(Author's Edit 6/25/2012: I haven't read this post since I wrote it nearly a year ago, and I think that I wrote it when I was in a bad place emotionally and spiritually concerning my brother. If you've read some recent things I have posted about my brother, you'll know that his passing was really hard on me. Due to the other circumstances going on in my life around the time of his passing, I didn't really get the chance to grieve properly. So I spent most of 2011 working through all the grief. I think that I wrote this post shortly before I started going to therapy to work through some of the grief that I had bottled away, among other things. Fortunately, I don't feel this way anymore. I have also had some really great experiences that I won't share specifically, that give me a lot of hope for my brother. I am grateful for my family beyond the veil who I am sure are helping him and loving him. What a beautiful thing this doctrine is of a spirit world and of eternal families.)
The Gospel Principles manual asks this question “What comfort do you receive from your knowledge that there is life after death?” Well, let me tell you how not comforting this knowledge has been for me recently.
My oldest brother passed away just over a year ago after a fierce battle against cancer. He and his wife (both baptized members of the Church) were not married in the temple and had no desire to be affiliated with the Church in any way. My brother served a mission, but he was married shortly after he got back. My heart always longed for them to accept the gospel again and come back to the Church, but that didn’t happen. And then my brother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, which he fought valiantly, but in the end, the cancer won.
When my brother passed away, my heart completely broke. I love my brother and I looked up to him my entire life. I wanted to be just like him. But the thing that broke my heart the most was not knowing what would happen to him in the next life.
When someone dies in the Church, our knee-jerk reaction is to remind the grieving family about the possibility for eternal families. The problem with those “comforting words” in our situation is that they are not entire comforting. To me it is a devastating reminder of my brother’s lack of faithfulness in the gospel. I have tried to reason it away, telling myself that Heavenly Father can be the only judge, and maybe he will be lenient with my brother. Regardless of what I tell myself, the doctrine is clear.
I was reading the Book of Mormon a few months ago and this passage from Alma 34 sat on my mind like a weight:
34 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.
35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
You can see how that scripture would not be comforting to someone like me, concerned about the spiritual welfare of my brother. I stewed over this for a few days, until I got to Alma 41 and read
3 And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
If you know my brother, he was a very good person. He cared about people, he was kind, and he always sought out good things. He was not, by any standard, and “evil” person. He was a good person. And although he rejected the gospel in this life (and may reject it in the next) I have hope for him because “if their works were good… and the desires of their hearts were good… they should… be restored unto that which is good.”
When I asked my brother why he and his wife did not get married in the temple, he told me that they were not sure that the gospel was true, they didn’t believe in Christ, so they felt that it would be worse for them to get married in the temple – they felt like they would be lying. I can’t see that being anything but good. Their motives were pure, I felt.
Returning to the question about the comfort I get from a knowledge of life after death – I think that in the end, it is comforting. I know that I will be able to see my brother again. We may not be able to live together in the Celestial Kingdom, but I will be able to see him. I will be able to talk with him, walk with him, hug him. He is not lost to me.
I have always known that the Spirit world is all around us, but I seem to forget just how close it is. “Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us.” (President Ezra Taft Benson). I believe this with all my heart, and I have experienced it. Most often in the temple, where the veil is very thin. It is comforting to know that we don’t go to some far off place when we die. We stay here, we get to be with the people we love (even if we can’t see them all the time). “President Brigham Young taught that the postmortal spirit world is on the earth, around us.”
As far as our spirits go, like Alma 34 mentioned, “Spirits carry with them from earth their attitudes of devotion or antagonism toward things of righteousness.” I would add that they may have an attitude of indifference toward things of righteousness. Although, my brother did have a devotion to many things of righteousness – he was just indifferent, I believe, toward the basic tenets of the gospel. He did love good things, and was a very kind person.
I wish that I could say I believe my brother will be in Spirit paradise – where there is “rest from all… troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” However, I am certain it is more likely that he will have to endure spirit prison (which is not necessarily a bad place – just a place of learning, and repenting, and suffering for ones sins). Since he did not accept the gospel in this life (or rejected it after he had received it) the scriptures teach that he will have to suffer for his own sins and then, “after suffering… [he] will be allowed, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to inherit the lowest degree of glory, which is the telestial kingdom.” But I think perhaps he will be happy there. And maybe he will get a second chance to receive the gospel in the Spirit world and be able to inherit a higher kingdom. I don’t know. Maybe some day I will know.
The lesson taught a few more interesting things about the Spirit world. The priesthood is organized the same way it is here. Also, families are still organized. This part got me upset again because President Jedediah M. Grant said “When I looked at families, there was a deficiency in some, … for I saw families that would not be permitted to come and dwell together, because they had not honored their calling here.” I know that I will see my brother again, I just don’t know if we will be permitted to dwell together. Sometimes I feel like part of that is my fault for not trying harder. But I know that it was his choice.
Spirit prison is also not a horrible place to be. “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 spirit prison and dwell in paradise.”
It seems to me like the postmortal world is simply a continuation of this world. “Heaven” is not until after judgment. Spirit paradise and spirit prison are simply the next step. Until the judgment comes, we just continue the work we did here (and for the righteous, they will get to rest from care and sorrow – not necessarily from work).
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to study this lesson, because my mind has been filled with so much lately concerning my brother. While I am not completely comforted (I feel sorrow because of some of the things I know) I am grateful that I have a better knowledge of what will happen to him. And I do know that I will see him again – and that is a comforting thought.
What comfort do you receive from your knowledge about life after death? What things did you learn about the spirit world from reading this lesson in the manual? Do you feel the spirit world around you sometimes? Does the thought of continuing the work on the other side of the veil make you excited, or tired?