Chapter 30: Death and the Postmortal Spirit World

Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, (2011), 105–9


Introduction

  1. Have a student read a dictionary definition of death, such as “a permanent cessation of all vital functions: the end of life” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “death”). What in this definition does not harmonize with the Latter-day Saint understanding of death? (The most obvious difference is the phrase “permanent ending of all life.”)

    How is the Latter-day Saint view of death different from the view held by those without the light of the restored gospel? Share your own view of life after death, the resurrection, and eternal life with God—concepts revealed by God.

  2. Pioneer William Clayton was forty-three days out of Nauvoo on his way to Winter Quarters; his wife Diantha had remained behind because of the nearness of the birth of their expected child. On Wednesday, 15 April 1846, Brother Clayton received word that Sister Clayton had given birth to a son. As a release for the anxiety he had felt, he composed a hymn that became a source of inspiration to the Saints as they made their way to the Salt Lake Valley. Read or have your students sing the final stanza of “Come, Come, Ye Saints”:

    And should we die before our journey’s through,
    Happy day! All is well!
    We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
    With the just we shall dwell!
    But if our lives are spared again
    To see the Saints their rest obtain,
    Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell—
    All is well! All is well!

    (Hymns, 1985, no. 30.)

    What attitude toward death is expressed in the hymn? Point out that for the early Latter-day Saints death was not the ultimate disaster. In a real sense, the hymn embodies the sentiments of the Apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

    Remember that the Fall and death as a consequence of it are the subject of chapter 8, “The Fall.” Do not worry about covering the many aspects of the Fall when you teach this chapter. Here it is important only that the students understand the origin of death.

Ideas for Teaching

  1. A.

    Physical death is a universal condition and is part of the plan of salvation.

    1. Read Genesis 2:17 and 3:19. What does the tree of knowledge of good and evil have to do with death on the earth? Indicate that death was the penalty imposed if Adam or Eve ate the fruit. After the Fall, Adam and Eve were told that they would live by their labor on the fallen earth until they returned “unto dust” (Genesis 3:19). Jacob taught that without the Fall there would have been no change or death on the earth: things would have “remained forever, and had no end” (2 Nephi 2:22).

      Write on the chalkboard the text of 1 Corinthians 15:21–22. Point out that verses 21 and 22 contain parallel thoughts:

      • 1 Corinthians 15:21. “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.”

      • 1 Corinthians 15:22. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

      The words “by man” in verse 21 refer to Adam. Adam, through the Fall, initiated on the earth the process called death. As both these verses indicate, this death comes upon everyone (see also Romans 5:14, 17; Supporting Statements A on p. 83 of the student manual; or Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 428).

    2. Even without the scriptures, we know that everyone dies. A stroll through any cemetery clearly illustrates that death awaits us all at the end of our mortal probation. The great people of the earth buried beneath impressive monuments of stone have died just as surely as have the humble in their unmarked, weed-choked plots. You may want to reinforce the universality of death by reading 2 Nephi 9:16; Alma 12:24; Romans 5:12. Read also the statement by President Smith in Supporting Statements A on page 83 of the student manual (see Gospel Doctrine, p. 428).

    3. Provide the students with copies of Elder Boyd K. Packer’s sermon in the April 1983 general conference. Elder Packer described the body as a glove, the spirit as a hand. While the hand is in the glove, there is movement and capability. When the hand is removed, the glove becomes inanimate; yet the hand lives on. Elder Packer quoted the First Presidency of Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose: “A spirit born of God is an immortal thing. When the body dies, the spirit does not die.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 79; or Ensign, July 1973, p. 51.)

    4. Why is death sometimes feared? Allow the students time to express their feelings. There may be concern over lingering illness, pain, or disability preceding death; the sense of loss among loved ones left behind; or difficulty in actually facing the process of dying. The students are certain to mention fear of the unknown. Even watching someone die does not remove the element of the unknown: death is, or will be, a unique experience for each person. Much of what we otherwise would not know about death, however, has been revealed through the gospel. President Smith wrote that by having a testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ and a knowledge of what happens at death, we can have “joy even in death” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 428; or Supporting Statements A on p. 84 of the student manual). Read Alma 27:28; Doctrine and Covenants 42:46; 101:35–36. What do these scriptures have in common? The theme of all three is that in Christ death is swallowed up, death is sweet, and there is joy in the life to come (see also Supporting Statements A on p. 83 of the student manual; or Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 17:142).

