If Not Hell, What? If Not In This Life, When?

The readiness with which we accept such nonsense into our teachings give evidence for the Book or Mormon’s grim view of us as proud gentiles in the last days.

(This post is a continuation of a train of thought that I started on yesterday’s post, Hell Is Not So Bad, Right?)

The scriptures and LDS leaders clearly teach us to seek Celestial Kingdom and avoid pains of hell.

“Also in the spirit prison are those who rejected the gospel after it was preached to them either on earth or in the spirit prison. These spirits suffer in a condition known as hell. They have removed themselves from the mercy of Jesus Christ, who said, “Behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:16–18). After suffering for their sins, they will be allowed, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to inherit the lowest degree of glory, which is the telestial kingdom.” (Gospel Principals Manual, Chapter 41, The Postmortem Spirit World)

“Are we content to aim for telestial glory? I never heard a prayer offered, especially in the family circle, in which the family does not beseech God to give them celestial glory. Telestial glory is not in their thoughts… but celestial glory is our aim” (George Q. Cannon, in Conference Report, Apr. 1900, 55–56)

The problem is not the truths we are being taught, but the misunderstandings that have crept in into our culture that skew the significance of preparing to meet God in this life.

I remember the following story being related on various occasions in sacrament meeting and classrooms as I was growing up:
“You were in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world you will be enthralled with those who you are associated with. You will ask someone in which time period he lived in and you might hear, “I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea,” or “I helped build the pyramids,” or “I fought with Captain Moroni.” And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask, “Which prophet time did you live in?” And when you say “Gordon B. Hinckley,” a hush will fall over every hall, every corridor in heaven and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous. Are you still? Remember who you are!”
This Mormon urban legend apparently became prevalent enough that the church has issued statements disavowing it (read statement by the Church, a letter of 25 February 2008)

The readiness with which we accept such nonsense into our teachings give evidence for the Book or Mormon’s grim view of us as proud gentiles in the last days. (see Mormon 8:35-38, Ether 12:35-38, 2 Nephi 33:7-9, 3 Nephi 16:10)

Over the last few years I’ve taken the opportunity to attend several non-LDS Christian worship meetings. One thing that occurred to me was the attention given to messages that are positive, flattering and reassuring as if to attract a greater audience. I’ve wondered about the emphasis we give to teaching positive messages in our own LDS meetings. This notion that religion should always encourage merriment and feasting has so taken hold that it becomes impossible to cry repentance. Anything that challenges a happy outlook is thought to be negative and of the devil. It creates the misunderstanding that the right to feel good about one’s self is a higher obligation than the duty to teach repentance and forsaking sin.

Note how the Book of Mormon stresses that  “there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.” (Enos 1:23)

Alma also makes it clear that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors… therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.” (Alma 34:32-33)

What do we conclude from this as it relates to our understanding of heaven and hell and Nephi’s sobering warnings about our condition as saints in these last days? Joseph Smith admonished that this is a subject we ought to study more than any other:

“All men know that they must die.  And it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and of death, and the designs and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our suffering here, and our departure hence.  What is the object of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more?  It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other.  We ought to study it day and night, for the world is ignorant in reference to their true condition and relation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.324)

“I want you to know, that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me” (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p 346)

Hell Is Not So Bad, Right?

This worst case scenario means I will suffer in spirit prison for a season, before taking my place in a kingdom of glory that I have been led to believe is so wonderful that if I could behold it for only a few minutes I would be tempted to commit suicide to get there.

