I was asked to substitute in Relief Society this week and teach the lesson the final judgment. Since my son’s death more than seven years ago, I have had a compelling need to learn more about that subject—especially the possibility of continued preparation in the spirit world. The experience of preparing for this lesson has been so heart-swelling, so sweet, so encouraging, because I reviewed much of what I have learned. Because the message of the Savior’s love and redemptive power is so intertwined with this subject it is an appropriate Christmas message as well.
I immediately knew I wanted to present this lesson in a way that would be comforting and encouraging. Some connect the word judgment with criticism or even condemnation. However, judgment simply means “to hear, to examine all aspects of, to apply the law to, to consider the relative merits of.” And in the case of final judgment, it means the Savior’s decision of what kingdom we not only merit, but are best suited for and would be happiest in. Stan Winchester, who reviewed this article for me said that he felt we could substitute “awards ceremony” for the “final judgment” because we will be receiving gifts of eternal life and kingdoms of glory. Remember, even the telestial and terrestial kingdoms are kingdoms of glory, which we’ve been told will be more glorious than we can comprehend.
The Savior’s Focus is on Saving
I read in the Ensign, “Too often, in well-meaning attempts at encouraging obedience, we stress the punishment that will eventually come to sinners, and we understate the extent of Christ’s mercy. (Todd A. Britsch, Ensign, April 1986, p. 13) This article will focus on Christ’s mercy; when looking forward to judgment we need to remember that: “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) The Lord said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
We also need to remember that the Lord’s judgment will be infinitely more merciful and kind than our own. Joseph Smith said, While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard . . . He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah, Deseret Book Co., 1938, 218.)
The lesson manual mentioned preliminary judgments on earth, when we are interviewed for baptism, for a temple recommend, for advancement in the priesthood, for callings, for example. Other preliminary judgments would be our birth placement. For instance, God judges those he knows will die before the age of accountability already worthy of celestial glory when he places them in those particular bodies. Those with those with mental impairments, such as Down Syndrome are similarly judged and guaranteed celestial glory. There is a preliminary judgment immediately after death when spirits are assigned to various levels of paradise and spirit prison.
Final Judgment (Awards Ceremony)
The final judgment takes place at the very end of the Millennium after all are resurrected (Alma 11:41). So many scriptures refer to that judgment. The Lord judges by:
• Works (Revelation 2:12, D&C 111, 1 Nephi 15:32
• Words & Thoughts (Alma 12:14, Matthew 12:36-37)
• Desires of Our Hearts (D&C 137:9, Alma 4: 3,5)
• Records kept on earth and the book of life (the record kept in heaven (D&C 128:6-8)
• The Record in our own minds and bodies (Romans 2:15)
But here is where my personal story has to come in . . . and why I put up a poster that read:
The Redemptive Power of Jesus in the Final Judgment: Glad Tidings of Great Joy!
A little over seven years ago my son, who had left the Church and become involved with drugs and alcohol, died of suicide. I was plunged into desperate study and prayer in order to find some comfort in regard to his situation on the Other Side.
I have attained a very personal witness that because of the Atonement of Christ, the very records we are judged by can be changed as we repent and are sanctified by the power of the Holy Ghost—here and hereafter. I believe with all my heart that the process of sanctification continues in the Spirit World and throughout the Millennium, clear up to the final judgment.
One reference after another gave me new hope for Brian, such as: Ted R. Callister, of the Seventy said, “The consequences of the Atonement are no less effective prospectively. The redeeming powers of the Savior stretch forward to reach the spirits of the dead just as readily as they stretched back to our premortal life.” (The Infinite Atonement, p. 78)
I had found comfort in the following quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith for all the years Brian was a lost lamb, but after his death, they had new meaning. The italicized words jumped out at me. “Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or in the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain.” (Joseph Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 10, emphasis added)
Progress after Death Gives Hope to All
The glad tidings of great joy pertains to all of us, because we all need more time than we have in mortality to become perfected. Bruce R. McConkie said, “Salvation does not come all at once . . . It will take us ages to accomplish this end [perfection], for there will be greater progress beyond the grave.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:18, emphasis added)
Stan Winchester said in a recent blog, “To be perfect, in the original Greek means to be complete. Who of us will be complete as our Heavenly Father is while we remain mortal? None, not one; yet, the commandment is to be perfect like Him. Accessing the grace of God is the process of becoming complete, it is about opening our hearts to Jesus Christ and trusting Him to lead us in this process.”
Missionary Work in the Spirit World and Temple Work on Earth
One paragraph in the lesson manual (Gospel Principles) states, “Through the work we do in temples, all people who have lived on the earth can have an equal opportunity to receive the fullness of the gospel and the ordinances of salvation so they can inherit a place in the highest degree of celestial glory.” (p. 272)
Billions of people—most of God’s children that have lived on this earth—have not had the opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel or to choose the blessings of temple ordinances while yet alive.
