Gospel Principles 41: The Postmortal Spirit World

This seems to me like it would be a very hard lesson to teach for several reasons. First, consider this question from the manual:

What comfort do you receive from your knowledge that there is life after death? How can we use our understanding of the postmortal spirit world to comfort others [1]?

This question communicates to me (and my personal experience concurs with it) that the beliefs we hold about the postmortal spirit world are primarily for our own comfort; they do very little to change or shape our behavior on earth (as compared to our beliefs about, say, the Celestial kingdom, or resurrection). Furthermore the scriptures, and the teachings of the prophets and other church leaders on this subject can be wildly divergent [2]. I know many people who are generally very reluctant to accept or tolerate other church member’s non-orthodox beliefs who themselves hold beliefs about the spirit world that are not in the manual, and often even contradicted by the manual [3]. So not only are we dealing with a wide assortment of divergent individual beliefs, but those beliefs can be very very close to the heart due to the comfort and peace the beliefs provide at difficult times of one’s life.

In other words this seemingly innocuous lesson is full of landmines that can lead to heated disagreements, and very hurt feelings. My advice is to tread carefully and be mindful of those in your class who have dealt with unexpected and difficult deaths. (May I recommend looking through our series of posts on death.)

With that said, I would ordinarily move on to my lesson outline. However, I haven’t been able to think of any overarching theme, or narrative for this lesson to follow. So all I can really offer are few disjointed thoughts based off of the manual and the scriptures it references.

Thought #1
The manual suggests the following activity:

For teachers: To help class members or family members understand the differences between paradise and spirit prison, consider drawing a vertical line in the middle of the board or on a large piece of paper, making two columns. At the top of one column, write State of the Righteous. At the top of the other column, write State of the Wicked. Ask members to describe each state in the spirit world, based on their reading in this section. Summarize their comments in the appropriate columns.

I imagine the results would look something like this;
Paradise / Prison
Rest from cares / suffering
missionary work / hearing the gospel
family connections maintained / separateness or loneliness
In my experience the teacher almost always draws an arrow from the prison side to the paradise side to illustrate that repentance is an option and people are free to leave their sufferings behind them and enter paradise.
The manual then asks “How are conditions in the spirit world similar to conditions in this life?” I have sat through many many lessons on the spirit world, and done this list-making activity nearly every time, but not once has anyone asked that followup question (and sure enough, it isn’t in the old manual). Reading this I immediately thought of this comment from this recent post. It said:

The whole world shifted for me when I realized that “eternity” is all time. It is not something in the future, it includes the past and even more importantly “now”. I think about that with my “eternal family” or my “eternal marriage”. It is now. Do I have a happy family now, or a happy marriage now? Because if I don’t now – it’s not going to happen later.

This gets at an underlying truth, which is that living the gospel isn’t something we make ourselves suffer through now so that we can be happy later. Living the gospel is supposed to bring us joy now, and that the same way we experience that joy now we will continue to experience it after our death. And conversely, those who are unhappy and suffering because of their poor choices or sins will continue to suffer

Thought #2:
From our point of view death appears to be a very clean break. That once someone is dead they are ‘gone’ and only rarely do people get to connect with loved ones who have passed on. A few things in the manual such as:

President Brigham Young taught that the postmortal spirit world is on the earth, around us (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 279).


They have the same appetites and desires that they had when they lived on earth.

Indicate to me that perhaps it isn’t quite as clean a break when viewed from the other side [4]. There may be reason to believe that life just kind of keeps on going the same way it always did for people who have passed on. Which brings me to my next thought.

Thought #3:
Often when the idea that we keep all our same appetites and desires from mortality is mentioned someone will bring up the idea that this is another good reason to live the Word of Wisdom. The idea is that when you are addicted to cigarettes, say, and then die, after your death your spirit will still be addicted, but will no longer have a body with which to sate that addiction. Why doesn’t that same logic apply to food? I can imagine really really wanting a sandwich, but I wouldn’t have a body to eat it with. Does this mean that fasting might be practice for the time when we will want to eat food but no longer have a body to do it with?

Thought #4:
I have, on occasion, run into church members who derive some satisfaction out of the idea that those who are wicked will suffer in spirit prison. I understand the appeal of that thought, it can be gratifying to imagine that those who have done us wrong, or hurt us or others in some way will ultimately be victims of their own poor choices- that they will get what is coming to them. It feels fair- like justice is being done. While it can be an appealing thought, it is one we should try to move beyond. One of the additional scriptures listed at the end of the lesson is Moses 7:37-40 which is, I think, one of the most beautiful bits of scripture. Way back in verse 28 of that same chapter it says:
“… [T]he God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?” So Enoch asks the Lord: “How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” He’s basically saying, “You are God! What do you have to cry about?” God then describes the people and their wickedness and their suffering. Then at the end of verse 37 he answers Enoch and says “wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”
God derives no pleasure from the suffering of any, even the most wicked, of His children. Those of us who would call ourselves His disciples should strive to make that true of ourselves as well.

So, that’s all I’ve got. If anyone else has an overarching theme, or narrative to use for this lesson please feel free to share it in the comments.
[1] In discussing this question “How can we use our understanding of the postmortal spirit world to comfort others?” I would highly recommend reading Whoa-man’s Guide to Giving to Comfort from our death series a few months ago.

[2] For example one of the scripture reference listed with the lesson is Luke 16:19–31. In the parable Lazarus cannot breach the gulf between himself and the rich man, nor can the rich man repent or receive comfort. But D&C 138:30 describes the gospel being preached to those who are dead. I have heard countless people bear testimony that their relatives accepted their proxy baptisms and are now in paradise.

[3] The manual states “All spirits are in adult form. They were adults before their mortal existence, and they are in adult form after death, even if they die as infants or children (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 131–32).” But again, I have heard countless people bear testimony that they will be able to see and care for their late children as children. I don’t think they’re wrong, and I have zero interest in contradicting them on the subject.

[4] It makes me think of Professor Binns from Harry Potter:

“Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him.”

Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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23 Responses

  1. The manual states “All spirits are in adult form. They were adults before their mortal existence, and they are in adult form after death, even if they die as infants or children (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 131–32).” But again, I have heard countless people bear testimony that they will be able to see and care for their late children as children. I don’t think they’re wrong, and I have zero interest in contradicting them on the subject.

    Having a grown form doesnt mean you’re not still a child. We could call our teenagers grown up, but we still ahve responsibility raising them. (though on second thought, you’re probably meaning people who will raise babies as babies, the small form. Agreed, not worth arguing about, since emotions will undoubtedly run high)

    I think it will be interesting to be in a time/place where your parents or the elders of the community have to confirm you as grown up enough to be considered an adult.

    • Valerie says:

      I’ve read while studying for this lesson that in the millenium, those who have lost children will have the opportunity to raise them from childhood. Our spirits were in adult form in the premortal existance and those who died as children will again take up their bodies at the age they left them. Hopefully, I’ll run across the references again and will be able to post them.

  2. Chris says:

    It is helpful to remind ourselves (and our sisters) as we teach this lesson that we cannot judge how another will be judged by Christ. Hopefully, this will comfort those who worry about their children (or even their own) final destination.

    I like this quote by Elder Oaks in the Aug. 1999 Ensign, “First, I speak of the final judgment. This is that future occasion in which all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to our works (see 1 Ne. 15:33; 3 Ne. 27:15; Morm. 3:20; D&C 19:3). Some Christians look on this as the time when individuals are assigned to heaven or hell. With the increased understanding we have received from the Restoration, Latter-day Saints understand the final judgment as the time when all mankind will receive their personal dominions in the mansions prepared for them in the various kingdoms of glory (see D&C 76:111; John 14:2; 1 Cor. 15:40–44). I believe that the scriptural command to ‘judge not’ refers most clearly to this final judgment, as in the Book of Mormon declaration that “man shall not … judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord” (Morm. 8:20).”

  3. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Starfoxy for this outline. I really like your point that even though it may not seem controversial, that the subject has a lot of potential sensitive landmines.

  4. Gayle says:

    My lesson, again. I don’t really have a clue how I’ll present it. Much class discussion could open up cans of worms. Funeral pronouncements are not very reliable.
    I like J Golden Kimball’s quote: “I would like to preach a man’s funeral sermon while he is living; you can’t tell the truth about him when he is dead. I have given many a man a ticfket to the celestial glory that I knew wouldn’t take him half way.”
    I don’t plan to use the quote in my lesson, but it gave me something to think about. Good luck everyone!

  5. Gayle says:

    Oops. I love seeing typos after I’ve sent a message… Oh well.

  6. Lisa says:

    I appreciate your thoughts about this lesson. I also love the question about the similarities between our world and the spirit world. I think it is on purpose that Christ does not go to spirit prison but organizes the righteous to preach to those in spirit prison. The spirits in spirit prison have to have faith just like we do on earth. They don’t see Christ in person so “they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” D:&C 138:34. I’m going to use a lot of scriptures from section 138 in my lesson. It has such great descriptions of the spirit world.

  7. Mike H. says:

    They have the same appetites and desires that they had when they lived on earth.

    This is troubling to me in some ways. Having both depression & high functioning autism, what about those having distorted my thinking & relations with others? If I have distorted desires & feelings because of those, will those be taken away, as well? I get to review my life at that point, and look back at the things I messed up because of those problems? Maybe that will be just as miserable as mortality for some of us.

    • Pamela says:

      It does say we will be perfect in form I believe. Such as if you are missing an arm you will have one. We will be the way our spirits were made so I would assume perfect. SO is your head perfect? I have 3 children whom were miss treated when they were young. Their parents used drugs and more plus poor nutrition. the doctors say their brains do not funtion perfectly. I say that part will work just fine in the postmortal but they have their own appetites, passions which come out stronger here on earth due to their imperfections. I would hope they will be able to work on those in the porstmortal life. They will also, i guess, have to work on mending relationships they ruined with their bad behaviors.
      But these are only my thoughts how about someone else.

  8. Gayle says:

    Another thought…. I’ve read Luke 16:19-31 and a commentary on that section. I think it has lots of food for thought and could provide for an interesting class discussion.

  9. Susan Biggs says:

    What about this…The lesson states that all who had not received the Gospel will go to Spirit Prison. But Joseph Smith’s revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants shows many who have not yet received the Gospel but who would have if they had been given the chance, receive Celestial glory, which leads me to believe they are not in spirit prison, but, at least, in paradise. So, do good people, who never heard the Gospel, go to paradise or spirit prison?

    • Catherine says:

      Of course we know that missionary work is going on in the spirit world…
      Mormon Doctrine teaches us: “Repentance opens the prison doors to the spirits in hell; it enables those bound w/ the chains of hell to free themselves from darkness, ignorance & sin. As rapidly as they can overcome these obstacles-gain light, believe truth, acquire intelligence, cast off sin, & break the chains of hell-they can leave that hell that imprisons them & dwell w/ the righteous in the peace of paradise.”

  10. Valerie says:

    And so what about those who are wonderful, not wicked, but who did not accept the Gospel? e.g. Mother Teresa and other wonderful people not of our faith. It seems to me that there will be many righteous people in “spirit prison.” Is it possible that “prison” refers to the concept that until one is baptized and takes upon him or her the name of Christ, we are responsible to pay the price of our own sins. Even the most “righteous” are still sinners. The atonement of Christ frees the captives.

    In Fourth Nephi is an example:
    1 And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were abaptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.

    2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

    3 And they had aall things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

    Partaking of the atonement of Christ, which can be done as a result of baptism, has the potential of freeing us all from whatever our own personal prisons might be. In Mormon, 8:24, the prison were physical. I think the concept of prison is also spiritual.

    24 And he knoweth their prayers, that they were in behalf of their brethren. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word.

    Sorry for the long post, but wrangling with this lesson as many of you also. I appreciate the insights in the previous posts.

    • Hillary says:

      Hmm, not sure about that either. It’s all very confusing and speculative, isn’t it? I had a lesson earlier in the manual about the Atonement vs. exaltation, which basically said the Atonement is a free gift to everyone, righteous or not. But exaltation is only for the righteous who have kept all their covenants.

      I’m not sure how this applies to the paradise vs. spirit prison question to me. The manual says those who were righteous and received the gospel go to paradise, while those who were evil or rejected the gospel go to spirit prison. The problem here is judgment–I thought judgment was supposed to happen afterward, when you are assigned your “kingdom”. So are there really 2 judgments–one to send you to either spirit prison or paradise, and then one later to assign you to a kingdom. Is the only requirement for paradise acceptance of the gospel? If so, does that mean those like Mother Theresa would go to spirit prison, but presumably move out fairly quickly, and those who appeared to accept the gospel but made a lot of mistakes would just get a free pass to paradise on account of their gospel acceptance alone?

