I went out with the missionaries tonight and ended up having a very interesting discussion. Over the course of our conversation one of the young elders said he believed that because God is a God of mercy, most of His children would be saved in the Celestial Kingdom.
He said he viewed it as an upside down triangle where most people enter in and only a few go to “Hell.” Curious, I asked what brought this missionary to this conclusion. He said he’d been taught this idea at BYU by his religion professor and by many others in the church throughout his life.
The church states the following on its website on the topic of Heaven and Hell:
“Will I go to heaven?” Yes! God will judge all men fairly and reward them appropriately with a place within His kingdom.
I think the declaration on its website, using an exclamation mark that “Yes!, everyone will go to heaven,” begs the question, “Do Mormons really believe in Hell?” Based on the church’s comment above coupled with prevalent teachings I hear from others in the church, I’d have to say we technically do not. But is this truly what the scriptures teach? For example:
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. (2 Nephi 28:22)
I should make a caveat here. I do not believe the church is teaching, like my young missionary friend, that all or most will go to the Celestial Kingdom. I think the church is claiming that ALL will go to a kingdom of glory, or in their own words, all will enjoy a degree of Heaven, far better than this earthly existence.
So where did this teaching or idea come from? All of us are familiar with the faith promoting rumor often attributed to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young “that if we could see the Telestial Kingdom, we would be tempted to kill ourselves to get there.” Here’s what a quick search on Holy Fetch brings up to provide some background on this teaching:
“There may be some truth to this statement, but the only record we have of it being uttered, unfortunately, is a third-hand account from Charles W. Walker in 1877. He wrote the following in his journal:
And on Friday last while speaking at the Funeral of Matilda Moody [Brother Woodruff] said we should improve the present time and do all we could for our dead ere death called us away. He referred to a saying of Joseph Smith which he heard him utter (like this) That if the People knew what was behind the vail, they would try by every means to commit suicide that they might get there, but the Lord in his wisdom had implanted the fear of death in every person that they might cling to life and thus accomplish the designs of their creator.”
You’ll note that this statement was recorded more than 30 years after it was allegedly originally said, and that it’s Brother Charles Walker, saying what he “heard” Brother Woodruff at a funeral, recall what he heard Joseph Smith say. That makes this statement now (coming from me) fourth hand information. Yet, the idea the Telestial Kingdom is a kingdom of incomprehensible glory it seems has become our doctrine. This is in large part, in my opinion, because of this idea from what we “heard” Joseph once taught.
Despite disagreements over how many are saved in each kingdom, I think most of us agree that all of God’s children do go to one of the three kingdoms of God, namely the Telestial, Terrestrial, or Celestial, save those sons of perdition (D&C 76). But, the question becomes whether the Telestial Kingdom is a literal kingdom of glory or if it is Hell, where its entrants experience eternal torment and endless punishment.
Endowed members will recognize the statement that the Telestial Kingdom is “the world in which we now live.” I think this is a very strong clue. Is this fallen world glorious?
I like Paul’s and other prophets’ descriptions on the subject. There are those whose “bodies” are Celestial and Terrestrial, who condescend to this world with great advantages, and yet who will make great sacrifices for the progression of less advanced spirits being tried and proven in this dark and fallen world (see 1 Nephi 1:9-10).
I think if we had any idea what the eternal implications of our being “sentenced” to here were (rather than “called” perhaps), I think we would preach day and night to ensure that NO ONE, not a single SOUL, would be required to come here without great protection and advantages.
Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble. (Mosiah 28:3)
I personally do not believe that all of God’s children go to “Heaven.” I am of course using a different definition than the church for the term in question. I disagree with the general way this doctrine is now taught and apparently understood in the church. I sincerely believe it is dangerous to faith and to our growth. If in fact true, ironically, the LDS Church may be the only church I know of that does not believe in Hell.
Here are some more good scriptures on this topic:
Thanks for posting truth.
Anonymous Bishop: I would like to read your take on the church’s gospel topics essays. Step forward toward historical accuracy? Insufferable apologetics? Won’t make a difference? Did you get the recent memo from headquarters about them? Would you refer a questioning member there?
