Chapter 37: Understanding Death and Resurrection

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 272–78


At the funeral services of Elder Thomas Williams on 13 July 1874, President Brigham Young spoke on the subject of death: “What a dark valley and a shadow it is that we call death! To pass from this state of existence as far as the mortal body is concerned, into a state of inanition [emptiness], how strange it is! How dark this valley is! How mysterious is this road, and we have got to travel it alone. I would like to say to you, my friends and brethren, if we could see things as they are, and as we shall see and understand them, this dark shadow and valley is so trifling that we shall turn round and look about upon it and think, when we have crossed it, why this is the greatest advantage of my whole existence, for I have passed from a state of sorrow, grief, mourning, woe, misery, pain, anguish and disappointment into a state of existence, where I can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body. My spirit is set free, I thirst no more, I want to sleep no more, I hunger no more, I tire no more, I run, I walk, I labor, I go, I come, I do this, I do that, whatever is required of me, nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor, and I enjoy the presence of my heavenly Father, by the power of his Spirit. I want to say to my friends, if you will live your religion, live so as to be full of the faith of God, that the light of eternity will shine upon you, you can see and understand these things for yourselves” (DNSW, 28 July 1874, 1).

Teachings of Brigham Young

Earthly happiness cannot compare with “the glory, joy and peace and happiness of the soul” who departs mortality in righteous peace.

It is a great cause of joy and rejoicing and comfort to his friends to know that a person has passed away in peace from this life, and has secured to himself a glorious resurrection. The earth and the fulness of the earth and all that pertains to this earth in an earthly capacity is no comparison with the glory, joy and peace and happiness of the soul that departs in peace (DBY, 370).

Mourning for the righteous dead springs from the ignorance and weakness that are planted within the mortal tabernacle, the organization of this house for the spirit to dwell in. No matter what pain we suffer, no matter what we pass through, we cling to our mother earth, and dislike to have any of her children leave us. We love to keep together the social family relation that we bear one to another, and do not like to part with each other (DBY, 370).

It is true it is grievous to part with our friends. We are creatures of passion, of sympathy, of love, and it is painful for us to part with our friends. We would keep them in the mortal house, though they should suffer pain. Are we not selfish in this? Should we not rather rejoice at the departure of those whose lives have been devoted to doing good, to a good old age? (DBY, 371).

But could we have knowledge and see into eternity, if we were perfectly free from the weakness, blindness, and lethargy with which we are clothed in the flesh, we should have no disposition to weep or mourn (DBY, 370).

So live that when you wake in the spirit-world you can truthfully say, “I could not better my mortal life, were I to live it over again.” I exhort you, for the sake of the House of Israel, for the sake of Zion which we are to build up, to so live, from this time, henceforth, and forever, that your characters may with pleasure be scrutinized by holy beings. Live godly lives, which you cannot do without living moral lives (DBY, 370).

Christ appearing to Mary

Before ascending to His Father, the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to Mary.

At death the spirit separates from the body, the body returns to the earth, and the spirit enters the spirit world.

Every person possessing the principle of eternal life should look upon his body as of the earth earthy. Our bodies must return to their mother earth. True, to most people it is a wretched thought that our spirits must, for a longer or shorter period, be separated from our bodies, and thousands and millions have been subject to this affliction throughout their lives. If they understood the design of this probation and the true principles of eternal life, it is but a small matter for the body to suffer and die (DBY, 368).

The Lord has pleased to organize tabernacles here, and put spirits into them, and they then become intelligent beings. By and by, sooner or later, the body, this that is tangible to you, that you can feel, see, handle, etc, returns to its mother dust. Is the spirit dead? No. … The spirit still exists, when this body has crumbled into the earth again, and the spirit that God puts into the tabernacle goes into the world of spirits (DBY, 368).

Our bodies are composed of visible, tangible matter, as you all understand; you also know that they are born into this world. They then begin to partake of the elements adapted to their organization and growth, increase to manhood [or womanhood], become old, decay, and pass again into the dust. Now in the first place, though I have explained this many times, what we call death is the operation of life, inherent in the matter of which the body is composed, and which causes the decomposition after the spirit has left the body. Were that not the fact, the body, from which has fled the spirit, would remain to all eternity, just as it was when the spirit left it, and would not decay (DBY, 368).

Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection.

Jesus is the first begotten from the dead, as you will understand. Neither Enoch, Elijah, Moses, nor any other man that ever lived on earth, no matter how strictly he lived, ever obtained a resurrection until after Jesus Christ’s body was called from the tomb by the angel. He was the first begotten from the dead. He is the Master of the resurrection—the first flesh that lived here after receiving the glory of the resurrection (DBY, 374).

This was no miracle to him. He had the issues of life and death in his power; he had power to lay down his life and power to take it up again [see John 10:18]. This is what he says, and we must believe this if we believe the history of the Savior and the sayings of the Apostles recorded in the New Testament. Jesus had this power in and of himself; the Father bequeathed it to him; it was his legacy, and he had the power to lay down his life and take it again (DBY, 340–41).

