Sunday, September 20, 2009

Redeeming All Men

What is the eternal fate of those who died with no knowledge of Jesus Christ?

What is the eternal fate of little children who die before baptism?

What is the eternal fate of the "heathen nations" that never heard of Jesus Christ?

I testify that the atonement of Jesus Christ is for all men. It is for both the living and the dead. It is for those who have never heard His name. It is for little children who died before they were able to accept the gospel and be baptized.

Romans 14:9
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

1 Cor. 15:29
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

How do the dead hear the gospel of Jesus Christ? The scriptures talks about preaching in the spirit world:

1 Peter 3:19
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;

Clearly, there must be some reason for preaching the gospel to the dead. If they were lost, if there was no chance for repentance, why preach the gospel to them?

While pondering this scripture, Pres. Joseph F. Smith had the following revelation about this scripture:

Doctrine and Covenants 138:28-34

28 And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.
29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
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.
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
32 Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
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,
34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

I am thankful for the atonement of Jesus Christ that extends to all men, women, and children; both those living, and those dead. I am thankful for holy temples where we can perform the sacred ordinance of baptism for the dead. The Savior said, "...Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." John 3:5. He gave the commandment that we must be baptized to enter the kingdom of God. I am thankful that He also provided a way to save those who died without the chance.

(Baptismal font, Salt Lake Temple. The oxen represent the 12 tribes of Israel.)


Looney said...

Now you have me puzzled. My understanding is that there will be eternal punishment for those who reject Christ. Is Joseph Smith saying that in the end, hell will be empty of humans - that no one will suffer an eternal punishment?

Delirious said...

I'm going to try really hard not to write a book here. ;)

First, I just wanted to make a note that the scripture I quoted was received by Joseph F. Smith who was a nephew to Joseph Smith Jr. Joseph F. Smith was the son of Hyrum Smith, who was murdered in the Carthage, Illinois jail along with his brother Joseph. Joseph F. Smith was the 6th president of the church.

To begin to answer your question, I must explain that our doctrine about heaven and hell are somewhat different than the rest of the Christian world. We believe there are three degrees of glory, or three heavens that differ in glory. The highest degree is the "Celestial", the next lower is the "Terrestrial", and the lowest is the "Telestial".

1 Cor. 15:40-42 "40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead...."

Each heaven differs in glory, and correlates to the worthiness of its inhabitants. But only those of the highest glory will actually dwell with God, and have opportunity to continue to progress.
What most people think of as "hell" is the place where Satan and his angels will dwell.

What Pres. Smith was saying was that all mankind would be given the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and either accept or reject it. It seems hard to fathom, but there will be those who will reject it. There will also be those who accepted it in this life, but were not valiant in obeying the commandments, and won't repent. There may be some who will believe, but won't repent, or won't accept the ordinance of baptism. And too, there will be many who are taught the gospel in the spirit world, and will accept it, and repent of the sins they committed, and will accept the ordinance of baptism when it is done for them on the earth by proxy. Only God can judge whether someone had a fair chance to hear the gospel, and either accept it or reject it. At the judgement day, they will be assigned to the glory of which they have lived worthy.

When we speak about eternal punishment, part of that punishment comes in the form of being damned in progression. Another part of punishment comes if we aren't allowed to dwell with God. And of course, the hell where Satan will dwell is more like the eternal torture that most people connect with the term "hell". Alma 40: 13 teaches this about that place: "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."

But let me go back to the questions that I asked. Is it fair that someone should be damned simply because they never had the chance to hear about Jesus in this life? Is it fair that little children should be damned because they died before being taught about Jesus, or before being able to be baptized? And why would Jesus go to preach to the spirits in spirit prison, if there was no chance for them to repent? What would be the point of preaching to them?

Looney said...

Thanks for this answer. From the original post, I wasn't clear if Mormons were universalists or not: Universalists believing that all mankind will get to heaven sooner or later. In this view, we can reject Christ, die in our sins, and still be saved.

As for what is fair, I usually start with it is fair for me to suffer an eternal punishment for my sins, but Jesus intervened on my behalf. I know the orthodox view is that anyone who doesn't accept Christ while alive will go to hell. There is another common view that all who die before they are old enough to make some decision will go to heaven. I haven't felt a need to take a position on this matter since I am certain I will never have an opportunity to preach to the dead.