You know.. if I didn’t know better, I would guess from their glitzy PR efforts that the LDS Church was made up of nothing but minorities #overkill
Questioner – I do not generally approve of the church’s gospel essays and plan to do a post on some of those topics in the future. I think Snuffer’s post on Race and the Priesthood is dead on. You can read that here: The church conveniently does not mention who writes these essays, nor whether they are revelations or even inspired. And yet, they “condemn past leaders” doctrinal interpretations. I think it is an attempt to tweak the brand. I’m all for correcting past false doctrines, but let’s not also teach at the same time that a prophet can’t lead us astray, “the Lord won’t allow it.” To your question about memos to bishops this is an interesting article from the Salt Lake Tribune from yesterday. I would not tell a member to go the website for an answer to any of those questions, although bishops are trained to do so. Thanks for your comments!
Yes. Strange. Very brand self-conscious.
You may find this related post interesting, particularly toward the end.
I share your concerns with the impression that is given, whether intentionally or not, that we are collectively saved conditional upon some basic directives such as “do your home teaching”, “read your scriptures”, “attend your meetings”, “go to the temple”, “pray daily”, and so forth.
With regards to glories and kingdoms I’d like to share some thoughts.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20–21
I do not believe that God’s Kingdom is a realm or place designated for those found worthy, but rather the Kingdom is a state of comprehension and communion with the Holy Spirit. It is likewise with Hell. Individuals who cling to attitudes such as self-justification or diffusion of responsibility fail to comprehend God. Their own behaviors turn against them and encourage disharmony, discordance, and distrust with others around them. There does not need to be a sentencing and forced expulsion because Hell is within and will naturally seek her own.
“The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in and by him.” Doctrine & Covenants 88:49
If you comprehend the light shining in the darkness you may know Heaven here, even in the face of great adversity, like those of Enoch. If you are in darkness, Hell is within and follows even in the light and company of those who comprehend no matter what sphere that might be.
I can think of no better example of this than C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” to illustrate this. If you wish to understand the nature of Heaven and Hell and confront your own ‘uncomprehending’ then you need to read this book.
Define Hell. I don’t think it means what you think it means.
I really like Ian’s thoughts on this above. I do agree that most of us really don’t have a great understanding of hell and kingdoms, etc., including myself. I think it has a lot more to do with “bodies” than it does kingdoms (as in places, per se). Your body is your kingdom perhaps. Jesus, with His body, decided to come down and having been born with great “advantages,” was capable of making an infinite sacrifice for those of us who are less glorified and less intelligent.
In speaking of the Telestial “Kingdom” D&C 76 states:
“These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.
These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work;”
This clearly sounds like Hell to me. And to obtain this Hell one can actually believe they are indeed righteous:
“…of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas….of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch…”
But because they “received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant,” they are cast down to hell.
I do believe that God, in His eternal mercy, is patient with His children and will await whatever time it may take each of us to awake and arise while in a state of probation. But I also believe in Hell and hope to escape it.
I think a big part of the problem is that most of us mix christian theology with the scriptures and words of the prophets. These are “The philosophies of men mingled with scripture” but because “all truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it” and all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole” these ideas of men and the truths of God are not compatible. We rarely think deeply enough about the doctrine to realize just how incompatible these apostate ideas are with the truths of the gospel. For example I am proud to say with full conviction that “Mormons don’t believe in hell.” because we do not believe in the Christian theological idea of hell. D&C 19:4–12 came as an answer to questions by the saints about the nature or existence of Hell. It clearly states that there is no such thing as the christian version of hell.
Where these doctrines get twisted to our condemnation is when we use them to justify sin, rather than to glorify Christ.
Christ will give us all the resurrection but this does not mean we will all be happy about it. I do have to disagree with the author when he seems to indicate that the telestial kingdom is not “heaven” yes it is. It is a kingdom of glory. The problem is that no one inherits this glory until after they have paid the “uttermost farthing” for their own sins. But the Telestial kingdom(s) will be places of peace and joy. sadly those who in herit that kingdom and did not receive the atonement of christ in this world or the next will suffer the full brunt of their own sins. This is because sin brings about consequences, and those consequences must either be delt with by the atonement, or by ourselves. this is how God describes it in D&C 19:15–20:
“I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 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—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power….”
