The Postmortal Spirit World
“Chapter 45: The Postmortal Spirit World,” Gospel Principles, 289
Heavenly Father prepared a plan for our salvation. As part of this plan, he sent us from his presence to live on earth and receive mortal bodies of flesh and blood. Eventually our mortal bodies will die, and our spirits will go to the spirit world. The spirit world is a place of waiting, working, learning, and resting from care and sorrow. Our spirits will live there until we are ready for our resurrection. Then our mortal bodies will once more unite with our spirits, and we will receive the degree of glory we have prepared for (see chapter 46, “The Last Judgment”).
Many of us have wondered what the spirit world is like. The scriptures and latter-day prophets have given us information about the spirit world.
Where Is the Spirit World?
In a funeral sermon, Joseph Smith declared that the spirits of righteous people who have died “are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 326). Other latter-day prophets have made similar statements. President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, p. 18; or Ensign, June 1971, p. 33). President Brigham Young said: “Where is the spirit world? It is right here” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 376).
What Are Spirits Like?
Spirit beings have the same bodily form as mortals except that the spirit body is in perfect form (see Ether 3:16). Spirits carry with them from earth their attitudes of devotion or antagonism toward things of righteousness (see Alma 34:34). They have the same appetites and desires that they had when they lived on earth.All spirits are in adult form. They were adults before their mortal existence, and they are in adult form after death, even if they die as infants or children (see Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 455).
• Read Ether 3:16. What do spirit bodies look like?
Divisions in the Spirit World
The prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon taught about two divisions or states in the spirit world:
“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.
“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; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
“Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection” (Alma 40:12–14).
The spirits are classified according to the purity of their lives and their obedience to the will of the Lord while on earth. The righteous and the wicked are separated (see 1 Nephi 15:28–30), but the spirits may progress from one level to another as they learn gospel principles and live in accordance with them (see Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 762).
According to the prophet Alma, the righteous spirits rest from earthly care and sorrow. Nevertheless, they are occupied in doing the work of the Lord. President Joseph F. Smith saw in a vision that immediately after Jesus Christ was crucified, he visited the righteous in the spirit world. He appointed messengers, gave them power and authority, and commissioned them to “carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men” (D&C 138:30).
The Church is organized in the spirit world, with each prophet standing at the head of his own generation (see Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:209). Priesthood holders continue their responsibilities in the spirit world. President Wilford Woodruff taught: “The same Priesthood exists on the other side of the veil. … Every Apostle, every Seventy, every Elder, etc., who has died in the faith as soon as he passes to the other side of the veil, enters into the work of the ministry” (in Journal of Discourses, 22:333–34).
Family relationships are also important. President Jedediah M. Grant, a counselor to Brigham Young, saw the spirit world and described to Heber C. Kimball the organization that exists there: “He said that the people he there saw were organized in family capacities. … He said, ‘When I looked at families, there was a deficiency in some, … for I saw families that would not be permitted to come and dwell together, because they had not honored their calling here’ ” (Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses, 4:135–36).
The Apostle Peter referred to the spirit world as a prison, which it is for some (see 1 Peter 3:18–20). In the spirit prison are the spirits of those who have not yet received the gospel of Jesus Christ. These spirits have agency and may be enticed by both good and evil. If they accept the gospel and the ordinances performed for them in the temples, they may prepare themselves to leave the spirit prison and dwell in paradise.
Also in the spirit prison are those who rejected the gospel after it was preached to them on earth or in the spirit prison. These spirits suffer in a condition known as hell. They have removed themselves from the mercy of Jesus Christ, who said, “Behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:16–18). After suffering in full for their sins, they will be allowed to inherit the lowest degree of glory, which is the telestial kingdom.
The hell in the spirit world will not continue forever. Even the spirits who have committed the greatest sins will have suffered sufficiently by the end of the Millennium (see Acts 2:25–27). They will then be resurrected.
• 1 Peter 4:6 (gospel preached to the dead)
• Moses 7:37–39 (spirit prison prepared for the wicked)
• D&C 76 (revelation about the three kingdoms of glory)
• Luke 16:19–31 (fate of beggar and rich man in the spirit world)
We will join our families and loved ones in the spirit world after death.