Death is a temporary separation of the spirit from the body; while the body lies in the grave, the spirit dwells in a place called the spirit world. Most of us have loved ones who have passed from this life, and all of us will die at some time. All of us will go from this life into the spirit world.
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the spirit world as "a place of paradise and happiness for those who have lived righteous lives. It is not something to fear" (Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 66.) The spirit world is a place where the gospel of Jesus Christ will be taught to people who were unable to hear it during their lives upon earth.
A good demonstration of the difference between life and death was presented by Elder Boyd K. Packer (Ensign, July 1973, pp. 51, 53) when he held up a glove and pointed out that the glove had no life and could not move by itself. He then put the glove on his hand and showed that the glove could now move wherever the hand went. In this demonstration, the glove represents the body and the hand represents the spirit. A spirit combined with a physical body makes a person - a living soul.
"And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.
"And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-16).
Earth life was not intended to last forever; it was always intended to be a temporary condition. One day each of us will die, and our body and spirit will separate. Death is part of God's plan of happiness for His children. When the body and the spirit are separated, the body cannot move because it is dead; however, the spirit is still alive.
As part of the Atonement, Jesus Christ overcame mortal death. Because He overcame death, the separation of the spirit from the body will not be permanent. Each person who was ever born on earth will be resurrected. At the time of resurrection, the body and spirit will be united in a perfect state, never to be separated again.
When we lived in the premortal world, we were all spirits. When we came to earth our spirits and mortal bodies were joined together. When we die, our spirits will leave our physical bodies; while our bodies are dead, our spirits will remain alive and dwell in a place called the spirit world.
What is the spirit world like? What are the conditions of life after death? Corianton, the son of a prophet named
, was concerned about where the spirit would go between death and the resurrection. His father told him, "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" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Alma 40:11). Alma
President Joseph Fielding Smith referred to Alma 40:11 when he said: "`Taken home to God,' simply means that their mortal existence has come to an end, and they have returned to the world of spirits, where they are assigned to a place according to their works with the just or with the unjust, there to await the resurrection" (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957-66], 2:85).
According to the statements of both Alma and President Smith, spirits - whether good or evil, just or unjust - will go to the spirit world. There they will be assigned a place according to their works on earth.
also taught the following to his people: "Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world" (Alma 34:34). Alma
We will be basically the same person in the next world as we are here one earth. Our spirits will carry to the spirit world the same personalities, tendencies, appetites, and desires that we have here on earth.
President Brigham Young taught: "Suppose … that a man is evil in his heart - wholly given up to wickedness, and in that condition dies, his spirit will enter into the spirit world intent upon evil. On the other hand, if we are striving with all the powers and faculties God has given us to improve upon our talents, to prepare ourselves to dwell in eternal life, and the grave receives our bodies while we are thus engaged, with what disposition will our spirits enter their next state? They will be still striving to do the things of God, only in a much greater degree." (See Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 379.)
Alma taught his son, Corianton: "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 form 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, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
"Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection" (Alma 40:12-14).
People who accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ on earth and lived righteously are assigned to a state of happiness known as paradise. People who rejected the gospel and people who have died without a knowledge of the truth are assigned to a state of darkness called spirit prison, sometimes called hell.
The term "spirit prison" is an appropriate name for the condition of people who die without having accepted the gospel because the people that go there are shut off from the peace and joy they would feel if they had received the truth and lived righteously.
During the three days after He was crucified, Jesus Christ visited the righteous spirits in paradise. The Apostle Peter taught, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
"By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
"Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water" (1 Peter 3:18-20).
Peter told us that Christ went to the spirit world, but he didn't tell us what Christ did there. Through latter-day revelation to President Joseph F. Smith, we learn that "… the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
"But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
"And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
"Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
"These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
"And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (Doctrine and Covenants 138:29-34).
Thus we learn that Jesus Christ appointed messengers from among the righteous to preach His gospel to those in spirit prison. Until that time, the spirits in spirit prison were not permitted to have contact with the spirits in paradise.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: "Now that the righteous spirits in paradise have been commissioned to carry the message of salvation to the wicked spirits in hell, there is a certain amount of mingling together of the good and bad spirits. Repentance opens the prison doors to the spirits in hell; it enables those bound with the chains of hell to free themselves from darkness, unbelief, ignorance, and sin. As rapidly as they can overcome these obstacles - gain light, believe truth, acquire intelligence, cast off sin, and break the chains of hell - they can leave the hell that imprisons them and dwell with the righteous in the peace of paradise." (See Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 755.)
President Joseph F. Smith learned that Jesus Christ chose faithful elders to take His message to the spirits in prison. "I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead" (Doctrine and Covenants 138:57).
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are called to serve full-time missions in this life. Since the Church is organized in the spirit world and there are still spirits there who have not heard and accepted the truth, we will also be able to serve missions after death if we have lived righteously.
I know that death is just one part of God's great plan of salvation. As the glove without the hand is lifeless, so the physical body without the spirit is dead. While righteous spirits await their resurrection, they are busy carrying on the work of our Heavenly Father. I encourage all of us to live righteously now so that we can enter paradise later and be able to serve the Lord in the spirit world.