Summary: To most Christians, the term “eternal life,” is commonly understood as meaning living with God in heaven forever, while “eternal death” means living in hell with Satan and his devils. Since most people live good, decent lives and are basically kind and generous, and if God loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son to die for our sins, and Jesus came to save sinners (which all of us are), then shouldn’t God want us all to live with him in heaven? Then why are so many people going to live with Satan forever? This article examines this question
When speaking to his son, Corianton, Alma explained that in the resurrection “… one [is] raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to [do] evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh. On the other hand. if he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness” (Alma 41:5-6).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that man has been given the freedom to decide for himself whether he wants to choose eternal life through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ or whether he would rather choose eternal death according to the power of the devil (2 Nephi 2:27).
However, they also teach that while our mortal bodies die, meaning that they stop functioning, man himself is an immortal spirit who cannot die, in the sense that he cannot become extinct. But if that is true, then it would seem that we already have eternal life, meaning that we can remain alive forever. In that case, how can it be said that the devil has the power to cause us to become dead forever?
To most Christians the terms “eternal life,” and “eternal death” refer to our spiritual relationship to God. In other words, it is commonly understood that “eternal life” means living with God in heaven forever, while “eternal death” means living in hell with Satan and his devils where they are separated from God forever. One group of people lives in a world of never-ending happiness, while the other group lives in a world of never-ending misery.
However, if that is true, then why would anyone deliberately choose to bring themselves under the power of Satan rather than choose to live eternally with God? According to what Alma explained, those who choose to follow Satan, are those who “desired to do evil all the day long.” But most people don’t do evil every day. In fact, most people live good, decent lives. The average person doesn’t go around killing others, stealing, committing adultery, or worshipping idols. Most people do good for others, and are basically kind and generous. Then how is that choosing to suffer eternal death in hell with Satan?
But a more fundamental question is, why does God even give us that choice in the first place? If God loves the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son to die for our sins, and Jesus came to save sinners (which all of us are), then shouldn’t God want us all to live with him in heaven? And if that is so, then why does God allow Satan to lead us away from him?
To answer to that question, we have to understand what God’s purpose is for us.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that before we were born on earth, we lived with God in heaven. Back then we were his begotten spirit children, which is why we call God our Father. However, although he has a body of flesh and bones, we only possessed a spirit body. Furthermore, he knew the difference between good and evil but because we lived in a perfect world, we never had the opportunity to learn what evil was.
Like all earthly fathers, our Father in heaven wants to help us become more like him, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, and over eons of time, we grew and learned how to do that. However, since evil cannot exist in heaven, God had to send us somewhere else where we could learn from our own experiences the wisdom in choosing good over evil.
Yet, if we choose to do evil, even just one time, then we would have sinned, and would become unclean. Since nothing unclean can live in heaven we would be cut off from the presence of God forever. But because of the atonement that Christ would make for our sins, those who repented of their evil ways could be washed clean. In this way, we would be able to return back to our Father in heaven, having gained an understanding of good and evil.
This is the story that most members of Christ’s restored church understand, but there is much more to it than this.
From modern revelation, we’ve learned that “heaven” is divided into three distinct places or kingdoms, known as the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial and we’ve been told that God lives in the celestial kingdom. This is the “heaven” that most Christians think of, where God and his angels dwell in a state of perpetual peace, love, and happiness. However, the Lord has also revealed that “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131;1-4).
Obviously, God himself lives in the highest degree of the highest heaven and the term “exalted” or “exaltation” clearly refers to this place. What that also means, is that those who live in the two lower degrees of the celestial kingdom are not exalted. Furthermore, what this revelation also tells us that in order for someone to live in this realm of heaven after the resurrection, must have enter into the order of the priesthood that pertains the covenant of marriage.
If God lives in this highest realm, and we are his children, then clearly, he too must be married, especially if we must be married in order become exalted like he is. Furthermore, the scriptures tell us that God sits on a throne and is a King. But the scriptures also tell us that those who believe in Christ will also wear a crown, sit on thrones, become kings (and queens) and reign with Christ forever (Revelation 5:10).
However, as we have just read, if someone hasn’t entered into the covenant of marriage according to the order of the priesthood, they cannot obtain this degree of heaven, and if that’s the case, then they cannot become kings or queens, nor can they reign with Christ. Therefore, the highest degree of the celestial kingdom is an exclusive community that is reserved only for a specific class of people. In other words, the only people allowed into this degree of heaven are those who have become exalted beings.
The exception to this are the children of the king. Since God is our Father, and he is a king and an exalted being, then we lived with him as spirit children where he lives. In other words, we were born, grew up and were raised by exalted parents in the highest degree of heaven. This is where we called home. Therefore, when we talk about returning “home” or going back to our Father in heaven, we’re not talking about just returning to the celestial kingdom, but returning back to the highest degree within the celestial kingdom, which is where we came from.
Our Father’s goal is for us to live with him where he is, not as innocent spirit children any more, but as mature adults who are capable and worthy of inheriting “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” and shall enter “[in]to their exaltation and glory in all things… which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19).
