By Eric Johnson
Outer darkness is a place reserved for the “sons of perdition.” It is an eternal destination, a place where very few (if any) human beings will ever be sent. According to tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith,
Outer darkness is something which cannot be described, except that we know that it is to be placed beyond the benign and comforting influence of the Spirit of God-banished entirely from his presence. This extreme punishment will not be given to any but the sons of perdition (Doctrines of Salvation 2:220. Italics in original).
According to the Doctrine and Covenants, this will be a place that “even in outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:91; also see 133:73). Smith said this will be practically indescribable:
The extent of this punishment none will ever know except those who partake of it. That it is the most severe punishment that can be meted out to man is apparent. Outer darkness is something which cannot be described, except that we know that it is to be placed beyond the benign and comforting influence of the Spirit of God — banished entirely from his presence (Doctrines of Salvation 2:220).
What are Sons of Perdition?
There are possible characteristics of a “son of perdition.” One example would not be human since they were cast out of heaven with Satan before they could receive a body. According to Smith:
It is very clear in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 76:30-37, that the only persons who will be completely overcome by this dreadful fate are the sons of perdition who go with the devil and his angels into “outer darkness.” (Answers to Gospel Questions 5:107-108).
While some apparently have taught that these spirits could be restored to a kingdom of glory, but 12th President Spencer W. Kimball said this wasn’t true:
In the days of the restoration there apparently were those who taught that the devil and his angels and the sons of perdition should sometime be restored. The Prophet Joseph Smith would not countenance the teaching of this doctrine, and sanctioned the decision of the bishop that any who taught it should be barred from communion (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 125).
For those born in this life, the person must be a former member who knew Mormonism is true but still rebelled and went against the truth while still knowing it was true. Smith taught:
The sons of perdition are those who have had a knowledge of the truth, have known that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, have had the testimony of the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost, and these things have all been revealed so that they know they are true; and then they turn against them and fight them knowingly. Sons of Perdition are to be cast out with the devil and his angels into outer darkness. Into the telestial kingdom will go, according to that which is written here in this revelation, the vicious, the unclean, the ungodly (Conference Reports, April 1942, p. 27).
He also said, “I think I am safe in saying that no man can become a Son of Perdition until he has known the light. Those who have never received the light are not to become Sons of Perdition” (Conference Reports, October 1958, p. 21).
A church manual reiterates:
To become a son of perdition one must sin against the Holy Ghost, but before that is possible, one must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, p. 161)
The manual Gospel Principles sheds additional light:
There is no forgiveness for them, for they denied the Holy Spirit after having received it. They will not have a kingdom of glory. They will live in eternal darkness, torment, and misery with Satan and his angels forever. (See D&C 76:28–35, 44–48.) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 273).
Even if a person had once been a Latter-day Saint, Kimball said it still was practically impossible for a human to become a son of perdition:
The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin (Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 123) (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, p. 161).