Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church, what will happen to good people in other churches with different beliefs?
, bishop, Salt Lake University Twenty-first Ward.
Our Heavenly Father has designed a wonderful plan of salvation that provides a glorious reward for all good people. In addition, everyone will have opportunities—in this life, in the spirit world, or during the Millennium—to learn of the gospel in its fulness and to receive the benefit of the ordinances of salvation.
To understand what has happened and what will happen to good people, we must understand the plan of salvation: The premortal existence, mortality, the spirit world, the Millennium, and finally heaven.
The Premortal Existence. We must understand that all people who come to this earth are, in one sense, good. In the premortal life, they chose to follow God’s plan, and in the war in heaven, in which one third of the host of heaven were cast out, they took God’s side. (See Rev. 12:1–10; D&C 29:36–37; Moses 4:1–4; Abr. 3:22–28.)
Those who were not cast out were promised bodies and a chance to come to this earth, with the free agency to choose between good and evil. They were promised a redeemer, who would overcome death and give them the gospel, which would include divine instruction, commandments, and ordinances designed to enable them to return to the Father’s presence. Part of the plan was that they would be born innocent and free of sin (see D&C 93:38; D&C 20:71; D&C 68:27) and that they would be given the Light of Christ to guide them to truth and the greater light of the gospel (See John 1:9; Moro. 7:16–18; D&C 84:45–46.)
Mortality. Essentially, then, our Heavenly Father blesses each of us greatly when we are born. We are given bodies, the free agency to choose between good and evil, the light of Christ to guide US, and about eight years of innocence before we begin to be held accountable for our sins.
Mortality itself is an incredible gift. Although we experience pain, sorrow, and death, we have the opportunity in mortality to grow spiritually in ways we could not in our Father’s presence. And although we have the capacity to sin, through Christ’s atonement we also have the capacity to overcome sin and prove ourselves worthy of living the kind of life our Heavenly Father lives.
This situation allows us to help shape our own destiny, but it also creates a problem. No unclean thing can be received into the kingdom of God (see Eph. 5:5; Alma 7:21.), and since we all sin, we are all cut off from our Heavenly Father. But our Father in Heaven has provided a way whereby we can return to him. As John has written, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)
The atonement of Christ makes it possible for us to repent and be forgiven of our sins as we exercise faith in Christ, and covenant with him in baptism to keep God’s commandments. That covenant and our repentance and faithfulness entitle us to the gift of the Holy Ghost, by which we can grow spiritually and become more like Christ. As we grow in the gospel, the ordinance of eternal marriage is also made available to us, by which we can live eternally with our family in the presence of God.
All these ordinances are administered by a loving Heavenly Father through his authorized servants on earth. Through them—those who hold the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the power of godliness is evident. (See D&C 84:20–22.) Through them, Jesus Christ directs his work for the salvation of all mankind. Through them, every son and daughter of God will have the opportunity to accept or reject these great gifts.
Some may wonder how that is possible, since many good people have lived who have never even heard of Christ. And what about children who die young? What happens to them?
The Spirit World. The good news restored in this dispensation through the Prophet Joseph Smith is that the plan of salvation makes it possible for every person to be taught the gospel—if not in this life, then in the spirit world. Not only did Jesus Christ organize his Church and choose missionaries to teach the gospel on earth, but he also spent three days in the spirit world, where the spirits of those who have died await the resurrection. There he organized his work so that all the dead will be able to hear the gospel fully. (See John 5:25; 1 Pet. 3:18–20; 1 Pet. 4:6; Alma 40:11–14.)
The Savior has also made the ordinances of salvation available to all people by setting up temple work for the dead. Baptism for the dead, as well as other ordinances performed by proxy, allows us—the living—to be baptized on behalf of our ancestors. The promise is that all shall hear the gospel and all shall receive a chance to enjoy the saving ordinances.
We know, then, that the good people of this earth who lived before the time of Christ were able to accept the gospel in the spirit world if they had not received it during mortality. Likewise, the good people of the earth who have lived since the Savior’s time will hear the gospel preached in its fulness in the spirit world and be given the opportunity to accept it and the ordinances of salvation performed for them by proxy on earth.
Resurrection and the Millennium. For many, the resurrection will be a time of rejoicing. Jesus Christ has promised that the good people of the earth will be resurrected at the beginning of the Millennium in the resurrection of the just. (See John 5:29.) Those who have accepted Christ in the waters of baptism, personally or by proxy, and kept his commandments will be resurrected at the second coming of the Savior to participate in his return. (See 1 Cor. 15:22–23; Rev. 20:4–6; D&C 76:50–70.) Little children who died without baptism will also be resurrected at this time as heirs of eternal life. Those who rejected the gospel in this life but who otherwise lived good, honorable lives will be resurrected shortly after the Millennium begins. Among this group will also be those Latter-day Saints who were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus but who nevertheless lived clean, honorable lives. (See Mosiah 15:24–25; Moro. 8:22; D&C 45:54; D&C 76:71–79; D&C 88:97–99.) For a thousand years, while Satan is bound, all these people will enjoy the guidance of Jesus Christ himself. (See Rev. 20:1–6; D&C 45:58–59.)
At the end of the Millennium, the resurrection of the unjust shall occur. This resurrection includes all the wicked who never accept the gospel and remain in their sins—those who had known the commandments of God, but would not keep them. (See D&C 76:81–82; Mosiah 15:26.) Last to be resurrected are the sons of perdition—those who knew fully the Lord’s power and partook of it, yet turned against the truth, sinned against the testimony of the Holy Ghost, and defied God’s power in order to join Satan’s rebellion. They are the only ones to be cast out with the devil and his angels forever. (See D&C 76:31–43.)