Those who live in the other two degrees of the celestial kingdom do not become exalted, therefore they do not wear crowns, sit on thrones, nor have seed. For them, their progression has come to an end, and they “remain singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity, and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever” These are they who become “ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and eternal weight of glory” (D&C 132, 17,16).
When our Father presented a plan whereby we could take the next step to becoming more like him, we shouted for joy. We eagerly wanted to experience mortality so that we could gain a physical body, experience pain, and learn about evil. In our innocence it sounded like a magnificent adventure with the grand prize of become an eternal king or queen, living an exalted lifestyle of glory and honor, alongside of our beloved Father in heaven.
The problem was that we didn’t fully understand what it takes to be an exalted being, nor did we fully appreciate the responsibility that goes with that title. As children, when we watched our Father, he made the job of being God seem easy. He seemed to do it so effortlessly, and so, in our naivety, we might have felt that surely, being a god couldn’t be all that hard. Having never encountered evil, we were probably confident that we could pass the course to godhood without too much difficulty and so it’s quite possible that many of us embarked on our mortal journey with a sense of humble arrogance, overly assured in our own abilities.
But our Father in heaven knew better and so he designed a plan to weed out those who really wanted to become exalted from those who only thought it was a good idea. The commandments God gives us are the very laws that he himself must obey in order to remain as an exalted God and King, and then he gives us the chance to decide for ourselves how willing we are to live by those same laws.
But the laws God gives us are not hard to do. For example, paying tithing is a simple matter of counting out one-tenth of our increase. Most fifth graders can do that with ease. Saying our prayers or reading the scriptures every day is not something that takes great skill. Most eight year olds can do that. Coming to church each Sunday doesn’t take a lot of great planning and organization to accomplish. Being honest just takes telling the truth.
But, as father Lehi taught his children, there must be opposition in all things or else we don’t grow. The muscles in our body become stronger as they face resistance and the same is true of our spirituality. And so God deliberately makes it hard for us to keep even the simplest commandments.
Paying tithing is easy, except when we think of the money we’ve earned as ours, and not God’s. Therefore, we much choose between voluntarily giving up money we’ve earned to a God we cannot see and who owns everything in the universe. Reading the scriptures or praying every day is simple to do except when we have little time and so many other things in life we want to do. Then we must choose what it is that we want to spend our time doing. Being honest just takes telling the truth, except when doing so will get us into trouble, then we have to decide whether we’re willing to suffer the negative consequence of being honest or lie in order to avoid them.
But then God increases the pressure by allowing Satan to tempt us, which he does this by appealing to the natural weaknesses of our mortal bodies, such as greed, pride, fear, our bodily appetites, and a host of other feeling we never experienced until we came here to earth. Then, in addition to this, Satan tries to confuse us with worldly philosophies that sound so reasonable and logical that it makes it difficult to know with certainty which decision is the right one. In a vision he had, Father Lehi called this “a mist of darkness” (1 Nephi 8:23).
Those who truly desire to become like our Father in heaven, will preserve through every challenge and obstacle that comes before them. They are the ones who accept the gospel with all of their heart and who make a commitment to keep God’s commandments. No matter how many times they stumble and fall, they are the ones who will keep getting up and continue striving to live the laws required of exalted beings. And they do this, not because someone is making them, but because they have a burning desire to do so.
On the other hand, there are those who think that becoming an exalted being sounds great but when they see other things that are more enticing, such as their time, money, fame, power, or fun, then they voluntarily chose to follow after those things. And that’s because keeping the commandment of God is not as important to them.
For this reason, what God looks for is not so much how well keeping his commandments, but rather what’s most important to him is how willing we are to keep them, because he knows that if we keep trying we’ll eventually become perfect at it. As Alma told his son, Corianton, in the resurrection, we are “raised to happiness according to [our] desires of happiness or good according to [our] desires of good.” Or we are raised “according to [our] desire of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long, even so shall he have his reward when the [resurrection] cometh.”
In this sense, “to do evil all the day long” doesn’t mean we are lying, cheating, stealing or doing violence every day of the week, but rather the “evil” spoken of here is our desire to follow the ways of the world rather than the ways of God. And that desire comes from following the promptings of Satan, whose only goal is to keep us from returning back to our home. He was cast out of Father’s presence forever and since he can never go back himself, his burning desire is to keep as many of us from returning there as well. Therefore, when we chose to follow the ways of the world more than doing what God commands, we’re actually choosing to follow Satan by keeping his commandments.
To inherit eternal life doesn’t mean just getting to heaven. It doesn’t even mean making it to the celestial kingdom. It means living the kind of life that our Father in heaven lives. It means entering into our exaltation and living with God where he lives. But, if we allow Satan to distract us from that goal, or confuse us with his perverted philosophies, then we have given him the power to keep us from gaining eternal life. Even if we make it into the celestial kingdom, he has at least been successful in keeping us from returning home. Instead of us having an increase of seed forever, our progression will have come to an end because we can’t develop any further. In that sense, we can no longer live with our Father in heaven where he lives, and when that happens, we have inherited a degree of eternal death.
But if it is our sincere goal is to return home, and we are willing to keep striving to do whatever it takes to get there, no matter what difficulties we might face, or temptations that come our way, our Father will do everything he can to help us and be eternally patient as we struggle to finish the course because what matters most to him is the desires of our heart.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth