Probably the single most frightening thing in the whole world is death. Every generation since the days of Adam and Eve have had their entire lives to contemplate what would happen to them the moment they stopped breathing. Death does not need to be frightening. With a little tweaking of our perspective we can begin to view death as a door.
Death’s place in our lives
For a moment let’s look at just mortality, this little slice or segment of eternity. We all have experience with birth, because we have all been through it. We don’t remember the details, but we have photos and stories about our birth to help us feel comfortable with the process.
Most people believe birth marks the beginning of life, so they don’t really give any thought to what might have happened before birth. But what about what happens after death? Most of us have not experienced death yet, so it is still considered by many to be the final frontier. This is the great unknown. The problem is, there really isn’t a way to explore what happens after death then come back to report on it at will.
This sets death up to be the wall behind which lurks the “boogie man.” Death is the monster in the closet or under your bed. You live your life with the proverbial night light on to keep the monster at bay. This is how people feel about death, but it doesn’t need to be that frightening. We do have information in the scriptures and from our prophets who have taught us about death. They have told us what to expect and how to prepare for the experience.
Let’s first look at the nature of the human soul so we have a better understanding of how death fits into the plan of salvation we are all supposed to be so happy about. After all, it is referred to as the great plan of happiness (Alma 42:8), so shouldn’t there be at least some part about death that contributes to our overall happiness? Surely if it was the monster everyone paints it to be then death would have no rightful place in the plan of happiness, right?
The nature of the soul
Without getting into the nitty gritty of all our parts of existence, let’s start this discussion with our time as spirits. We all know that God, our Father, is Eternal, but so are we. We have always lived, and as eternal beings we can never cease living. We may progress from state to state, but we will always be alive. That is what it means to be eternal.
Our Father in Heaven clothed our native intelligence with a spirit body. In His presence we grew or increased in intelligence and righteousness until we had learned enough that in order to proceed further we needed to obtain a body like the one He has.
But gaining a glorified and perfected body is a two-step process. First, we needed to leave the world of spirits and be given a mortal body. Mortal bodies are meant to be temporary. Just as our native intelligence was clothed with a spirit body, now each of our spirits is clothed with a mortal body. It is the spirit the gives the mortal body life. The mortal body has no life in itself. We, as spirits, provide our bodies with the animation we call life. When our bodies stop working, for whatever reason, old age or some other cause, we leave our body. We call this departure from our body death.
Death is a separation. In the scriptures there are two main forms of death. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and were made to leave the Garden of Eden. This was both a physical and a spiritual death in that they were separated from the presence of God. All of us come to earth separated from God, which means we experience that same form of death upon entering mortality. Adam and Eve’s separation from God is known as The Fall. We are born into this world in a fallen state, in that we are separated from God while in mortality.
Adam and Eve, while in the Garden of Eden were eternal beings, in that they had physical bodies that could not die. Eating of the fruit changed the nature of their bodies and made them temporary or mortal. At some point their bodies would cease to function and they would have to leave their physical body and go back to just having just their spirit body.
These are the two forms of death: spiritual separation from God and literal separation from our body. At no point in this process to we ever cease to exist. We were an intelligence and were permanently clothed with a spirit body then we came to earth for a short time to have some experience with a mortal body. But we have to leave that body behind for the next part of our journey to take place.
Christ came to earth to perform His atoning sacrifice. This sacrifice made it possible for us to once again be able to enter back into the presence of God, our Father. This solved the problem with the first death or spiritual death. Then he was resurrected, which guaranteed that all of God’s children will be able to obtain, at some point after their death in mortality, an immortal body.
Mortal bodies cannot be permanently glorified because they are made of flesh and blood. Blood is a corrupting influence that ages the body, leading to death. Immortal bodies can be glorified, like God’s body is glorified because they are made of different materials. We say they are made of flesh and bone (D&C 130:22). But it first takes a mortal body to later make an immortal one (Alma 41:2; 11:44). This is why we are told that we will have our body restored to us, but in perfect form.
Where does death fit in?
In the time line that takes us from spirits to being glorified beings like our heavenly parents, we go from being a spirit, to a living soul, which is a spirit and a body together, to being just a spirit again, and finally to the resurrection where we become an immortal soul, a spirit with a glorified body. The resurrected, immortal soul is our final stage of growth. Once we are celestial, with a body like our heavenly parents, we can begin to progress in earnest to become like them.
Death is what takes us from being a temporary living soul back to being just a spirit. It is just one step of many we have to take along our path of progression. When we leave mortality we, in essence do what we did at birth. At birth we passed through the door or portal from the spirit world into our bodies in mortality. At death we leave our body behind and go back into the world of spirits. It is just for a short time. It won’t be long after we go back to being a spirit before we will receive the gift of resurrection, at which time we will become an immortal soul, being given our body back, but in resurrected, meaning glorified and immortal form.
Our nature in the post mortal spirit world
If you have ever spent time around little children you may have noticed that each child is born with their own unique personality. It is true that their upbringing and experiences will influence their final character, but their individual personality persists through all experiences of their life. Death does not change our basic nature. If we are humble and teachable here, when we die we will still be that way. If we are angry with God here, when we die we will still be angry with God. Death does not change our personality nor our attributes. The only thing that changes is our lack of a physical body to satisfy our mortal appetites. This is a problem for those who die with addictions. Addictions are not just traps for our bodies. They trap us emotionally as well. The sense of need is still within us, even if our body is no longer with us.
If we are obedient and faithful to the commandments of God, transferring from mortality back into being a spirit for a while will be a relief from the physical trials of this world. If we return to our spirit selves still ensnared in the traps of mortality, sin of any kind, the spirit world will be difficult for us, because our desires will still be the same, but without any way to fulfill them. There are no drugs, there is no pornography, there is no alcohol, etc. If we think trying to conquer smoking is hard with a body, try conquering that desire without a body. The emotional need is still there, but you are lacking the other half of yourself to give up the addiction. Difficult.
So death gets mixed reviews. To the wicked death may release them from the trials of this life, like it does for the righteous, but they have all their sins to deal with on the other side of the veil, but with only half of the equipment needed to handily fix their problems.
It is important to remember that when we enter our body it isn’t like slipping a hand into a glove. A hand can be removed from a glove with little effect on the hand or the glove. When a spirit enters a body the two become united, interwoven, one. What affects us physically also affects us spiritually. What affects us spiritually also affects us physically. Both our spirit and our flesh are affected together by any decision we make. We won’t truly comprehend just how much we depend on our body until we have spent some time away from it.
In D&C 138:50 it says, “For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” We can do so much more, feel so much more, with a body than we ever could with just our spirit body. To the righteous the entrance into the spirit world is a blessed relief from the cares of the world, but they are actually anxious to get their bodies back because the lack of a body slows their eternal progression.
There is no need to fear death unless the lack of obedience to God’s commandments has been an issue for you. To those who are obedient, death holds no fear or terror. It is just the next step closer to receiving the long awaited resurrected body we came here to get in the first place.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.