      • iw says:

        I have studied this same concept all week. I am a little late at posting this however. One source I read, a book titled The Life Beyond, page 18 quotes Joseph F. Smith saying “the whole spirit world – paradise included – is a spirit prison. The dead, having looked upon the long absence of their spirits from heir bodies as a bondage, are, in a sense, in prison.” This confused me more. I think the lesson manual uses the term “spirit prison” as a place for those who aren’t in paradise. They can move from spirit prison to paradise when they accept the gospel or repent. I think terms are often used to mean different things by different people. Just like outer darkness is different in the postmortal world than at judgment day. Just something to think about.

    • Sabrina says:

      The manuel states that “those who rejected the gospel after it was preached to them (earth or spirit world), will suffer for their own sins, which makes sense because they are chosing to suffer for their own sins, they rejected Christ and his atonement. It is their choice.

  11. Marissa says:

    Elder Nelson’s talk on this subject is also insightful.


  12. Alissa King says:

    I has to marinate on this post for a few days, then ended up with a blog post of my own about it. I love it. This post totally rocked my eternity 🙂


  13. Alissa King says:

    I don’t know where that yellow smiley guy came from. He is kind of freaking me out. Sorry!

  14. Anya Beauchat says:

    I found this in preparing for this lesson in regards to children spirits and raising them. I hope this helps clarify understanding a bit more for everyone. I know it did for me. This is Jan 1977 “The Spirit World, Our Next Home,” by Dale C Mouritsen.

    Apparently, there are no infants or children in the spirit world. All who reside there possess the stature of adult men and women, the same appearance they possessed prior to mortal birth. If infants or children die, their spirits immediately resume their former adult stature while in the spirit world. However, when they regain their bodies during the resurrection, they naturally come forth as children to be raised to maturity by righteous and worthy parents. President Joseph F. Smith explained this concept:

    “The spirits of our children are immortal before they come to us, and their spirits, after bodily death, are like they were before they came. They are as they would have appeared if they had lived in the flesh, to grow to maturity, or to develop their physical bodies to the full stature of their spirits. If you see one of your children that has passed away it may appear to you in the form in which you would recognize it, the form of childhood; but if it came to you as a messenger bearing some important truth, it would perhaps come as the spirit of Bishop Edward Hunter’s son (who died when a little child) came to him, in the stature of full-grown manhood, and revealed himself to his father, and said: ‘I am your son.’

    “Bishop Hunter did not understand it. He went to my father and said: ‘Hyrum, what does that mean? I buried my son when he was only a little boy, but he has come to me as a full-grown man—a noble, glorious, young man, and declared himself my son. What does it mean?’

    “Father (Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch) told him that the Spirit of Jesus Christ was full-grown before he was born into the world; and so our children were full-grown and possessed their full stature in the Spirit, before they entered mortality, the same stature that they will possess after they have passed away from mortality, and as they will also appear after the resurrection, when they shall have completed their mission.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Deseret Book Company, 1939, p. 455.)

    Some worry because departed children have apparently lost the privilege of courtship, marriage, and other opportunities. But revelations concerning the spirit world assure us that normal relationships leading to eternal sealings are an ongoing part of that life. Elder Melvin J. Ballard observed:

    “You mothers worry about your little children [who have died]. We do not perform sealings for them. I lost a son six years of age, and I saw him a man in the spirit world after his death, and I saw how he had exercised his own freedom of choice and would obtain of his own will and volition a companionship, and in due time to him, and all those who are worthy of it, shall come all of the blessings and sealing privileges of the house of the Lord. Do not worry over it. They are safe; they are all right.

  15. Anya Beauchat says:

    Here is more from the talk in regards to being able to raise children that have passed.
    “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’ There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 455–56. See also Teachings, pp. 196–97, 200, 368.) And so we should understand, in the words of Joseph Smith, that “the only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven [the spirit world] and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope.” (Teachings, p. 197.)

    This does not imply that people should be anxious to leave mortality, but it does suggest that parents who have lost children can be comforted by the truths of the gospel.

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