      If the unknown aspect of death is reduced by knowledge of the gospel and the Atonement, why could death still be fearsome? Point out that it is not so much a fear of the experience as much as it is a fear of accountability for one’s life. Death for the wicked may well be frightening as they await God’s judgment in the spirit world. Write on the chalkboard the scripture references from Chalkboard 1.

  2. B.

    At death our spirits enter the world of spirits to await the resurrection.

    1. Read Alma 40:11; 24:16; 2 Nephi 9:38. According to these verses, what happens to the spirit body at death? Point out that each verse suggests in slightly different words that the spirits are “taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11). What does it mean to be “taken home to God”? Is it true that the spirits of all will enter the presence of God and see him where he dwells? To help answer that question, read the following statements:

      “‘Taken home to God,’ simply means that their mortal existence has come to an end, and they have returned to the world of spirits, where they are assigned a place according to their works with the just or with the unjust, there to await the resurrection” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:85).

      “Alma, when he says that ‘the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, … are taken home to that God who gave them life,’ has the idea, doubtless, in his mind that our God is omnipresent—not in His own personality but through His minister, the Holy Spirit.

      “He does not intend to convey the idea that they are immediately ushered into the personal presence of God.” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 1:73; see also Joseph F. Smith in Supporting Statements B on p. 84 of the student manual; or Gospel Doctrine, p. 448.)

    2. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the terms we often use in describing life after death—such as Hades, Sheol, paradise, and spirit prison—all refer to “world of spirits” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 310).

      Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Since disembodied spirits cannot gain a fulness of joy until their resurrection (D&C 93:33–34), they consider their habitation in the spirit world as one of imprisonment, and so the whole spirit world (including both paradise and hell) is a spirit prison” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 755).

    3. Read Alma 40:12, 14 and Doctrine and Covenants 138:12–13. Which spirits are consigned to paradise? Write on the left-hand side of the chalkboard the heading Paradise and the words Who? and What is life like there? (see Chalkboard 2). Let the students provide the answers from the verses above.

      What is implied in Doctrine and Covenants 138:19? Is paradise a place of growth and learning? Jesus preached the everlasting gospel to the spirits in paradise (see 4 Nephi 1:14; Moroni 10:34; 2 Nephi 9:13; Bruce R. McConkie in Supporting Statements B on p. 84 of the student manual; or The Mortal Messiah, 4:222).

    4. Read Alma 40:13–14; Doctrine and Covenants 76:103–106; 138:20, 29. On the right-hand side of the chalkboard, write the heading Spirit prison (Hell) and the words Who? and What is life like there? (see Chalkboard 2). Again, let the students provide the answers from the verses above.

      Examine Doctrine and Covenants 138:29–35. In what way do these verses demonstrate the great love that God has for his children? What better example of his love do we have than the effort being made in the spirit world to teach, testify, and change the condition of those who suffer? (See Supporting Statements B on p. 84 of the student manual; or McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 349.)

    5. Draw on the chalkboard a sketch illustrating the spirit world before Christ’s visit (see Chalkboard 3). Before Christ’s visit, a gulf separated the righteous and the wicked. Explain this gulf by reading 1 Nephi 15:27–29 and Luke 16:19–31. Because of the visit of Christ to the spirit world, his righteous servants have now been commissioned to teach the gospel to those in the spirit prison. “Now that the righteous spirits in paradise have been commissioned to carry the message of salvation to the wicked spirits in hell, there is a certain amount of mingling together of the good and bad spirits. Repentance … enables those bound with the chains of hell to free themselves from darkness, unbelief, ignorance, and sin. As rapidly as they can overcome these obstacles—gain light, believe truth, acquire intelligence, cast off sin, and break the chains of hell—they can leave the hell that imprisons them and dwell with the righteous in the peace of paradise.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 755.)

Conclusion

Death is not the end of life; death is merely a change in living. After death, the mortal body is temporarily returned to the earth to await the resurrection. The spirit, or the real person, enters the world of spirits in a condition that is determined by God’s mercy and judgment. Paradise and hell are terms that indicate the quality of life of those who live in the spirit world.

Because of their knowledge of the plan of salvation, Latter-day Saints should not fear death. “If we could glimpse, for even a moment, the glory and excitement that a departed one faces when his eyes close on time and open on eternity—if only we could glimpse this, perhaps there would be more understanding in our sorrow and more joy in our grief” (Paul H. Dunn and Richard M. Eyre, The Birth That We Call Death, p. 53).