September 13, 2007

Thoughts On The Spirit World

Brigham Young December 3, 1854 Alma the younger's rebel son Corianton had some concerns about death, and in a personal letter now published for all to read, Alma explained the concepts of death, resurrection, and the spirit world to his prodigal son, among other things:

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection— Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.[1]

And then shall it come to pass, that 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," (Alma 40:11-14).

This use of the word "state" instead of "place" or "world" is instructive in relation to Brigham's sermon, which explains: 1. Where the spirit world is, 2. Who's in it, and 3. What they are doing.
It is understood, and is so written, that when the inhabitants of the earth pass through what is called the valley of death, that which is in the tabernacle leaves it, and goes into the world of spirits, which is called hades or hell. The spirits that dwell in these tabernacles on this earth, when they leave them, go directly into the world of spirits. What, a congregated mass of inhabitants there in spirit, mingling with each other, as they do here? Yes, brethren, they are there together, and if they associate together, and collect together in clans and in societies as they do here, it is their privilege. No doubt they yet, more or less, see, hear, converse, and have to do with each other, both good and bad. Jesus himself went to preach to the spirits in prison; now, as he went to preach to them, he certainly associated with them; there is no doubt of that. If the prophets went and preached to the spirits in prison, they associated with them: if the Elders of Israel in these latter times go and preach to the spirits in prison, they associate with them, precisely as our Elders associate with the wicked in the flesh, when they go to preach to them.
This reminded me of the much-misunderstood statement by Christ to the thief on the cross:
To day shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Taking a closer look, the Greek word in the verse translated as "paradise" is "hades," which was translated into the Latin "infernus," and later into the English "hell." This was seen by ancient Christians as a waiting place, a place of rest, a "refrigerium," where the soul (what we would call the spirit,) waits until the resurrection when they will be judged. Modern Protestantism holds that fate is fixed at death, one is exalted to heaven or damned to a literal fiery hell. This tradition stems from the Pharisees, as noted presently: The New Testament sometimes uses the Jewish word Gehenna, for example, when Christ said "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Matt. 23:33), hell is translated from gehenna. In the Old Testament, Gehenna, or "Ben Hinnom valley," referred to an actual place on the southern border of ancient Jerusalem, stretching from the foot of Mt. Zion, eastward, to the Kidron Valley where pagans sacrificed children to the gods,(see Jeremiah 19:2). In Christ's day, according to Smith's Bible Dictionary, “[this valley] became the common lay-stall garbage dump of the city, where the dead bodies of criminals, and the carcasses of animals, and every other kind of filth was cast." This explains a reason why hell is now literally pictured as a fire where people burn. The restored gospel aligns not with the Pharisaical view of gehenna as hell, but with the ancient concept of paradise/hades/hell- the resting place, where righteous and wicked mingle until the resurrection. (Wikipedia has a few interesting bits on Hell.) Brigham lamented that some Christian sects deny this view of the spirit world, including the opportunity people have to learn the gospel there:
It is the ignorance and superstition of the people that contradict future progression in the world of spirits, for the Gospel does not. There is an opportunity for men who are in the spirit to receive the Gospel. Jesus, while his body lay in the grave two nights and one day, went to the world of spirits to show the brethren how they should build up the kingdom, and bring spirits to the knowledge of the truth in the spirit world; he went to set them the pattern there, as he had done on this earth. Hence you perceive that there, spirits have the privilege of embracing the truth.[2]
What's a sermon on preaching the gospel to the dead without some information on Temples?
You may ask if they are baptized there? No. Can they have hands laid upon them for the gift of the Holy Ghost? No. None of the outward ordinances that pertain to the flesh are administered there, but the light, glory, and power of the Holy Ghost are enjoyed just as freely upon this earth; and there are laws which govern and control the spirit world, and to which they are subject. Can we do anything for them? Yes. What are we trying to build a Temple for? And we shall not only build a Temple here, if we are successful, and are blessed and preserved, but we shall probably commence two or three more, and so on as fast as the work requires, for the express purpose of redeeming our dead. When I get revelation that some of my progenitor's lived and died without the blessings of the Gospel, or even hearing it preached but were as honest as I am, as upright as I am, or as any man or woman could be upon the earth; righteous, so far as they knew how, as any Apostle or Prophet that ever lived, I will go and be baptized, confirmed, washed, and anointed, and go through all the ordinances and endowments for them, that their way may be open to the celestial kingdom.
This quote is significant because it is one of the rare sermons mentioning ordinances in behalf of the dead other than baptism. Proxy endowments didn't begin until January, 1877, at the St. George Temple. Proxy work for the dead is a daunting task if we consider how many people have ever lived and died upon this earth. One lapsed member of the Church said to me "there's no way the Mormons can finish all that work." Brigham had somewhat to say on the seeming impossibility:
As I have frequently told you, that is the work of the Millennium. It is the work that has to be performed by the seed of Abraham, the chosen seed, the royal seed, the blessed of the Lord, those the Lord made covenants with. They will step forth, and save every son and daughter of Adam who will receive salvation here on the earth and all spirits in the spirit world will be preached to, conversed with, and the principles of salvation carried to them, that they may have the privilege of receiving the Gospel; and they will have plenty of children here on the earth to officiate for them in those ordinances of the Gospel that pertain to the flesh.
This shouldn't cause us to slack in our temple work for the dead; in becoming "saviors on Mount Zion" (Obadiah 1:21) by performing work for the dead we have access to the Temple; we have the opportunity to experience the endowment repeatedly. In doing these proxy endowments is it possible that one could be performed for a "wicked person," so-to speak? Indeed; endowments for the living, likewise:

Among those we administered the endowments to in Nauvoo, do you not think we administered to some who were devils, or in other words, full of the devil?

You wish to see a Temple built, and, when it is done, some poor miserable beings will come up, and say ‘We were baptized by brother So-and-so. Brother Brigham is a charming man, and what an excellent woman his wife is! Cannot we have our endowments this winter, brother Brigham?’

And they will plead with brother Kimball, and sympathize for this or that man, saying, ‘Do let him have his endowment, for he is so generous and loving; he gave a sister a pair of stockings and shoes; cannot he have his endowment?’

Well, he gets his endowment, and what for? To go to California, and reveal everything he can, and stir up wickedness, and prepare himself for hell (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:136-145).

In a subsequent discourse, Brigham explained the Spirit World will be a nice place, that we have no reason to fear, and there we will wait until the resurrection:
Do you reflect, and realize that your fear is all pertaining to your bodies, that it not pertaining to your spirits? Let me tell you, when the spirit is once separated from the body, it is one of the most beautiful and delightful objects that you could contemplate, and there is nothing that can give a pure spirit so much joy as to have the privilege of being separated from the body, and of going back to its Father in heaven, to await the morning of the resurrection.
Having an immortal body will be far greater than this temporal, mortal organization:
I am afflicted with it just as you are, but what do my judgment, the revelations of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the spirit of the Gospel teach me? That my tabernacle is of comparatively small value, although it is a pretty fair one, and one that I am willing to take in the morning of the resurrection. The Lord gave it to me, and I am thankful for it. When it is the will of my Father that my spirit should return to Him, what do I care about the mouldering tabernacle, so that the spirit is unlocked, and set free from its prison-house of clay? It can go to the Father who gave it, until the body is resurrected, when the spirit will again be reunited with the tabernacle, to be exalted to thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, and spread abroad, and to the increase there shall be no end (Journal of Discourses 2:248).
For more on the Spirit World, see my former post on Orson Pratt's funeral sermon, and for canonized views, see the vision of Joseph F. Smith as found in D&C 138. [1] For further information on being "taken home to God," click here to see footnote one of the "Funeral Address" post. [2] "Oh, death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55). Christ opened the gates of hell, the grave, hades, to "free the captives," etc. During His mortal ministry, Christ told Simon Peter the gates of hell [Greek: hades, the grave] could not prevail against the Church. Christ was about to break the bands of death, visiting and teaching the spirits "in the prison" who were promised they would be visited, thus death would not have the victory in the end.

(See Matthew 16:18; 1 Peter 4:6; Isaiah 24:22; Isaiah 61:1; Topical Guide, et al.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

All views are welcome when shared respectfully. Use a name or consistent pseudonym rather than "anonymous." Deletions of inflammatory posts will be noted. Thanks for joining the conversation.