What exactly is the difference between mortality and the spirit world? It seems like a simple enough question to answer. All my life I have defined mortality as the period in eternity when we leave our Father in Heaven’s presence and come to earth to gain a body. The spirit world is where we go when we leave our body behind at death. Pretty cut and dried. It was only recently that some comments were made by President Russell M. Nelson that I began to question the relationship between mortality and the spirit world.
Following are three quotes from President Nelson that all occurred within a six month period in 2018. I can’t recall any prophet in this dispensation making this kind of reference in connection to missionary work taking place simultaneously on both sides of the veil, especially four times in half a year. The four links following the quotes are to the talks/articles where I found the phrase “both sides of the veil.” Italics were added.
Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.
President Nelson said the gathering of Israel ultimately means “offering the gospel of Jesus Christ to God’s children on both sides of the veil, children who have neither made crucial covenants with God nor received their essential ordinances.”
Building on his invitation to youth to participate in “the greatest work on earth today” to “help gather Israel on both sides of the veil” the prophet called on the women of the Church to join the cause.
The first time I caught him referring to our missionary work including those on the other side of the veil, I was surprised. The second time I heard it I took note. The third time he said it I thought, “This is a pattern.” Here we have a prophet who is inviting those on the other side of the veil of death to come and join us in seeking the Savior. I wonder if the temple work we do for our kindred dead acts in some way as an invitation for those on the other side of the veil. However it works, the purpose of the mortal and spirit worlds are being treated as parts of one larger world or scheme. This was something I had never before considered.
Traditionally, there are two distinct areas that each of us visit once we leave our premortal home and before our resurrection. First stop is earth, mortality, and the second stop is the spirit world. They are treated as two completely different places with completely different purposes. Most of the time people talk about the spirit world as a place where we rest from earthly cares and prepare for the resurrection. It is almost as if it is some kind of resort where the righteous get pampered and the wicked are in a dark, icky place where they suffer until the resurrection. This image, though basically true, is just not accurate.
I challenge the notion that what we refer to as mortality is really all that different from the spirit world. The problem we face is that we have extremely limited knowledge about what goes on in the spirit world. We don’t know what professions may be needed, how people are assigned to do certain tasks, or even if we need to eat. (Yes, eating is important to me.) With that said, let’s look at the purpose of why we are in this life in the first place. The Lord’s priorities will be what sets the agenda for us in the spirit world.
In the premortal realm we are taught that our purpose for leaving our heavenly home was to have our willingness to obey God’s commandments tested or proven in all things (Abraham 3:24-26).
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
As evidenced in verse 26 that test began while still in our first estate, the premortal realm. Only those of us who obeyed God in our first estate were able to come to earth as our next step. We kept our first estate by choosing God’s plan for our happiness. With our eyes wide open and our memories in tact, we chose to be obedient to God.
The purpose of mortality is to seek out the will of God and obey his commandments by learning about and accepting the covenants he offers us. All this has to be done with a veil of forgetfulness over our minds, so we have no accessible memory of our Father in Heaven. Then we have to remain faithful to those covenants for the duration of our earthly lives. That is what is referred to as enduring to the end. The process of teaching the will of God to others is accomplished through missionary work. Parents teach their own children, and missionaries seek out God’s children who are looking for what they are missing in their lives, spiritual food – the gospel of Christ.
The spirit world
Once we are through with mortality and have entered the spirit world what happens to us then? Here is a scriptural quote from lesson 41 in the Gospel Principles manual.
“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 from 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).
The righteous are defined as those who have accepted the covenants offered by God, and who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Here is the definition from the manual of those who go to spirit prison.
In the spirit prison are the spirits of those who have not yet received the gospel of Jesus Christ. 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 the spirit prison and dwell in paradise.
For some, spirit prison is just like living on earth without the gospel. They will be preached to by the spirits of the righteous, i.e. the members of God’s Church, and if they accept the gospel and live by its covenants they can move to a state of paradise as well. But the requirements are no different there than they are here. The blessings of righteous living don’t change because we are in a different location. Just as we cannot receive the blessings of the Spirit without obedience to the covenants we have made, so too will the spirits in the spirit world not receive the blessings of the Spirit unless they live by the covenants of the gospel. Peter referred to this as being judged just like those of us who are still in the flesh, while living according to God in the spirit (1 Peter 4:6).
6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
All spirits, whether good or evil rest from the sufferings and sorrows of the flesh. That blessing is only based on no longer being in the flesh, or in our bodies. Once we are in the spirit world we will not experience death, sickness, disease, deformity, hunger, fatigue, etc. Those are all physical conditions. But what we experience emotionally and spiritually is a completely different subject.
Those who have not repented of their sins, and those who have acquired earthly addictions of the mind and body, like drugs, pornography, alcohol, etc. will enter the spirit world still addicted. The problem is that the body, where the satisfaction from that addiction is rooted, is no longer with us. So we will have the cravings, the obsession, the need, but no way to satisfy it. This can take people into a very dark place. Only repentance can free those with addiction, but it is a slow and time-intensive process, for repentance happens at a much slower rate in the spirit world. It is slower because we are missing half of our soul in the repentance process.
