How do you picture what happens after death? Do you imagine there is nothing at all after death? Does that make you wonder what the point of life is and whether or not it is worth it? Or do you picture yourself on a cloud, playing a harp and doing nothing forever? Does that sound boring to you (or if you don’t like playing instruments, stressful)? Or do you imagine something better?
The Mormons, a nickname for people who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, imagine something better. Think about what makes life on Earth special for you. For most of us, it is having a wonderful family, learning new things, becoming better than we were. Can you imagine spending eternity without any of that?
We’re told that in Heaven we will be happier than we can ever imagine. Everything will be perfect. Now, try to imagine a perfect life without the people you love most. It’s impossible, isn’t it? I’m reminded of a story in the Book of Mormon. A prophet named Lehi had a vision in which he saw a beautiful, perfect tree with fruit that was sweeter than anything ever before tasted. It represented the love of God. The first thing he did after tasting it was to look for his family so he could share it with them. This is natural—anything we love has to be shared with the people we love. Personally, I don’t want to spend eternity without my family. It would be lonely, sad, and not worth it.
Mormons don’t believe that is how Heaven will be. They believe God wants families to last forever, but they belong to one of the few religions that teaches that God loves us enough to do that and that He didn’t plant so much love in our hearts only to start our eternal life with a command to get divorced or to give up our children. Mormons marry in the temple to bring eternal marriages into reality, which also joins the children to the parents.
Next, Mormons believe we will be able to grow and progress forever. Can you imagine anything more boring than to spend a lifetime without things to learn and goals to work for? Mormons note that the Bible says we are to be perfect, but we also know only Jesus Christ was able to be perfect in this life. Since God doesn’t give us commands we can’t keep, it’s pretty clear He meant that now we should work towards perfection and someday we’d achieve it—after our deaths. After all, we have all eternity to get there.
We don’t know what form that will eventually take. To the question often asked about whether or not Mormons believe they can become Gods, the Church says:
“Latter-day Saints believe that God wants us to become like Him. But this teaching is often misrepresented by those who caricature the faith. The Latter-day Saint belief is no different than the biblical teaching, which states, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). Through following Christ’s teachings, Latter-day Saints believe all people can become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).” (See Mormonism 101.) It is not true Mormons believe they will get their own planet. (That is an inside joke.)
The Book of Mormon gives us a better idea of what will happen after we die. An ancient prophet named Alma explained it to his son in Alma 40. He taught his son that there was a resurrection, but not until after Christ came and completed his mission. He said there were many things about God he didn’t know, but he had asked God passionately for information on this, and that is often enough for God to tell us what we need to know.
He explained there was a time when each person who died would rise from the dead, but he didn’t know when that would be or whether it would happen to everyone at once, since everyone didn’t die at once, but that this was unimportant. Time with God is different.
An angel had taught Alma that when each person dies his spirit is taken back home to God. People who were essentially good (Mormons don’t think you have to have been Mormon or perfect to be considered good by God) go to Paradise to rest and enjoy a period of happiness and peace. Those who were wicked—really, really wicked—go to Outer Darkness, where they will be spending their time under Satan’s control. Needless to say, they won’t be happy, rested, or peaceful there. But not many end up in that space.
Although they have been risen from the dead, which technically is a resurrection, this is not the First Resurrection referred to in the Bible. Alma explains that resurrection as used in that context means to reunite the soul and the body. We see this in the Bible, when Jesus first rises from the dead but instructs Mary not to touch him, because He hasn’t been to His Father yet. When He returns from reporting in to God, He has received His body again, this time in perfect, immortal form, and allows people to touch him. We too will receive our bodies, perfected and unable to die, have a disability, or become ill again.
Alma said it was his opinion that first resurrection would happen when Jesus was resurrected, but he didn’t know for sure. Prophets, just like everyone else, are allowed to have opinions. However, he did know there was a space between death and resurrection (reunion of the spirit and body) and that final judgment would occur when we were resurrected. Those who are willing to accept God and Jesus Christ and to live as they taught us will be rewarded with eternity in Their presence. All who are essentially good will have happy afterlives. Those who are wicked will not.
Life after death gives meaning to the trials we face, which are merely ways for us to learn and to grow. Knowing we can choose to spend eternity with those we love, that we will still be ourselves and able to be more than we imagined, makes everything about life worth it.