Saturday, March 15, 2014

Is There Life After Death?

I have several dear friends who are not currently members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I frequently have conversations with them about their religious beliefs, and invariably the question will come up whether life goes on after the grave. They are always astounded at my answers and my assurance that life does continue after death. So many in the world have an innate belief in life after death because it is so plausible. How can a lifetime of association with those they love simply end at the edge of the grave? They don't want to accept the finality of death. They want to believe there is more, but believing in life after death presupposes there must be a God who can make such hopes a reality.

Over the years I have spoken at many funerals. I always make a statement about how optimistic I am about death and the reality of life after death. I have come to believe and to KNOW there is life after death. In this post I will dive a little deeper into WHY I believe the way I do.

I accept that God gives good gifts to all His children, and He is no respecter of persons because He has told us as much in His Holy Word. (See Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34). In this context we are assured there is no partiality or favoritism. All are alike before the bar of eternal justice. Mercy and grace are extended to those who comply with God's commands, but all who accept the terms and conditions of repentance are treated alike.

If we accept that God is capable of giving only good gifts because His very nature is goodness, then we have this blessed assurance: If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 14:7). Notice the quid pro quo: If you do this, I will do that. And there you have the exact definition of a covenant.

Salvation is the greatest of all the gifts of God. It is synonymous with eternal life. It is the gift bestowed by God upon those who come to think as He thinks, to believe as He does, to act as He acts. In time those who are faithful to their covenants will come to experience what He experiences. To become as God now is will put us in position to be a joint heir with Jesus Christ, the Firstborn and Only Begotten Son, our Savior and Redeemer. We become equal with the Lord in power, might, and dominion, as the scripture declares: "Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." (Psalms 82:6).

We receive from our Heavenly Father the gift of immortality through His Son, Jesus Christ. That gift is to have the power to live forever. It is one of the wondrous gifts we receive through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Our spirits are already immortal as a conscious personality shrouded by a mortal body now in mortality which will never cease to exist. Our spirits are the spark of divinity within each of us. The spirit within each of us will live everlastingly. Death is simply the temporary separation of our eternal spirit from our mortal body. The scriptures make it clear, however, that immortality is associated with the resurrection where spirit and body are inseparably reconnected and reunited, destined for a kingdom of glory in the life after this mortal life. Resurrection is a reality for all. I love the way the Apostle Paul expressed it:

"Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God." (Romans 6:8-10).

To my friends who are not currently of my faith, I invite you to request a copy of The Book of Mormon (click the link to obtain a free copy). One of the prophets in that book of scripture was Amulek, who describes the resurrected body and uses the word spiritual synonymously with the word immortal. This usage is identical with all prophets of all ages, denoting a state which is not subject to death. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:44; D&C 88:27; Moses 3:9).

Immortality, life after death in a resurrected body, is a free gift to all men and women who have ever lived upon the earth. It is a supernal gift of God's grace, requiring no obedience whatsoever to God's laws, "for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). "All" in this expression means "all" without exception. Amulek said it best: "Now, this restoration [of body and spirit] shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous" (Alma 11:44; emphasis mine).

Eternal life is synonymous with God's life (see Moses 7:35). It consists of two components: 1) inheriting, receiving, and possessing the fulness of the glory of the Father; and 2) a continuation of the family unit in eternity (see D&C 132:19).

Immortality comes as a free gift to all. Eternal life, may also be received as an additional gift to those who qualify through faithful obedience to the covenants we make as provided in the plan of salvation. Both of these conditions are made available through our Lord's suffering in Gethsemane and on Calvary, followed by His resurrection from His borrowed tomb on Easter morning.

We are all partakers of that blessing. When I visited the Garden Tomb at the foot of Calvary outside the city walls of Jerusalem, a small plaque memorialized the words of the angel to the grieving Mary and others as we turned to exit the tomb: "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen." (Luke 24:5-6). The tomb that stands empty still to this day is ample evidence of His resurrection. President Harold B. Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball, each serving at the time as President of the Church, when they visited there independently declared that tomb was the place of the resurrection of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is sacred and hallowed ground.