At this time Satan will be loosed, and he will gather up the wicked to battle the righteous before judgment day. (See Rev. 20:7–9; D&C 88:110–16.) Good people, then, may expect to join Michael in fighting Satan and to see the ultimate triumph of God over evil. (In this war, it will be meaningless to say “good people of other faiths,” because by then all people will have chosen fully for Christ or against him.)
The Judgment Day and Heaven. At the great day of judgment, what will happen to the good people of this earth? We cannot suppose that all who are members of the Lord’s church by that time will go to “heaven” while those who do not belong to the Church will go to “hell.” The Savior, in referring to the afterlife, taught that our Father’s house contains many mansions and that there are three degrees of glory—celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. (See John 14:2–3; 1 Cor. 15:41; D&C 76:96–98) Even the lowest degree of glory, the telestial kingdom, “surpasses all understanding.” (D&C 76:89.)
The Lord promises that all people will be judged and receive degrees of glory according to their works, the desires of their hearts, and their faith. Those who receive the celestial kingdom will enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son. (See D&C 76:62.) Those who receive the terrestrial kingdom will enjoy the presence of the Son, and those who receive the telestial kingdom will enjoy the administration of the Holy Spirit and the angels appointed to that kingdom. (See D&C 76:77–78, 86–88.) Only the sons of perdition will not receive any degree of glory.
The Plan of Salvation. Truly the love of God and Jesus Christ is beyond comprehension. Who else would be so magnanimous, patient, and comprehensive in giving aid and in judgment? The plan of salvation extends to every person who has lived, who is living now, or who will live on this earth. It denies no one because of their position or circumstances in life and gives everyone full opportunity for the greatest riches of God’s kingdom. It includes nonbelievers and believers, as well as those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. It manifests itself plainly to man in ways that are totally good. In this way it shows the deep love that God has for us.
As Nephi says: The Lord God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne. 26:33.)
“We are taught that, for the righteous, the Spirit World is a place of rest. But what about emotional wounds, such as those caused by child abuse, that some people carry with them all their lives? Will they continue to struggle to overcome them after death?”
, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University and counselor in the presidency of the BYU Eleventh Stake.
Here in mortality, many people suffer innocently with emotional or mental problems that result from someone else’s bad behavior. A child’s mental and emotional problems caused by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, particularly at the hands of a parent, can extend well into adulthood.
There are other sources of mental and emotional wounds, as well. Scientists are finding that many psychological disorders are caused by biochemical defects in the body. Drug and alcohol dependencies of infants born to addicted mothers are vivid illustrations. Severe mental handicaps and chronic schizophrenia (or split personality) are yet other examples of conditions caused by biochemical factors that have long-lasting effects on the mind and the body and that are largely outside an individual’s control.
We live in a fallen world, in which environment, biology, or both may work against mental health and normal conduct. Elder James E. Talmage addressed this matter: “To a degree, children are born heirs to the good or evil natures of their parents; the effects of heredity are admitted. Good and evil tendencies, blessings and curses, are transmitted from generation to generation. … The children of Adam are natural heirs to the ills of mortality; but through Christ’s atonement they are all redeemed from the curse of this fallen state.” (The Articles of Faith, 12th edition, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1924, pages 87–88.)
Thus, we may assume that, because of the Atonement, those afflicted with emotional wounds not of their own making will be relieved of them following death. Being freed of such abnormalities—whether originally induced by biological deficiencies or environmental stresses—is necessary if those who merit entrance into paradise are to enjoy that state of peace and rest. (See Mosiah 3:11; Alma 40:11–14.)
Certainly the Lord is just; he will take into account the fact that some of his children are harmed by the misconduct of others, and he will not allow the sins of others to afflict his children beyond their mortal period of probation.
Of course, this does not mean that those who have the capacity to change are justified doing nothing about the problems passed on to them, rationalizing that they will not be held accountable for their actions. We know that the Lord “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” (Alma 45:16.)
For example, though a person may suffer from homosexual inclinations that are caused by some combination of biology and environment, the gospel requires that he or she develop firm self-discipline and make an energetic effort to change. That many former homosexuals have done so and have become successful in marriage and family life shows that people can overcome such problems and live according to gospel principles—even though it may be difficult to do so.
The same principles apply to a broad array of other problems, including sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and aggression. Though one cannot expect permanent reform immediately, many people who suffer from emotional or mental problems can make significant progress through a combination of spiritual guidance, professional counseling, and self-effort. Only in extreme cases of mental handicap or insanity is a person incapable of making progress.
It is also important that we be careful not to confuse serious clinical disorders with ordinary human weaknesses. If we had no weaknesses, this life would not be a test for us and God’s plan of salvation would be defeated. The Lord has said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; … for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.)
It is by exercising our spirits against both external and internal distress that we become strong spiritually. The Lord does not cause evils such as child abuse, but in order to preserve his children’s agency and accountability, the Lord allows his children to suffer the consequences of the misuse of agency—whether those consequences stem from their own actions or the actions of others.
Still, there is much that a person can do to overcome the effects of such wounds in this life. If we come unto Christ and seek to forgive those who have hurt us, for example, we can achieve relief, at least in part. Indeed, the Lord expects us to learn to forgive those who hurt us. Relieved of the burden of hate, we can then, through the Atonement, gain the strength to live worthily to “at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.” (Alma 41:3.)