So you pick. What do you think God’s priorities for all of His children are once they have come to mortality or have entered into the spirit world? Why did He send us down here in the first place? Remember Abraham 3:24-26 quoted above? I believe that is why we are here. The goal is to finish testing us or proving us to see if we will be obedient in all things before the day of our resurrection. That testing doesn’t end with mortality. It continues into the spirit world. In this regard there is no real difference between mortality and the spirit world.
Something that occurred to me recently is that most of humanity will spend far more time in the spirit world awaiting the resurrection than we will spend in mortality. Mortality is only the tip of the iceberg in comparison to the time we spend in the spirit world.
Another important point about the spirit world is that the overwhelming majority, the vast majority of God’s children will never even hear about the gospel of Christ until it is preached to them in the spirit world. So in that sense as well there is little difference between mortality and the spirit world. Even the location is the same, since the spirit world surrounds us here on earth.
What about missing our bodies? Again, both those in paradise and those in prison miss their bodies. They may miss them for different reasons, but we all miss our bodies after a while. This period of time in which we must live without our bodies gives us a better perspective on how important the flesh is to our eternal happiness and progression. In Doctrine and Covenants 138:49-50 President Joseph F. Smith relates his vision of the redemption of the dead. He states that the righteous, those who are covenant makers and covenant keepers (members of the Church) anxiously awaited Christ’s advent into the spirit world upon his death, because they considered their long absence from their bodies as a bondage. They were anxious to be resurrected.
49 All these and many more, even the prophets who dwelt among the Nephites and testified of the coming of the Son of God, mingled in the vast assembly and waited for their deliverance,
50 For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.
God’s first priority for His children is to teach them the gospel so they can be free from sin and become as happy as He is. This priority doesn’t change from premortal, to mortal, to postmortal life. Remember that His work and His glory are to bring about our exaltation and eternal life. Every step in the plan of salvation is designed to further those goals.
I mentioned that the scriptures are pretty mute on the subject of what goes on in the spirit world. But occasionally a modern-day prophet will mention something that gives us hints about the conditions we will face. Here is a quote from Brigham about how busy the members of the Church are in the spirit world.
Father Smith [Joseph Smith Sr.] and Carlos [Smith] and Brother [Edward] Partridge, yes, and every other good Saint, are just as busy in the spirit world as you and I are here. They can see us, but we cannot see them unless our eyes were opened. What are they doing there? They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere (DBY, 378).
That last sentence is the key. Those already in the spirit world are doing all in their power to prepare the way for “us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere.” Those in the spirit world “are preaching, preaching all the time.” Here is a quote in LDSLiving.com from an article about a vision Wilford Woodruff had of the spirit world.
Joseph Smith continued visiting myself and others up to a certain time and then stopped. The last time I saw him was in heaven. He came and spoke to me. He said that he could not stop to talk to me because he was in a hurry. The next man I met was Father Smith; he couldn’t talk to me because he was in a hurry. I met a half a dozen brethren who held high positions on earth, and none of them could stop to talk with because they were in a hurry. I was much astonished.
By and by I saw the Prophet again, and I got the privilege to ask him a question. “Now,” said I, “I want to know why you are in a hurry? I have been in a hurry all my life, but I expected my hurry would be over when I got into the Kingdom of heaven, if I ever did.”
Joseph said, “I will tell you, Brother Woodruff, every dispensation that has had the priesthood on earth and has gone into the celestial kingdom, has had a certain amount of work to do to prepare to go to the earth with the Savior when He goes to reign on earth. Each dispensation has had ample time to do this work. We have not. We are the last dispensation and so much work has to be done and we need to be in a hurry in order to accomplish it.”
Of course that was satisfactory with me, but it was new doctrine to me. (Discourse delivered at Weber Stake Conference, Ogden, 19 October 1896; as published in Deseret News Weekly, vol. 53, no. 21.)
Yes, we will enter the spirit world and find rest from all our earthly cares and sorrows. But a spa resort the spirit world is not. The great work or redemption for all of God’s children continues there in full force. Think about how many billions of people are currently living on the earth today. There are barely more than 16 million saints. There are literally thousands of people who live and die without ever even hearing about Jesus or his Church for every member of the Church. And this pattern has held true since the creation of Adam and Eve. There are many billions who need to be taught the gospel. And this effort of preaching to the spirits in prison couldn’t even begin until Jesus organized the missionary work that would allow the priesthood holders to preach to those in spirit prison. This only started two thousand years ago. The push is on to prepare the family of God for Christ’s second coming.
My point here is that when we think of mortality and the spirit world as being almost completely unrelated to each other, we are fooling ourselves. They are both part of one grand work. Just as Satan brought the war in heaven to earth with him, so too it continues in the spirit world. Those who haven’t had the gospel preached to them yet are still very susceptible to the influence of both Satan and the Spirit. All who have not been baptized can accept the gospel message, but they bring with them any preconceived prejudices and notions that the missionaries will have to work to dispel.
My suggestion is that when we think of the plan of salvation we think more in terms of the eternal view of mortality and the spirit world. The one is just a continuation of the other. Both have the same ultimate goal, the salvation of the souls of God’s children.