The Active Afterlife of the Restored Gospel

Vietnamese depiction of the Pure Land, the Mahayana Buddhist paradisiacal afterlife

Egyptian depiction of the Field of Reeds, the ancient Egyptian paradisiacal afterlife

While I’m open to the idea of “sacred envy,” where we see things in other faith traditions and communities that we wish we had, that shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing places where we feel our own faith gets it right where most don’t; it is the faith we have chosen after all. Some of the big ones here for me are: Heavenly Mother, collapsing the ontological distance between divinity and humanity, and an active afterlife.  

I have a casual interest in artistic, cultural, and religious depictions of the afterlife and paradise (and, as a related note, in the fact that Near Death Experiences often tap into the person’s religion-dependent version of the afterlife, but another post for another day). They can be genuinely inspiring; for example, Gladiator’s depiction of the Elysian fields or The Northman’s depiction of Valhalla and yes, Touched by an Angel.

A defining characteristic running through the paradisiacal depictions of classical faiths is largely one of rest, and I get it. In societies where the vast majority of the population is scrapping by along the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, having ground that brings forth fruit spontaneously without weeds makes sense as the most ideal existence imaginable, and a long time of blissful rest especially makes sense when I think of people I know who have had earthly lives of unremitting physical and emotional pain and toil. But what happens after the batteries are recharged? 

About a week ago I was at a family reunion in the High Uintas in Utah. The weather was perfect, the trees swaying, the sky blue, and the sun bright while I watched my kids playing in a glass-clear river with cousins. It was a very Edenic experience. 

After a half hour I was bored. 

Non-member physicist (and fan of the Book of Mormon) Freeman Dyson wrote that “no matter how far we go into the future, there will always be new things happening, new information coming in, new worlds to explore, a constantly expanding domain of life, consciousness and memory.” This kind of eternity of action is one of our underappreciated, relatively unique doctrines, that the afterlife is not simply one of eternal rest in the divine presence, but has an active, generative, ongoing component. 

D&C 130 famously teaches that “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory.” Humans are an action and people-oriented species. Once we retire our cognition declines, when our spouse dies our health suffers, and being confined away from other human beings is one of the most painful psychological tortures available. As we’re the same species as the Gods, I don’t see why these fundamental characteristics would be any different after our apotheosis. 

Revelations beautifully and powerfully talks about a scene after this earth’s mortality when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” However, Terryl Givens points out that the Latter-day Saint God is one with human emotions who does indeed continue to weep as seen in Moses 7. Therefore, on some level, sorrow and crying do not pass away after exaltation, as it is very clear that God exhibited immense sorrow because of the decisions of His children. 

Maybe in the exalted afterlife we can have celestial retirement hobbies, as it were, and periods of rest like the Gods did on the seventh day,  but real purpose requires real consequences, and that’s provided by the “One Eternal Round” cosmology of the restored gospel.

19 comments for “The Active Afterlife of the Restored Gospel

  1. I am not trying to be rude or annoying but how does our LDS “afterlife” work for us ladies when it appears that we will need to share our “Eternal Companions” with many other women.

    When I finally found out about this, the missionaries seemed to leave this out of my pre-baptism lessons, I said no thanks I will keep my birth religions Heaven.

    This is an honest comment and an honest question.

  2. Assuming this is a sincere question, I can’t chapter and verse it off the top of my head but the General Authority consensus is that nobody will be in a relationship that they don’t want to be in in the hereafter.

    It is true that there are complexities involved with widows and widowers that we don’t quite understand, but frankly that problem persists whether you’re Mormon or not as long as you believe in any sort of afterlife marriage. If your great-great-great grandmother was married twice and dearly loved both of her husbands “whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”

  3. The disparity between the number of women a man can be sealed to vs the number of men a woman can be sealed to (example being President Nelson’s two wives) is uniquely Mormon though. The great-great grandmother in the example, under today’s church guidelines, couldn’t be sealed to both men. But if it were a great-great grandfather, he could.

