There are so many ideas about heaven, including the “it doesn’t exist” theory. Some picture us floating on a cloud, others picture it all ending in a cold, dark grave.
Let me shed some light on the subject, literally.
Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. Prior to our birth, we dwelled as spirit children with our Father in Heaven. There we eagerly anticipated the possibility of coming to earth and obtaining a physical body. Knowingly we wanted the risks of mortality, which would allow the exercise of agency and accountability. “This life [was to become] a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God.” (Alma 12:24.) But we regarded the returning home as the best part of that long-awaited trip, just as we do now. Before embarking on any journey, we like to have some assurance of a round-trip ticket. Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through—and not around—the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live. (See 2 Corinthians 6:9.) As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in heaven. (Russell M. Nelson, “Doors of Death,” Ensign, May 1992, 72)
Phase 1: Paradise
Right after we have shuffled off this mortal coil we go to a place called Paradise, which Alma described as
11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
12 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 40:11–12.)
Paradise is pretty much a weigh station. Remember when the Savior was hanging on the cross?
39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)
Did you ever wonder why a thief would be in Paradise with our Lord God, Jesus Christ? This is why. Paradise is not heaven, but it is that place where we shall be between our mortal death and the resurrection.
Phase 2: Resurrection
Some facetiously state that nothing is as permanent as death. Not so! The grip of physical death is temporary. It began with the fall of Adam; it ended with the atonement of Jesus the Christ. The waiting period in paradise is temporary, too. It ends with the resurrection. From the Book of Mormon we learn that the “paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls.” (2 Nephi 9:13.) (Russell M. Nelson, “Doors of Death,” Ensign, May 1992, 72)
Ezra Taft Benson, the prophet from 1985 to 1994, stated the following about the resurrection:
There is the ever-present expectancy of death, but in reality there is no death—no permanent parting. The resurrection is a reality. The scriptures are replete with evidence. Almost immediately after the glorious resurrection of the Lord, Matthew records: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Matthew 27:52–53.) (Ezra Taft Benson, “Life Is Eternal,” Ensign, Aug 1991, 2)
Jesus Christ, the first to be resurrected, broke the bands of death caused by Adam’s Fall. Upon His resurrection, others were resurrected and seen in the city of Jerusalem. This promise was given to us as well. At our appointed time our spirits and bodies will be reunited in perfect harmony, our bodies “shall be restored to [their] proper and perfect frame.” (Alma 40:23; see also Alma 11:42–45.) Proper and perfect frame . . . oh, I cannot wait for that day!
Phase 3: Judgment
This is the phase of life, and yes premortality – mortalitly – postmortality consist of one life, is the one everyone seems to hold some dread in their heart.
Elder Nelson went on to say,
Our resurrection will not be an end but a new beginning. It will prepare us for judgment by the Lord, who said, “As I have been lifted up [upon the cross] by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works.” (3 Nephi 27:14.)
Even before we approach that threshold of the eternal court of justice, we know who will personally preside: “The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
“And whoso knocketh, to him will he open.” (2 Nephi 9:41–42.)
Now is the time to prepare for the day of our judgment. Taking stock of your life right now, what must you do to attain the highest level in the three degrees of glory? It may not be as complicated as you think. Elder Nelson was once in plane plummeting toward the earth and these are the thoughts that went through his head,
One of its engines suddenly burst open and caught on fire. The propeller of the flaming engine was starkly stilled. As we plummeted in a steep spiral dive toward the earth, I expected to die. Some of the passengers screamed in hysterical panic. Miraculously, the precipitous dive extinguished the flames. Then, by starting up the other engine, the pilot was able to stabilize the plane and bring us down safely.
Throughout that ordeal, though I “knew” death was coming, my paramount feeling was that I was not afraid to die. I remember a sense of returning home to meet ancestors for whom I had done temple work. I remember my deep sense of gratitude that my sweetheart and I had been sealed eternally to each other and to our children, born and reared in the covenant. I realized that our marriage in the temple was my most important accomplishment. Honors bestowed upon me by men could not approach the inner peace provided by sealings performed in the house of the Lord.
That harrowing experience consumed but a few minutes, yet my entire life flashed before my mind. Having had such rapid recall when facing death, I do not doubt the scriptural promise of “perfect remembrance” when facing judgment. (Alma 5:18; see also Alma 11:43.)
Are you living your life in such a way that you could look the Savior in the face and say, “I have served Thee and loved Thee. I have done the very best I could. I have done the work for my ancestors in the temples. We were sealed in the temple and all of our children were born in the covenant. I have raised my family up unto Thee. I wasn’t perfect, but every day I tried to follow in Thy footsteps. Every day I tried to serve my fellowman. Every day I loved Thee and I am ever thy faithful servant.”
I know I have done all that, but am I done? No. I’m not perfect and so every day I get up and think to myself, what does my Savior need me to do today. Following President Thomas S. Monson’s suggestion to take care of the Lord’s tasks first, I have found I accomplish much, much more in any given day.
I am determined to return to the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. That means I do what I set out to do when I left heaven. I work. I learn. I study. I pray. I grow.