Recently Looney made the comment (and by the way, I appreciate the conversations I have had with Looney. He is respectful, and thinks deeply about the subjects.) that he didn't believe that the dead can repent. I understand his point of view, and in fact the Book of Mormon teaches, "32 For behold, 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." Alma 34:32. But is repentance after death possible? And what about those who died without a knowledge of the Savior? Are they damned? We believe that repentance after death is possible up until the time of the judgement, although more difficult for those who had a knowledge of the gospel in this life. Alma also taught, "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." Alma 34:34 If we have developed a sinful character in this life, it will be difficult to correct those character flaws in the spirit world. It is still possible, but it is easy to see why it would be difficult.
I enjoyed reading this talk by D. Todd Christofferson about the redemption of the dead. I wanted to share a few excerpts from it. But as I read, I found that many of the footnotes included some great scriptures and quotes, so have inserted some of them too as part of the text. I have included the footnotes in parenthesis.
"Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the countless billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus? 1 (John Sanders, introduction to What about Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized, by Gabriel Fackre, Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders (1995), 9. There are several theories concerning the "unevangelized" dead, ranging from an inexplicable denial of salvation, to dreams or other divine intervention at the moment of death, to salvation for all, even without faith in Christ. A few believe that souls hear of Jesus after death. None explain how to satisfy Jesus’ requirement that a man must be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:35). Lacking the knowledge once had in the early Church, these earnest seekers have been "forced to choose between a weak law that [allows] the unbaptized to enter heaven, and a cruel God who [damns] the innocent" (Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity , 101).) ( I would add that not only would that be a God that allows the unbaptized, but also the unrepentant in to heaven.)
With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be "a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also." 2 While yet in life, Jesus prophesied that He would also preach to the dead. 3 (25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. John 5:25)
Peter tells us this happened in the interval between the Savior’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. 4 (18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;1 Peter 3:18,19)
President Joseph F. Smith witnessed in vision that the Savior visited the spirit world and "from among the righteous [spirits] … 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. … "These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, [and] the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands." 5 (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.
33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, D.C 138:30,33)
The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian. In the baptism of a living person, the officiator acts, by proxy, in place of the Savior. And is it not the central tenet of our faith that Christ’s sacrifice atones for our sins by vicariously satisfying the demands of justice for us? As President Gordon B. Hinckley has expressed: "I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle." 8
34 ¶ Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34,35)
"Doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price." 21 Our Lord "inviteth … all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." 22
It is inconceivable that this invitation, universally extended in life, would be rescinded for those who had not heard it before they died. With Paul, we are persuaded that death poses no such obstacle: "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, … shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38,39)
D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," Liahona, Jan 2001, 10–13
I have a testimony that Christ's atonement is extended to all men, even those who have died. This is why it is referred to in the Book of Mormon as an "Infinite atonement".
9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world. Alma 34:9-12
I am thankful for the atonement of our Savior that makes salvation possible for all who have ever lived on this Earth. I am thankful that those of my ancestors who died without a knowledge of Jesus Christ, may also be saved.