I am fascinated with the spirit world. I never tire of learning more about it. Although I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all my life, I have barely scratched the surface of understanding what the Lord has revealed on this subject already. In reading the Pearl of Great Price this morning, the subject of the spirit world came up again.
I have pondered on the idea of where the dead go many, many times over the years. It might be helpful to review what it is that Mormons believe about life after death. First, we believe that the spirit world is all around us, right here on the earth. Although God, our Heavenly Father is not limited to this earth, the spirits of those who have died remain here and are around us.
For some who may have never pondered this before, it can be a little disconcerting and causes them to feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it is true and has been taught by almost every prophet of the restoration since Joseph Smith first revealed it. Summarizing Alma 40:11-14 in the Book of Mormon, we learn that the land of the dead is divided up into paradise and hell.
The spirit world defined
Paradise is the abode of the righteous and hell is the dwelling place of the wicked. I know, this is basic stuff but it is fundamental to understand. In the days before the death of Christ these two worlds were separated by a great gulf. Those in paradise did not mingle with those suffering in hell. By the way, these two parts of the spirit world are only temporary until the resurrection.
When the Savior visited the spirit world in between his death and resurrection he bridged the gap between the two worlds. Those who were righteous were given assignments to visit those who were wicked with the express purpose of teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, they were given the opportunity to learn to exercise faith and to prove themselves obedient.
Joseph Smith taught, “Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits. The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.” He also said that the spirits of the just are not far from us. When we leave this world, we go out with the same spirit that we have here. We will have the same desires and beliefs when we get there.
The righteous dead can help us
As we know everyone will die some day, it seems to me that understanding this would be a topic of intense interest for all who desire to know what lies ahead and where we are going. We do not have to wait until we get there to discover what it is really like. There is so much revealed on the subject that we can be prepared for our entry there with anticipation and without surprise.
The great work of the spirit world is the preaching of the gospel to those who are imprisoned by sin and false traditions. The faithful elders who depart this life continue their labors of salvation for those who are in the spirit world. They share the gospel of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance of sins and false beliefs and the ordinance of vicarious baptism for the remission of those sins.
Loved ones who reside on the other side of the veil are very interested in helping us accomplish righteous purposes in this life. On occasion, they are allowed to influence us and inspire us in ways that we do not fully understand. We speak of the whisperings of the spirit. I wonder if sometimes those whisperings aren’t feelings that we receive from those who want to help us.
The influence of wicked spirits
In like manner, those who left this world with evil intent and desires of wickedness may also have more influence on those of like mind and heart still in this world than we sometimes think. I do not believe that the wicked who die just curl up in a corner and are out of the picture until the time comes that they are called forth by the Lord to the resurrection and final judgment.
I am convinced that some of the ideas for wicked creations and evil things that come forth from the mind and heart of man are really placed there by those who yearn to have a body again. I also have seen, as you probably have, how men and women can be influenced by evil spirits right in the middle of a conversation. It all depends on what spirit to which they are inclined to listen.
Now, not all of these kinds of thoughts come from evil spirits. Many come right from the mind of man. But don’t discount the idea that evil spirits can affect man. It’s not just an old sectarian notion. Perhaps an example from church history will illustrate that there are those on the other side of the veil who do not like what the Lord’s servants are doing here upon the earth.
Heber C. Kimball – vision of the devils
“…a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us. We gazed upon them about an hour and a half. . . . We were not looking towards the window, but towards the wall. Space appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions, with their leaders, who came within a few feet of us.
“They came towards us like armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form of feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate; and I shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain.
“I perspired exceedingly, my clothes becoming as wet as if I had been taken out of the river. I felt excessive pain, and was in the greatest distress for some time. I cannot even look back on the scene without feelings of horror; yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world.
“We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us. However, the Lord delivered us from them and blessed us exceedingly that day.” [Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888), p. 143–145] Quoted by S. Olani Durrant in Cliff Walking, BYU Speeches 1984.
Avoid things that invite the evil spirits
It never ceases to amaze me how many are naïve when it comes to understanding these things. They either do not believe it, deny it or ridicule it. “Devils? Hah! Evil Spirits? No such thing!” A full forty percent of the members of the church do not believe in the devil or evil spirits. Apparently they do not really believe the doctrine that we teach.
There are some activities we should avoid because they invite the devils into our lives. It has been my experience that the adversary is being especially effective in reaching the young men through video games that are focused on murder, evil and the occult. I hope that mothers of our boys will be careful about what games they buy for our young men.
I have also seen firsthand evidence of how the pursuit of “recreational” drug use can and does bring the influence of devils into the lives of those we love. A sweet and innocent young man can turn into a vicious, mean and selfish animal by participating in the drug culture and partaking of substances that open their souls to let the devils get inside.
Summary and conclusion
There are individuals who are spiritually sensitive and can perceive the presence and influence of spirits from the world around us. Most of us do not see or hear anything. It is just something we feel. We can tell you when someone is under the influence of a wicked spirit or two, sometimes just by their behavior or attitude. It can be painful.
And then there are times that we know we are receiving impressions from the spirit of the Lord or from messengers he has sent to help us. The Lord can answer our prayers any way he wants to. Sometimes, flashes of inspiration and ideas flow into our mind after we have asked for help in solving a problem or understanding something that is difficult.
I am not the only member of the church who is familiar with the things of the spirit world. It is a large part of my life. There are many things we know but just don’t share because they are too sacred. However, I know that the spirit world is real. I know that we can and are influenced by those living beyond the veil – either for good or for evil.