In the Lord's own words: "And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation - that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe" (D&C 29:43; emphasis mine).

Paul described our Lord thusly: ". . . he who hath abolished death, and hath brought [eternal] life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).

Appearing to Moses, the premortal Jehovah described His mission:: "For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39; emphasis mine; see also John 11:25).

Joseph Smith
"Salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power, and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him." (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 7:9). Both Joseph and the Apostle Paul taught Christ had gained salvation because He had put all enemies under His feet, the last enemy being death. And so it is for all of us. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 297, 301, 305; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 2:8).

Salvation is eternal life. It is life in the highest degree of celestial glory, it is life among Gods and angels. The word salvation means exactly the same thing as eternal life. Exaltation is another word we use to describe the same things associated with the glories of the celestial kingdom. Exaltation has the same meaning as eternal life, and it is the same meaning as salvation. To be saved is to be exalted and to enjoy eternal life. Elder Bruce R. McConkie elaborated:

"We are ofttimes prone to create artificial distinctions, to say that salvation means one thing and exaltation another, to suppose that salvation means to be resurrected, but that exaltation or eternal life is something in addition thereto. It is true that there are some passages of scripture that use salvation in a special and limited sense in order to give an overall perspective of the plan of salvation that we would not otherwise have. (2 Nephi 9:1-27; D&C 76:40-49; 132:15-17). These passages show the difference between general or universal salvation that consists in coming forth from the grave in immortality, and specific or individual salvation that consists of an inheritance in the celestial kingdom....

"Since it is the prophetic purpose to lead men to full salvation in the highest heaven of the celestial world, when they speak and write about salvation, almost without exception, they mean eternal life or exaltation. They use the terms salvation, exaltation, and eternal life as synonyms, as words that mean exactly the same thing without any difference, distinction, or variance whatever." (The Promised Messiah, 129; 306; also, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 144-54; emphasis mine).

Once again, Amulek equated the two terms eternal life and salvation. He described the coming of the Messiah: "And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else." (Alma 11:40; emphasis mine).

The Savior said, "If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation." (D&C 6:13; emphasis mine). Now notice this parallel meaning in another revelation given two months later: "And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7; emphasis mine).

Salt Lake Temple
Eternal marriage is the crowning covenant for those who seek eternal life, since bringing to pass the "immortality and eternal life of man" is contingent upon the creation of the mortal body by a man and a woman. Marriages are "solemnized" in temples. We call it "sealing," implying an eternal welding link forged by priesthood authority that binds families together forever. Death may intervene and temporary partings may ensue, but life continues even after death, and love never ends. "In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees. And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase." (D&C 131:1-4).

Said the Lord: "Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory." (D&C 132:22-25). Eternal lives indicates the right of a worthy man and woman to enjoy "the continuation of the seeds," the everlasting perpetuation of the family unit. (TPJS, 300-301; emphasis mine).

We started by stating God is no respecter of persons, implying explicitly there is no "cap" in eternity upon the number of saved beings. The design of God's "great plan of happiness" is to save all who will be saved in compliance with the requirement to repent. With the Mormons it is an article of our faith: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." (Articles of Faith 1:3; emphasis mine). Again, when the Lord says "all" He means "all".

No person was promised eternal life in our premortal spirit state on an unconditional basis, and conversely, none was condemned forever as an irretrievable reprobate either. (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 238). Lehi declared to his son Jacob, "Salvation is free" (2 Nephi 2:4). The plan of salvation turns on mercy, and His purposes are available and accessible to all without restriction. Nephi taught: ". . .the Lord God worketh not in darkness." Further, "He doeth not any thing save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation." Nephi declared: "Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance." (2 Nephi 26:23-24, 27). Mormon missionaries, totaling some 85,000, now dot the globe proclaiming these truths. I encourage everyone who hasn't yet to invite them into your homes to learn more.

