I've been thinking about my beliefs about life after death. I can't really talk about them in church settings because they aren't necessarily doctrine. That doesn't mean they couldn't be right, it just means I can't really teach or discuss things that we don't have doctrine to back up. So my husband and I have these discussions, but for the most part I don't talk about them. For that reason, I wanted to write about it on this blog, instead of my religion blog.
I think my beliefs have been largely influenced by "Near death experience" books that I have read. Some of the books have been by LDS authors, but most haven't. But across the board there tend to be some similarities between their experiences, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Most people who have had near death experiences talk about going through a tunnel, and going towards the light. Personally I have always thought that this was the spirit exiting the body. The spirit leaves the body and enters the spirit world, where there is light.
We do have some latter day doctrine about life after death. Joseph Smith, in the Doctrine and Covenants taught: "7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; 8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter." Doctrine and Covenants 131: 7,8. Brigham Young taught, "Where is the spirit world? It is right here" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 376). With these two thoughts in mind, I have always looked at the spirit world this way: First of all, if we look at the human body, we see that it is physical, but also has a spirit. The earth is the same. It has a physical body, and a spirit. That spirit of the World can also be called the "spirit world". If spirit is discernable only by "purer eyes", then too, the spirit world must be discernable only by purer eyes.
So what do we do once we get to the spirit world? In our religion we believe that spirits are involved in missionary work, helping other deceased people to come unto Christ. They are also involved in temple work in some way. Many people have felt their presence in the temple. I have always wondered if they acted as guides for those whose temple work is being done. So we do believe they are involved in the work of the gospel, but what else?
I believe that some of what we do when we are in the spirit world is to heal from things we experienced in this life. Most people talk about having been through a "life review". They get a chance to see how their actions influenced others, for good or bad. But I believe too that they get the opportunity to learn why they acted the way they did, and learn how to change. For example, if someone had an addiction in this life, when they die they are taught what it was about their personalities that made them addicted. They get a chance to see where their personalities got off course, and to see how to change. Remember, this isn't doctrine, this is my own personal opinion. But I often think to myself, when someone dies who has many personal problems, that when they are on the other side of the veil, they will have help in seeing how to overcome those problems.
One key element of our religion is that we do believe that spirits can repent, up until the time of the judgement. However, it is more difficult to repent in the spirit world, than to repent in this life. If a person were a kleptomaniac in this life, and stole from people, the way he could repent is to give back what he stole, and confess. But once that person dies, they can't make restitution. That makes repentance more difficult. It isn't impossible, but it is more difficult. The atonement of Jesus Christ is great enough to reach to all of mankind, both the living and the dead. But after the day of judgement, no more work can be done. Another aspect of repenting when dead, is that in some cases, without the temptation, it is difficult to prove that one has turned away from that sin. Without the temptation present, how can one make the choice to turn away from it? How can one demonstrate their repentance? So that is the difficulty in repenting in the spirit world. I think in that way, the atonement of Jesus Christ is needed even more.
I do believe that spirits are also concerned about their loved ones on this side of the veil. I know from family experiences that my deceased relatives are worried about their wayward, or suffering live family members. I don't know what influence they have, or what good they can do to help us, but I do know that they pray for us, and they try to exert their faith and love as a comfort for us.
I also believe that when we die, we will spend a large amount of our time learning. I believe that we will be allowed to continue to learn, just as if we were to attend a university. I don't know how it is set up in the spirit world, but I believe we can continue to learn.
One thing we do believe about the spirit world is that there are two sections. There is what the Savior referred to as "Paradise", and also what is referred to by Peter as "Spirit Prison". I think this is what most of the world thinks of as "heaven" and "hell". In the Book of Mormon we are taught:
"11 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.
12 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 from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. Alma 40: 11,12
I don't know the requirements for getting in to paradise, versus going to spirit prison, but I do believe that once a person repents of whatever put them in spirit prison, they are allowed to enter paradise. We also believe that missionary forces,as organized by Jesus Christ, are sent to spirit prison to preach the gospel. 30 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. Doctrine and Covenants 138:30
I know that much of what I believe about life after death is merely speculation, but some of it is also natural deduction after learning some gospel doctrine on the matter. I'm not in any hurry to find out for myself, but I do find it interesting to think about what the spirit world is like.