The scripture “few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14) is probably referring to the fact that few during this earth life find the strait and narrow way. Many others, like my son, had some knowledge of the gospel, but wandered off before it could be proven in their lives. We have been given glimpses of the mammoth missionary efforts in behalf of all these people in the spirit world.
After Brian’s death, Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants, President Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead, became one of my favorite chapters to study. I recommend the entire chapter. President Smith said, in part,
“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 Begotton Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirit 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.” (vs 57-59)
Only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds out the assurance that every person ever born will have the opportunity to be taught and really understand the gospel and have essential temple ordinances performed for them by proxy. There would be no point to missionary work there and proxy ordinances here if the people in the spirit world did not still have the option of accepting or rejecting, of repenting, of choosing Christ. Their decisions there still count. They have the opportunity to learn, repent, and progress according to their heart’s desires. Stan said, “When I was investigating the Church proxy temple work is one of the gospel truths that really excited me. I knew then that God was loving, fair, and not a respecter of persons based on when or where a person lived.”
“Wait!” many people have said, “What about Alma’s words about not procrastinating the day of our repentance, and about this being the time to prepare to meet God?” In no other area of gospel study is it so important to avoid taking scripture messages out of context. Alma spoke the truth, but we need to look at the whole picture, and to weigh his message carefully according to the whole gospel plan. Alma was speaking to those who had been taught the gospel and were in a position to see and understand the necessity of repentance. And surely, no one who knows and understand should take lightly his counsel. But can we believe for a moment that the Lord would condemn someone who didn’t know and understand in time to fully repent in this life?
My Quest to Learn the Limits of the Second Estate
I began to feel more and more strongly that the second estate continues in the spirit world. That would make so much sense! But “second estate” is usually defined as “life on this earth.” For years, the only documentation I could find was in quotes that indicate that the spirit world IS “on this earth.” But I wanted more. Finally, the month before my book of comfort for those who have lost someone to suicide went to press, a mother who had also lost a son to suicide sent me the following reference:
President Marion G. Romney said, “We have our second estate, which is the mortality we are now experiencing and our sojourn in the spirit world following death.” (“We Are Children of God,” Ensign, September 1984, 3).
She also told me 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 and re-read the chapter on the spirit world. I was edified and uplifted by his words that are so full of hope for our departed loved ones! Here’s an important 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. Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2001, 111. (Recently released in soft cover.)
How could it be any different? God is both merciful and just. What else would make sense?
We are told in the Book of Mormon, “And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him” (2 Nephi 26:33).
My Personal Witness
I recently re-read my journal entries for the year after Brian died, and was thrilled to note that on two separate occasions I had received a spiritual witness that Brian now knows the gospel truths he resisted here. I love this entry made December 24, 2004, about three months after he died:
I was listening to a tape in The Work and the Glory series. Joseph Smith turns to Lydia and begins talking to her about her recently deceased father—who had been so bitter against Joseph, the Church, and the Book of Mormon. He said he suspected that Josiah McBride’s opinion might be changed by having the Angel Moroni sit down and chat with him about directing Joseph to the gold plates.
I started to cry and the words came to my mind, ”Brian knows now. Brian KNOWS.” I was filled with peace and hope and assurance that he had been taught in perfect clarity, in a way totally acceptable to him, the reality of the Restoration, the plan of salvation, the mission of the Savior, and how the Atonement applies to him. Nothing could comfort me more.
But something did comfort me even more. A few months later, on June 5, 2005, I recorded the moment when the Holy Ghost told me for sure that Brian not only knew of Christ, but had also accepted Him.
Had a special study time with scriptures in the morning and was left with a burning desire to know if Brian is accepting the gospel and feeling what I am feeling, is knowing the truth of God and the redeeming power of Christ. Went into the kitchen to get a drink of water and the Spirit washed over me and I KNEW Brian has chosen Christ, is repenting and making great progress. I can’t begin to express the joy this brings me. There is absolutely nothing I have desired more than to know that Brian has accepted the love and teachings of Jesus.
Nothing surpasses the “knowing” in our hearts that comes from the Holy Ghost. The Savior is a Being of light and truth; truth conveyed by the Spirit brings profound relief from Satan’s lies. Such experiences are part of my personal witness to you.
Quotes from church leaders are wonderful, but the best witness of all is from the Holy Ghost.
As members of the Church we have been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost—the Spirit of Truth. The peace that comes from that witness is the peace the surpasses all understanding.
So many things I may not know until I enter the spirit world myself. But so many things I know for sure right now because the Holy Ghost has borne witness to my soul. I know, for instance, that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the spirit world is real, and is a place of light and truth where people may progress in major ways.
The concept of the final judgment need not be daunting when we know and understand that the Lord’s love and mercy and help are a constant for us here, as well as hereafter. As we celebrate His birth, may we remember that Jesus truly brought glad tidings of great joy!
Note: Darla has a rich background in writing and editing and has been one of Meridian’s most consistent and most-read columnists since 2002. To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com. Also check out Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Amazon.com.