  4. My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) is that in genealogy cases women are indeed sealed to more than one man. Your great-great-great grandmother in Saxony had two husbands and you have no idea who was her preferred husband, so they both get sealed to her. However, it is true that the scale does tip more towards polygyny than polyandry when you take into account the fact that (again, correct me if I’m wrong) live women can’t be sealed to more than one man, but live men can be sealed to more than one women as long as one is deceased.

  5. It really is striking that this is one area where no one else is really trying. No one else has scripture, theology, or liturgy to give substance to family existence in the afterlife. There are probably real reasons for that – it sets off a series of theological changes that you might want to avoid – but it does create real stakes in people’s religious choices. The sermons and the music are probably better at the church down the road, but they barely attempt to solve the problem of family relationships in the afterlife.

  6. The afterlife is a dream. Enjoy this life and in the meantime make “the world” a better place.

  7. p, it’s easy for us westerners to settle for making the best of our abundant lives. But the vast majority of people have lived as paupers or peasants or servants or slaves. For them the afterlife is a dream that they hope will come true.

  8. @ p,
    Certainly there is the danger of pining after heaven while still on earth and failing to better the world while in it, but life without a destination to return to is incredibly grim. I think our theology strikes an excellent balance between working toward building an earthly Zion while looking forward to God’s perfected Kingdom after this life. Striving to become someone who will have joy there with those we love on earth is a great way to ensure that our relationships with the people around us are tended to with proper care.

  9. Jonathan,

    I know people who are offended by the church’s teachings on eternal family. They believe it to be deeply manipulative. But my question for them is: what kind of God do you believe in? If he is all powerful and all loving wouldn’t his plans for his children seem to good to be true? But true nonetheless?

  10. Jack. You must be a communist. According to Karl Marx, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

    p. I like your philosophy of life. It’s well said.

    I like the idea of eternal progression. I’m not sure what the goal is? I suspect it will be different for each individual. I also like the idea that you can take your earthly knowledge with you into the great unknown. Now if I could only believe in an afterlife. That’s why P’s philosophy is so important.

  11. Come now, Roger. The literal resurrection of Jesus evinces something far greater than a placebo of sorts. Imagine what the reality of that event could mean to the grieving young mother who just lost her infant child.

  12. Can anyone here touch on the scripture Matthew 22:30 “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like angels in Heaven”.

    This is information from the mouth of Christ Himself, the only begotten Son of God.

    I have always been very puzzled as to how this can be rebuked by any temporal being here on earth even a temporal being who is The Lords Mouthpiece.

    I have read several explanations to this scripture but none of them convince me that any one can rebutt some thing that has been said by the Son of God, our Lord and Savior who gave Himself as a Sacrifice for all of us.

    A living Prophet is a wonderful thing but does not ever come close to our Savior in perfection or in what was done for us.

    So can any one tell me why I should give more respect to a temporal human than I give to my Savior.

  13. Also thank you Stephen C for answering my question, yes it was an honest one.

    It was kind of you to respect my question and post a thoughtful answer.

  14. @ Chloe: I think you’ll find that Latter-day Saints are more open to the Bible just being wrong on some points, which is fine because we don’t rely on it exclusively for our theology. (For example, we don’t have to wrestle nearly as much with Jesus very clearly saying that people who remarry are guilty of adultery). Joseph Smith said that the teachers of religion in his day “understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.”

    Maybe Jesus did say that passage, maybe he didn’t, but if he did I suspect there’s additional context there that’s missing in the historical record.

  15. Again thank you for your answer Stephen C.

    Like you I think that passage is a maybe.

    Perhaps Christ said that and perhaps He did not or we are missing context.

    The comments here have been very interesting and I agree with the ones who say that our Heavenly Father loves us and will not have us live in eternity in pain and misery.