We learn in the scriptures about a "strait gate" and a "narrow way" which lead to eternal life. "Strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and the continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me." On the other hand, "broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law." (D&C 132:22, 25; see also Matthew 7:13-14).

In relation to the world's population, perhaps Mormons will forever be a minority, and "few" among the masses of humanity of 7 billion in the world today, but there is room for optimism in these verses. Many of our spirit brothers and sisters, perhaps a number approaching infinity, will be saved. Think of all the children who died before the age of accountability, perhaps billions of little ones from the days of Adam to the time of the Millennium. Add to that billions who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel message in mortality, but who afterwards received the glad tidings in the spirit world prior to their resurrection. Don't forget the innumerable hosts who qualified for exaltation from Enoch's city, from Melchizedek's Salem, or from the "golden era" of the Nephites after the resurrected Lord's visit to the Americas, as cited in The Book of Mormon. Continue adding the billions of children who will be born during the Millennium, a time when disease and death are non-existent. (D&C 45:58). Think about all who will yet live when Earth is "renewed" and paradisiacal glory reigns. Can you begin to catch a glimpse of the number of saved beings in eternity? God, our Eternal Father in Heaven, who is the Author of the plan of salvation will save many more than our finite minds can imagine.

As Mormons, we are a patient lot, and we accept salvation and exaltation as a process over time. We align ourselves in this life to the degree we can with eternal verities we accept and know to be true. We accept our imperfections and those of others, while simultaneously doing all we can to become sanctified and holy in this life and encouraging one another to do the same. Learning to forgive others freely is to learn the attributes of godliness in this life, since each of us falls short of perfection in mortality and stands in need of forgiveness ourselves. Gaining salvation and attaining perfection is a lengthy process that certainly must transcend time and space in this life and continue beyond the grave. (See D&C 93:19).

I cherish and commend to you these words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie to college students at BYU:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
"We do not work out our salvation in a moment; it doesn't come to us in an instant, suddenly. Gaining salvation is a process. Paul says, 'Work out your salvation with fear and trembling' (Philippians 2:12). To some members of the Church who had been baptized and who were on the course leading to eternal life, he said, 'Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed' (Romans 13:11). That is, 'We have made some progress along the straight and narrow path. We are going forward, and if we continue in that direction, eternal life will be our everlasting reward. . .'

"We say that a man has to be born again, meaning that he has to die as pertaining to the unrighteous things in the world. Paul said, 'Crucify the old man of sin and come forth in a newness of life' (Romans 6:6). We are born again when we die as pertaining to unrighteousness and when we live as pertaining to the things of the Spirit. But that doesn't happen in an instant, suddenly. That also is a process. Being born again is a gradual thing, except in a few isolated instances that are so miraculous that they get written up in the scriptures. As far as the generality of the members of the Church are concerned, we are born again by degrees, and we are born again to added light and added knowledge and added desires for righteousness as we keep the commandments. . .

"So it is with the plan of salvation. We have to become perfect to be saved in the celestial kingdom. But nobody becomes perfect in this life. Only the Lord Jesus attained that state, and he had an advantage that none of us has. He was the Son of God, and he came into this life with a spiritual capacity and a talent and an inheritance that exceeded beyond all comprehension what any of the rest of us was born with. Our revelations say that he was like unto God in the premortal life and he was, under the Father, the creator of worlds without number. That Holy Being was the Holy One of Israel anciently and he was the Sinless One in mortality. This shows that we can strive and go forward toward that goal, but no other mortal - not the greatest prophets nor the mightiest apostles nor any of the righteous saints of any of the ages - has ever been perfect, but we must become perfect to gain a celestial inheritance. As it is with being born again. and as it is with sanctifying our souls, so becoming perfect in Christ is a process. . .