Latter-day saint teachings speak of hell in at least two ways. First, it is another name for spirit prison, a temporary place in the postmortal world for those who died without a knowledge of the truth or those who were disobedient in mortality. Second, it is the permanent location of Satan and his followers and the sons of perdition, who are not redeemed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Sons of perdition are “those in mortal life who ‘deny the Holy Ghost,’ which is generally interpreted as rejecting and denying Christ after receiving a personal witness and a ‘perfect knowledge’ of Jesus and that mere faith or belief in him is not enough.”
(Wikipedia, Son of perdition)

These are persons “who will not take part in the glory of God in the afterlife. This is in contrast to the vast majority of people, who will receive a “kingdom of glory” after the Final Judgment, and enter into one of three degrees of glory after the resurrection: Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial Kingdoms.” (ibid)

Thus for the rest of us, “hell” is for those who qualify for either a telestial or terrestial glory.

“That part of the spirit world inhabited by wicked spirits who are awaiting the eventual day of their resurrection is called hell.” (Alma 40:11–14; D&C 76:103–106.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 349)

The lowest of these (telestial), although refered to as “hell” and a place for the “wicked and carnal in mortality”, is still considered a “kingdom of glory”.

In a 1964 address to students at Brigham Young University, Patriarch Emeritus Eldred G. Smith referred to a statement attributed to Joseph Smith:
“I cannot for a minute conceive the telestial being hell, either, because it is considered a heaven, a glory. The Prophet Joseph Smith told us that if we could get one little glimpse into the telestial glory even, the glory is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there.
Then if the telestial is such a glorious occasion, a glorious heaven to get into, then how much greater would be the terrestrial, and still how much greater the celestial.”
(This quote attributed to Joseph Smith appears to be “Mormon folklore” and not something Joseph actually said, see article by Blair Dee Hodges, Committing Suicide to Get to the Telestial Kingdom?, Dec 16, 2008)

Can we take some comfort that, terrible as the punishments of spirit prison may be, their pains will have an end before taking their place in a kingdom of glory (telestial or terrestrial)?

These are the ones who have earned telestial bodies, who were wicked and carnal in mortality, and who have suffered the wrath of God in hell ‘until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.’ (D&C 76:85.) Their final destiny is to inherit a telestial glory. (D&C 76:81–112.)

Let me pose a question. In light of these teachings of hell and punishment, how many, like myself, have entertained the thought that, as much as I desire to achieve the lofty goal of the celestial kingdom, if I fail to qualify, at worst I will still earn myself a place in a glory that surpasses all human understanding (see D&C 76:89)? This worst case scenario means I will suffer in spirit prison for a season, before taking my place in a kingdom of glory that I have been led to believe is so wonderful that if I could behold it for only a few minutes I would be tempted to commit suicide to get there.

Now answer this. Does this line of thinking sound anything like what Nephi prophesied, “And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:8)

These words portray an attitude of complacency. Do we entertain such an attitude in our hearts and in our daily walk though we may not actually give voice to the words?

Consider the audience Nephi is addressing in this chapter. They are gentiles of the last days who claim to be assembling as “Zion.” The use of the term Zion in the Book of Mormon is quite selective. It includes:

  • Last days time frame;
  • Post-restoration of the Book of Mormon;
  • People who are either claiming or who have actually assembled together as Zion.

Do Latter Day Saints fit this definition? I believe these verses apply to us. We cannot point to others and say we are not among those being warned.

With this in mind, what new insights can we gain from these further warnings from Nephi?

“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment. Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! (ibid 21-25)

Likening these scriptures unto us, the readers of the Book of Mormon (as oppose to some other audience who will never read it because they aren’t converted to it), one must ask  what it is about our understanding of the nature of hell that is error ridden enough to provoke Nephi to warn us so strongly about being lulled into a carnal security?

I address this in my next post, If Not Hell, What? If Not In This Life, When?

The Emerging Church – To Creed or Not to Creed

There is no official single Emerging Church or Emerging Church doctrine…
“…stick to the essentials of the Christian faith”? Exactly what are these essentials? Where are they defined if not in scripture?

Is a doctrinal creed that outlines a church’s belief a good thing or a bad thing?

I heard mention of a something termed “the emerging church” this morning on Christian radio, how it threatens to corrupt traditional Christian teachings.