    We have strong ties to our loved ones now here on earth, exactly how we will be with them for ever is not know to us and it is probably not important.

    Maybe we will be married in the eternity, maybe it will be something else.

    I suppose we have enough to think about and work on with what we have been given in scripture and knowledge from the Holy Ghost.

    Like so many here have said, Heavenly Father loves us and we can trust that.

  16. About Matthew 22:30, I do think that the context is important. I find that when the Pharisees would challenge Jesus with a question, he regularly didn’t give a straight answer. I think this is one of those cases where he didn’t give a straight answer.
    It’s my understanding that today Judaism doesn’t have any doctrine around marriage in the afterlife. So why did these Pharisees approach Jesus with this question? Would be because Jesus taught about eternal marriage? And because He taught that, they thought that they would outwit him with some logic puzzle?
    So I think that Jesus was probably saying something akin to “You’re thinking about this wrong”, or “That sort of thing will be sorted out later” or as Stephen said, “nobody will be in a relationship that they don’t want to be in in the hereafter”. But it ended up getting recorded as “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage”.
    I find the fact that Jesus was being challenged by some sort of post-death marriage conundrum, as evidence that Jesus must have taught something about it.

  17. Chloe, context is really important for Matthew 22:30. As jader3rd points out, it’s part of a series of gotcha questions by the Jerusalem authorities designed to embarrass Jesus in front of his followers. Jesus responds with a series of pithy zingers that embarrass the authorities instead, but we should not expect doctrinal clarity or detail. Second, this question was asked by Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection. Thus their question was completely insincere and wasn’t even really about marriage–they probably saw the question as an argument against resurrection. As for how Latter-Day Saints deal with Jesus’s answer, I’ve heard “None of the marriages described were for time and all eternity (Sadducees wouldn’t see the need) so of course they ended at death,” “Jesus said people don’t GET married in the next life, not that they can’t BE married. Getting married happens in mortality (either in person or by proxy),” and questioning whether that particular verse was actually said by Jesus, as some have here.

    The Sadducees had a point though: if marriage is eternal (interesting that the Sadducees assumed it was) and people marry more than once in this life, then either people will have multiple spouses in the next life or some marriages must end. My guess is that our current practice, which suggests men can have multiple spouses but women’s “extra” marriages must end, is based on an incomplete understanding and we’ll get further light and knowledge on the topic eventually.

    Yes, there are those who have put forward descriptions of eternal polygamy that are misogynistic and frankly seem rooted in male adolescent fantasies rather than theology, but they’re a shrinking fringe and we have no obligation to take them seriously. In particular, the idea that there are many more women than men in the Celestial Kingdom is bad amateur demography; the idea that God would force anyone into an unhappy eternal marriage contradicts the deep respect he shows for human agency; and more broadly, an unhappy marriage would be contrary to the nature of the Celestial Kingdom and the people who live there. I hesitate to declare that there will be no polygamy in the next life because that would mean the end of some very happy marriages, but I do not believe it will not be the norm, and certainly not something everyone is forced into.

    To get back to Stephen C’s topic, I suspect what ultimately makes people fit in the Celestial Kingdom is the desire to do what our Heavenly Parents do: to spend our eternity working to bring other spirits to the point that they can experience the joy we experience. But I expect wonderful things out of the other kingdoms as well, if only out of boredom. Spoiler alert: I find it fascinating that at the end of The Good Place, Tahini is the one character who chooses what I’d describe as a Celestial existence, and she’s also the one who doesn’t eventually choose to end her existence.

  18. I think we sometimes forget that agape will be the primary motivator among exalted beings–not eros. It’s not that the latter won’t exist. It will–but it will be bridled by the former.

  19. I enjoyed this article. Of course life after death is active, and I’ve always believed that. To address what Chloe said in her comment, trying to imagine what life in the eternities is beyond our limited capacity. Living forever as an exalted being in the presence of our Heavenly Father seems like unimaginable happiness.

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