The blood he spilled upon Mount Calvary he did not receive again into his veins. That was poured out, and when he was resurrected, another element took the place of the blood. It will be so with every person who receives a resurrection; the blood will not be resurrected with the body, being designed only to sustain the life of the present organization. When that is dissolved, and we again obtain our bodies by the power of the resurrection, that which we now call the life of the body, and which is formed from the food we eat and the water we drink will be supplanted by another element; for flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God [see 1 Corinthians 15:50] (DBY, 374).

pioneers burying dead

Death was an ever-present reality for the Saints crossing the plains, as depicted in this painting.

Our faithfulness can prepare us for a glorious resurrection, the reuniting of our body and spirit.

The Gospel of life and salvation reveals to each individual who receives it that this world is only a place of temporary duration, existence, trials, etc. Its present fashion and uses are but for a few days, while we were created to exist eternally. The wicked can see no further than this world is concerned. We understand that when we are unclothed in this present state, then we are prepared to be clothed upon with immortality—that when we put off these bodies we put on immortality [see Alma 11:43–44]. These bodies will return to dust, but our hope and faith are that we will receive these bodies again from the elements—that we will receive the very organization that we have here, and that, if we are faithful to the principles of [gospel] freedom, we shall then be prepared to endure eternally (DBY, 372).

After the spirit leaves the body, it remains without a tabernacle in the spirit world until the Lord, by his law that he has ordained, brings to pass the resurrection of the dead [see D&C 93:33–34]. When the angel who holds the keys of the resurrection shall sound his trumpet, then the peculiar fundamental particles that organized our bodies here, if we do honor to them, though they be deposited in the depths of the sea, and though one particle is in the north, another in the south, another in the east, and another in the west, will be brought together again in the twinkling of an eye, and our spirits will take possession of them. We shall then be prepared to dwell with the Father and the Son, and we never can be prepared to dwell with them until then. Spirits, when they leave their bodies, do not dwell with the Father and the Son, but live in the Spirit world, where there are places prepared for them. Those who do honor to their tabernacles, and love and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, must put off this mortality, or they cannot put on immortality. This body must be changed, else it cannot be prepared to dwell in the glory of the Father (DBY, 372).

After the body and spirit are separated by death, what, pertaining to this earth, shall we receive first? The body; that is the first object of a divine affection beyond the grave. We first come in possession of the body. The spirit [of a righteous man or woman] has overcome the body, and the body is made subject in every respect to that divine principle God has planted in the person. The spirit within is pure and holy, and goes back pure and holy to God, dwells in the spirit world pure and holy, and, by and by, will have the privilege of coming and taking the body again. [Jesus Christ,] holding the keys of the resurrection, having previously passed through that ordeal, will be delegated to resurrect our bodies, and our spirits will be there and prepared to enter into [our] bodies. Then, when we are prepared to receive our bodies, they are the first earthly objects that bear divinity personified in the capacity of the man. Only the body dies; the spirit is looking forth (DBY, 373).

We are here in circumstances to bury our dead according to the order of the Priesthood. But some of our brethren die upon the ocean; they cannot be buried in a burying ground, but they are sewed up in canvas and cast into the sea, and perhaps in two minutes after they are in the bowels of the shark, yet those persons will come forth in the resurrection, and receive all the glory of which they are worthy, and be clothed upon with all the beauty of resurrected Saints, as much so as if they had been laid away in a gold or silver coffin, and in a place expressly for burying the dead (DBY, 373–74).

No man can enter the celestial kingdom and be crowned with a celestial glory, until he gets his resurrected body (DBY, 375).

The only true riches in existence are for you and me to secure for ourselves a holy resurrection (DBY, 372).

Suggestions for Study

Earthly happiness cannot compare with “the glory, joy and peace and happiness of the soul” who departs mortality in righteous peace.

  • Though it is painful to part with our loved ones, in what sense might we rejoice and find comfort in their death?

  • What did President Young counsel regarding our probationary time in mortality? He also taught that we should live so that our characters “may with pleasure be scrutinized by holy beings.” How can we ensure that the Judgment Day will be a time of happiness for us?

At death the spirit separates from the body, the body returns to the earth, and the spirit enters the spirit world.

  • Why is death part of the “operation of life”?

  • What did President Young teach about the body once the spirit has departed?

Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection.

  • What enabled Jesus to be resurrected?

  • What do we learn about resurrected beings from Christ’s Resurrection? How will our bodies change when we are resurrected?

Our faithfulness can prepare us for a glorious resurrection, the reuniting of our body and spirit.

  • According to President Young, how will the resurrection occur? (See also Alma 11:43; Philippians 3:21.)

  • What does it mean to honor our tabernacles?

  • Why is receiving “a holy resurrection” the “only true riches in existence”?