Not everyone who believes in life after death finds it a rosy proposition. Hamlet called it the “undiscovered country,” about which our uncertainty “makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of”(III.i.81-84). Fortunately, since Hamlet’s time (or rather Shakespeare’s), the Lord has revealed much about what happens to us after we die. Death does have a specific destination, and we can take comfort in knowing that God’s arms of mercy can reach us even beyond the grave.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. (Alma 40:12)
In contrast to spirit paradise, Alma explained that those who chose wickedness while alive would have a far different experience in what could be called spirit prison:
Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection. (Alma 40:14)
Spirit prison is also the destination of those souls who did not willfully rebel against God, but who never had the chance to embrace His Gospel because they never had it preached to them. Part of what makes spirit prison so awful for the wicked, described by Alma, is knowing they will have to account for their evil deeds in life. This same feeling of terror, however, will not necessarily be experienced by those who were merely ignorant of Jesus Christ and never had a chance for baptism. All the same, spirit prison will not be a desirable final dwelling place. There is, thankfully, a way out.
Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as Mormons), had a vision revealing to him where Christ went from the moment He died on the cross until He was resurrected. Jesus Christ spent those three days organizing righteous spirits to go and preach the Gospel to those that were in spirit prison. President Smith recorded:
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. 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. (D&C 138:31-32)
God desires to give us every opportunity to return to His presence. We need not fear death, knowing that God is in charge, and all who die will have a fair opportunity to embrace His Gospel in its fullness.