My first question is who defines what this “emerging church” thing is? Matt Slick, in his article “What is the Emerging Church?” captures the dilemma with a couple of statements. “Obviously, it is difficult to define precisely what is emerging and what is not.” and “There is no official single Emerging Church or Emerging Church doctrine, so there is no unified structure to examine.”

In his conclusion he expressed his concern that “Even though there are some pastors in the Emerging Church Movement that are true to Scripture, the movement as a whole needs to stick to the essentials of the Christian faith; otherwise, in spite of its proclamation to renew Christianity afresh, it will become stale and heretical.”
(see article What is the Emerging Church)

“…stick to the essentials of the Christian faith”? Exactly what are these essentials? Where are they defined if not in scripture? Who defines scripture if not the spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20)? Which pastor of which Christian denomination has authority to interpret scripture for those being “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming”? (Eph 4:14)

How is Matt’s fear of encroaching beliefs corrupting faith in his church different from Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie expressing a similar train of thought by addressing BYU students with, “gaining a special, personal relationship with Christ… is both improper and perilous”, and instead, “the proper course for all of us is to stay in the mainstream of the Church”? (Our Relationship with the Lord – BYU Speeches, Bruce R. McConkie, 2 March 1982)
From his talk I honestly have no idea what McConkie means by his counsel to “stay in the course charted by the Church”. What is that course, exactly? Where is it defined?

Again, Matt Slick reveals what I feel is at the root of the problem. He lists one of the problematic “Emerging Church Characteristics” as “A de-emphasis on absolutes and doctrinal creeds”

You see, without a creed or statement of beliefs, who can decide what falls outside of established doctrine or practices? Yet, as soon as you create a creed or statement of beliefs, insofar as you fail to encompass all the mind of God within that statement, you place a limit on what can be accepted as “true doctrine” once you step outside that box.

Joseph Smith was very much against a Mormon Creed. He remarked that the Methodists “have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty to believe as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman) (History of the Church, vol 5, pg 340)

Joseph felt that creeds set limits, “and say ‘hitherto shalt thou come & no further’ — which I cannot subscribe to.” He explained that the difference between the Christian sects and The Latter Day Saints was that the sectarians “were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein; whereas the Latter Day Saints had no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.” (Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman, p. 285)

So, is a doctrinal creed a good thing or a bad thing? Ask yourself what motivation is there in creating a creed if not to seek to control to some degree how others should behave or believe?

Personally I feel the dangers of establishing a creed is limiting and more dangerous than allowing the scriptures to speak for themselves. Let truth manifest itself where and when it may, inside or outside any emerging church, established religion, book of scripture or statement of belief. In the end, for each of us, our path to God is individual and deeply personal.

Drawing Heaven – Inspiring

To me this was just inspiring. A true real life super hero (heroine?).

To me this was just inspiring. A true real life super hero (heroine?).

In the comments for this YouTube video I read things like,

“Awesome paintings. Poor reasoning.”


“they are just faking this.”

I have to admit, where this is a news story my inclination is to be skeptical myself. Every time I watch the news I try to ask these questions (that I learned in Simpleology):

  • Is this information presented in such a way that begs an emotional response?
  • Will an emotional response on my part be useful?
  • Is it possible that this is not a complete picture?

Although I’m sure this story is incomplete, and it makes a cool popular story for CNN, I am still impressed with this girl and her incredible talent.

Believe what you may, from what I’ve seen I choose to believe that this girl is inspired and her talent is divine.

Camping Hero

Kids think Dad is a hero when he deals with accidents at family camp.

Kids think Dad is a hero when he shows calmness and demonstrates first aid skills when dealing with accidents at family camp.

Family Camp was memorable last week. We didn’t venture far from home, we ended up going to our favorite spot up Green Canyon a few miles from where we live. Just the experience of camping, even though it’s close, was exciting for the kids, and less stressful for Dad. It was especially nice being close when two of the kids ended up having to be run down to the local clinic for stitches from camping accidents.