Hell, Paradise and Spirit Missionaries
"What is the state of the soul between death and the resurrection? The righteous are in paradise while the wicked are in spirit prison," (Temple Preparation Seminar Discussions, p. 8).
Immediately upon death, according to Mormonism, the soul leaves the body and enters either Paradise (only Mormons) or Spirit Prison, which is sometimes referred to as Hell (all non-LDS).
This however, is not the final abode of the dead. Rather it is simply another probational or temporary place.
As the Ensign magazine, official periodical of the Mormon Church explains, "According to Latter-day Saint doctrine, the postearthly spirit world is the place of residence for all those who have died and are awaiting the resurrection's inseparable connection of their spirits and bodies.
"Thus, it is not the place where God the Father, the resurrected Lord, and other resurrected beings dwell.
"Rather, it is an intermediate condition or state where people await the resurrection - a tangible sphere where disembodied spirits live in one of several conditions according to what their mortal lives have merited," (January 1977, p. 48).
The destination of each individual is determined by "merit" or by their actions while on earth.
Even these places are not the final estates. Rather, the individual who discovers they have been sent to hell can escape and enter paradise, if they follow the Mormon gospel.
The Ensign continues by explaining the next steps in this process.
"Just as paradise is not the eternal abode of the righteous, hell in the spirit world is not the eternal abode of the wicked.
"However, it is chiefly a place of learning and waiting, not a place of suffering. Here those who did not have an opportunity in mortality to receive the gospel and those who had a partial opportunity but rejected it will be taught," (Ibid).
According to Mormonism, every person will have the chance to accept the gospel, the Mormon law of eternal progression, either in this life or in spirit prison hell.
As Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth LDS prophet explained, "The Lord has made it known that his mercy extends to the uttermost bounds and that every soul is entitled to hear the gospel plan, either in this life or in the spirit world.
"All who hear and believe, repenting and receiving the gospel in its fullness, whether living or dead, are heirs of salvation in the celestial kingdom of God," (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, p. 133).
At this point two questions must be answered for clarification.
First, if all wicked people who die find themselves in spirit prison or hell, and all Mormons go to paradise, who are the ones teaching the true gospel to those deceased people in hell?
This question is answered in chapter 45 of the book Gospel Principles when it states, "Missionaries from paradise visit the spirit prison to teach the gospel," (p. 280).
Not only do living LDS missionaries travel throughout the world today spreading the gospel of Mormonism, but their deceased counterparts travel throughout the spirit world too.
In fact, the missionary work in the spirit world is apparently happening on a grander scale than it is on Earth.
"The Latter-day Saint view of the spirit world reveals that there is work being performed there. The most magnificent and extensive missionary program the mind can contemplate is centered in the spirit world," (Ensign, January 1977, p. 51).
The Ensign article acknowledges, that while the spirit missionaries are teaching the gospel and those in hell are accepting the Mormon gospel - this is not enough.
"And yet this ministry in the spirit world is not sufficient to achieve the ultimate salvation of the noble dead. Why?
"Because it take as much to save a dead man as it does a living man," (Ibid).
Remembering that two of the steps necessary for progression into the celestial kingdom were baptism and marriage in an LDS Temple, the second question which must be answered is, how are these to be accomplished by those who have already died?
It is for this reason that Mormons believe and practice the doctrines of Baptism for the Dead and Temple Marriage (and other ordinances) for the dead.
As Lowell Bennion, former director of the Institute of Religion for the LDS Church explained, "Why, one may well ask, do the Latter-day Saints perform ordinance work for and in behalf of the dead?
"The ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are essential to salvation. It is necessary that all men who desire the fullest salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God participate in them," (The Religion of the Latter-day Saints, p. 179).
It is also because of this incessant interest in the "works for and in behalf of the dead" that Mormons are interested in geneaological research.
These doctrines are so very important, that a book which is studied by many couples just prior to their temple marriage explains, "Baptism Is the Gate to Salvation: Marriage Is the Gate to Exaltation."
It continues a few pages later with, "What Ordinances are performed in the Temple?
"1. Baptism, specifically Baptism for the Dead.
"2. Ordination and associated Endowment in the Priesthood.
"3. Marriage Ceremonies.
"4. Other Sealing Ordinances.
"Each of these ceremonies or ordinances may be performed for the living, present in person, or for the dead who are represented each by an individual living proxy.
"The living are but few compared with the dead; and it follows of necessity that the ordinance-work for the departed exceeds by a great preponderance that done for the living," (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, pp. 198 & 201).
As has been stated, neither paradise nor hell are the final stops on the Mormon road of eternal progression.
Immediately following the resurrection of the dead, all will be judged.