"As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect. and, step by step and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is absolutely guaranteed - there is no question whatever about it - we shall gain eternal life. Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of this life we'll continue in exactly that same course. We'll no longer be subject to the passions and the appetites of the flesh. We will have passed successfully the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we'll get the fulness of our Father's kingdom - and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence.

"The Prophet told us that there are many things that people have to do, even after the grave, to work out their salvation. We're not going to be perfect the minute we die. (TPJS, 189; see also, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:61). But if we've charted a course, if our desires are right, if our appetites are curtailed and bridled, and if we believe in the Lord and are doing to the very best of our abilities what we ought to do. We'll go on to everlasting salvation, which is the fulness of eternal reward in our Father's kingdom."

Elder McConkie then observed: "I think we ought to have hope; I think we ought to have rejoicing." ("Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," 1976 Brigham Young University Devotional Speeches of the Year, 398-401; also see, "The Seven Deadly Heresies," 1980 Brigham Young University Devotional Speeches of the Year, 78-79; Conference Report, October 1976, 158-59, emphasis mine above).

We have hope to rejoice for those who will yet forsake the ways of the world, enter the gate of baptism and walk along the strait and narrow path with the Holy Ghost as their guide, whether in this life or in the next. It is always better the sooner we can embrace truth and live accordingly. I take great comfort in knowing there will be "an innumerable company" of the just (see D&C 76:67; 138:12), who do so.

Our Lord declared, ". . .he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come." (D&C 59:23). Centuries ago, Isaiah wrote: "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever" (Isaiah 32:17). Though we pass through "hard things" in mortality, we can know peace in this life "which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). We can come time through all the tests and trials, taught the Prophet Joseph, to a point where we have made our callings and elections sure. (TPJS, 149-51). For these the day of judgment has been advanced and blessings associated with the glories of the celestial kingdom are assured. They receive what the Prophet Joseph called "the more sure word of prophecy," which the Lord explained to him, "means a man's knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priest hood. It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance." (D&C 131:5-6).

President Marion G. Romney
Though it is true, as President Marion G. Romney observed, that "the fulness of eternal life is not attainable in mortality, . . .the peace which is its harbinger and which comes as a result of making one's calling and election sure is attainable in this life." (Conference Report, October 1965, 20).

The Prophet Joseph extended this invitation: "I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it." (TPJS, 299; see also Mosiah 18:8-9; D&C 14:7; 53:7; 2 Nephi 31:20; Mosiah 5:15). Remember, "But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life." (D&C 50:5; emphasis mine).

I conclude with these words from Elder Bruce R. McConkie at the funeral of Elder S. Dilworth Young:

"If we die in the faith, that is the same thing as saying that our calling and election has been made sure and that we will go on to eternal reward hereafter. As far as faithful members of the Church are concerned, they have charted a course leading to eternal life. This life is the time that is appointed as a probationary estate for men to prepare to meet God, and as far as faithful people are concerned, if they are in the line of their duty, if they are doing what they ought to do, although they may not have been perfect in this sphere, their probation is ended. Now there will be some probation for some other people hereafter. But for the faithful saints of God, now is the time and the day, and their probation is ended with their death, and they will not thereafter depart from the path. It is true as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, that there are many things that have to be done 'even beyond the grave' to work out our salvation, but we'll stay in the course and we will not alter from it, if we have been true and faithful in this life." (From an address at the funeral service for Elder S. Dilworth Young, 13 July 1981, typescript, 5; emphasis mine).

Of course there is life after death! That includes life after death for EVERYONE. In this life we choose the quality of our life after death, through the exercise of our agency in obedience to God's commandments. For those of us who are living in mortality, we must exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, repent of our sins, recognizing He has already redeemed us from sin and death, enter the waters of baptism and be baptized by those authorized servants holding the priesthood, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by those in authority.

Then throughout our mortal probation we endure in those principles and ordinances in order to claim the blessings of salvation and exaltation.

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