By Eric Johnson
When a person dies, leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teach that the spirit of the dead person goes temporarily to one of two possible places, either paradise or spirit prison, depending on how that righteous the person was in mortality. This is an temporary state, with the soul moving to one of the three kingdoms of glory after the final judgment takes place at the end of the millennium.
As far as paradise is concerned, the inhabitants who were faithful on earth are able to share their faith with those not as fortunate. One church manual explained, “In the spirit world the gospel is preached to those who did not obey the gospel or have the opportunity to hear it while on earth” (Preach My Gospel, 2004, p. 52). Another states,
When a person dies who has accepted the gospel and been a faithful follower of Jesus, that person’s spirit goes to paradise. This is a place where people are happy and peaceful. Here they are free from trouble, sorrow, and pain. They can do many worthwhile things, such as teach others about the gospel or learn more about it themselves (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 196).
Agency is still available in spirit prison, as souls are free to choose the gospel message or reject it. One manual teaches,
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 leave the spirit prison and well in paradise (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 244).
The people in the spirit world can exercise faith and accept the gospel message, but they cannot receive the ordinances of the gospel, such as baptism, the endowment, and sealings, for themselves. The Lord has directed us to perform these ordinances for them (Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual Religion 261, 2005, p. 7)
Those hailing from paradise who will perform this service are “spirit missionaries.”
Our Father in Heaven’s prophets have told us that missionaries will be sent from among the righteous in the spirit world to teach the gospel to all the spirits of the dead people. Many will accept the gospel and repent. Necessary saving ordinances will be done for them by living persons in our Father in Heaven’s temples. Relatives or other members of the Church do these ordinances for them. Then they will be able to leave the spirit prison. In this way, our Father in Heaven provides opportunity for all His children to receive the blessings of the gospel no matter when they lived on the earth (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 196).
Genealogical work during mortality is very important to Latter-days Saints who want to be educated about those who need their work done.
Each of us can play a vital role in providing ordinances for the dead. We can identify those who have died and see that temple ordinances are performed in their behalf. As we serve those who wait in the spirit world, we can come to know the blessing of assisting the Savior in the great work of salvation (Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual Religion 261, 2005, p. 7)
The idea that salvation can be received after death is a motivating factor for many Latter-day Saints possessing temple recommends.
As you receive priesthood ordinances in behalf of those who have died, you become a savior on Mount Zion for them (see Obadiah 1:21). Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice—you perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 63).
Those who do not accept the good news will be given an eternity in the lowest possible glory, which is also 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, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to inherit the lowest degree of glory, which is the telestial kingdom (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 244)
There are consequences for those who do not accept this good news: “Those who choose not to repent but who are not sons of perdition will remain in spirit prison until the end of the Millennium, when they will be freed from hell and punishment and be resurrected to a telestial glory (see D&C 76:81–85) (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 81. Also see Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 2003, p. 112).
What Does Christianity Teach
According to 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord.” Although there does appear to be an intermediate state between death and the final judgment (for those who take the book of Revelation to be futuristic), there is no second chance of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 9:27). As Jesus told the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31, there is a barrier between paradise and Hades that cannot be crossed. While Christians do have different ideas on what this intermediate state entails, no Evangelical Christian church teaches that work can be accomplished on earth to free a soul that is damned.