite Atonement, author Tad R. Callister documents the fact that the Atonement reaches back into premortality, then says that the redeeming powers of the Savior reach forward to reach the spirits of the dead just as readily as they stretched back to premortal life. 6
It seems strange to me now that I’ve resolved so many things in my mind to go back and remember how worried I was about Brian at first. Like when I read the scripture, “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).
Brian had shown such resistance to anything to do with religion for years; I worried that same spirit would keep him from listening there. But what was his real spirit, his real identity? My youngest son, Scott, was working a night security job at the time of Brian’s death. He e-mailed me the following morning: “I’ve been grieving for Brian during the night, but in the end I feel very uplifted and cheered concerning his state.”
Still I wondered, and I wrote in my journal:
Will Brian even listen when he has a chance to hear the gospel in the spirit world? Surely teachers on the other side know far better than I ever have how to share the precious truths of life and salvation. Will my continued prayers for him help open his heart to these truths?
So many quotes gave me hope. President Brigham Young said: “When the spirits leave their bodies they are in the presence of our father and God; they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things.” 7
That could well explain my temple experience with my husband’s great-grandmother, Wendla Sofia Lofsund. She was an anti-Mormon bootlegger with little room in her life for religion. Can you imagine my surprise when, as her proxy, I strongly felt her acceptance and her joy as I performed her temple ordinances? (That was before Brian died, and was by far the most amazing temple experience I’ve had.) The experience with Wendla was such a strong evidence that now, years later, I still feel a great spiritual swelling to even write of it. It gives me comfort and hope.
I know that “the dead who repent will be redeemed.” I know that Wendla had the gospel preached to her in its purity and power after she died, and that she repented and accepted it. And I know for sure that she accepted her temple work. I was there! What could have given me greater hope for Brian’s situation.
Hopeful Words about Conditions in the Spirit World
I’m still pondering quotes that indicate it may be harder to repent in the spirit world than it is here—and that must apply to certain sins that have to do with the body, and it doesn’t seem to apply to the basic principle of accepting truth. But my next great find was a talk by President Lorenzo Snow called “Preaching the Gospel in the Spirit World.” It is electrifying—definitely on my “most recommended” list to read! He assures us that the success of missionaries in the spirit world far exceeds what we see here, that there are few indeed who do not gladly receive the Gospel, because circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable.8
A thousand times more favorable! Think of what that really means. For one thing, it means that the adversary won’t be present whispering distortions and false interpretations or creating resistance to truth. It means that the doctrines of Christ will be presented in absolute purity. So many of Brian’s “objections” to religion were based on misunderstandings—the ideas of men mingled with scriptures—along with the hypocrisy he observed. None of that will be present where he is now.
Robert L. Millet wrote:
I have a conviction that when a person passes through the veil of death, all those impediments and challenges and crosses that were beyond his or her power to control—abuse, neglect, immoral environment, weighty traditions, etc.—will be torn away like a film. Then perhaps that person shall, as President Woodruff suggested, see and feel things he or she could not see and feel before.
I believe that in the spirit world, a person’s real, true spirit is unmasked. Yes, they take the spirit with them that they possessed here, but underneath the pain and misunderstandings, our loved ones had such beautiful spirits. Most of their problems came from the result of chemical imbalance in the brain making it impossible for them to feel good about themselves. Of course, coupled with that was the adversary’s success at deceiving them—convincing them they were so much less than they really were. Basking in the love of the Lord’s spirit, they are re-learning their identity.
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