So I just want to say that you and the missionary are both right to a point, and also wrong to a point. Most people will go to hell, and then they will eventually emerge and go to heaven.
I also want to mention that the old temple ceremony used to have a declaration by Adam that he did not believe in Hell, at least not in the christian idea of it. These lines were removed after the “Preacher” was removed as a character. (If you want to know more about the temple and the changes see the article at http://gospelfullness.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/the-holy-temple/ )
If you look at D&C 19 and at this explanation in the temple endowment it is clear that mormonism has never believed in “hell” as it is understood and described by most of the world. Joseph Smith the Prophet put this problem most poetically when he said:
“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be…”
I want to point you to Kabbalah as a place where the kingdoms are explained as bodies, and their prototypes also exist in our bodies now. Hinduism also has taught these ideas for millennia, but these are only the fragments remaining from the great apostasy, if you want full understanding of these doctrines you must seek a true prophet who has enquired on the Lord on the matter.
There have been powerful and glorious revelations received by true prophets in the last few years on this topic. Though these prophets are hidden because of the wickedness of the world. I belong to a group of latter-day saints who are building united order communities in preparation to become a zion people. We have temples where the full ordinances are still performed in their purity, we are led by prophets and apostles who truly prophesy see and reveal. If you are interested in being a part of this and truly humble yourself to receive a witness of this work for yourself, then I invite you to contact me and we will discuss how you can learn more.
I have read Section 76 for about 10 years now with this world in mind for the Telestial Kingdom and it works well at every passage. We are lower level beings which depend on the Terrestrial level (Christ) for our instruction. The only thing that makes sense is for us to repeat Telestial Kingdoms until we get it right. I take some solace thinking about the truly good people who are here in the Telestial World with me. I remember thinking about it out loud at Church one day and got an ear full of the kind of stuff we are famous (at least amongst ourselves). I think he drew the old false Plan of Salvation chart for me as a review. In every ward there are several who will defend the folklore traditions of our gradual apostasy with great zeal and never consider any “new” ideas much less discuss them. Now the time of understanding is coming quickly. The Lord is changing us and quickening both timelines and minds. I am no exception. My mind is changed. The corporate church has done a pretty good job of organizing us, but the Lord will teach us through His Spirit for things to change in the right direction.
I will be a voice to say Nay to the Denver Snuffer juggernaut. He just doesn’t ring completely true to me. Not quite. He has picked off someone I admire much and his research is not as great as it could be. However, he is one of us. He is part of the change which must take place. I would also like to be a voice of caution. As I have discovered things in the past 10 years, anger and contention has welled up in me. You have bordered on contention and anger in your posts and I caution you and all of us to remain patient and loving toward all men (especially our Mormon clan). It’s OK to be more understated.
With Love etc.
Ian and SalemManoftheCloth,
I really appreciate what both of you written here. Thank you for your insights and the manner in which you delivered them.
While I understand that the church has an “open canon” of scripture, why has there always been so much confusion as to what the basic doctrines of the church are? Why does the church leave it to private sector, and voluntary apologist groups (i.e. Fairmormon) to tackle deep and even controversial topics and historical issues?
As to the nature of Heaven, living in some of the nicer parts of the world (even in its “Telestial” state) while having a resurrected, immortal body would in my estimation be quite pleasant!
From what I have observed, a lot of folks don’t go to church because of boredom there, too many busywork assignments, endless meetings, etc. Do we really believe that those who are “active” (who may just be the ones who have a high tolerance for boredom, repetition and the like) really
have some sort of “leg up” spiritually?
Great question! I’ve recently heard that very concern from a very sincere investigator who is struggling with the idea of modern prophets anyway. If we have prophets, why do we need to defer to apologists, scholars, and lawyers on such topics?