What if I don't want to be resurrected?
I've recently been impressed to study the teachings and biography of the First Presidency. My respect, love, and feelings for these men grow deeper with every chapter. It has been a powerful, revelatory experience. I also learned more about doctrine and Church history. For example, Pres. Nelson's biography relates how Pres. Nelson's grandfather received a visitation from his late father from beyond the veil and recorded the interview. You can read an excerpt of it here. Pres. Nelson's grandfather asked his father about the experience of death:
"Father, is it natural to die? Or does it seem natural? Was there not a time when your spirit was in such a pain that it could not realize what was going on or taking place?"
"No, my son, there was not such a time. It is just as natural to die, as it is to be born, or for you to pass out of that door."
But after relating this comforting thought, his great-grandfather issued this sobering insight:
You can not avoid being Resurrected. It is just as natural for all to be Resurrected as it is to be born and die again. No one can avoid being Resurrected. There are many spirits in the Spirit world who would to God that there would be no Resurrection.
The unavoidable resurrection
I've pondered on that idea for a while now. This is a fuzzy area in our understanding, of course. As Pres. Oaks remarked, "What do we really know about conditions in the spirit world? … Not as much as we often think." So I'll focus on what we do know.
We know that "the spirit and the body are the soul of man" (D&C 88:15). It wasn't until Adam's spirit and body united that he "became a living soul" (Moes 3:7). Physical bodies confer experiences and power that we do not otherwise have, as "All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not." So while we will certainly enjoy "resting from all our labors" (D&C 59:2, D&C 124:86), we should not be satisfied with this arrangement. It gets old after a while and we "look upon the long absence of our spirits from their bodies as a bondage" (D&C 45:17, D&C 138:50). And thus we speak of a hopeful, glorious resurrection. Because the alternative is truly awful (2 Nephi 9:7-9).
And yet, Pres. Pres. Nelson's great-grandfather reported that "there are many spirits in the Spirit world who would to God that there would be no Resurrection." I can understand being afraid of the Final Judgment, but why would anyone be upset to get an immortal body? I dug a bit into this and found a quote from Elder McConkie:
All men will be resurrected, but they will come forth in the resurrection with different kinds of bodies– some celestial, others terrestrial, others telestial, and some with bodies incapable of standing any degree of glory. The body we receive in the resurrection determines the glory we receive in the kingdoms that are prepared.
In other words, resurrection is inseparably connected with and itself is a type of judgment.
The parable of the rocket ship
Because of how my brain works, I often use analogies in science to understand Gospel concepts. When I think about the relationship between agency, progression, and judgment, I imagine I'm piloting a rocket ship in space. As long as there is fuel left in the rocket, I can alter my trajectory however I want. I can spin, I can turn, I can accelerate, I can slow down, and even reverse course. But when my fuel is finally exhausted, that's it. Whatever inertia I have built up will carry me inexorably along the same path and with the same velocity for all eternity.
The question for mortality is what inertia we're building up right now– what Pres. Nelson calls "spiritual momentum." That's why deathbed repentance is nothing but a false hope; a quick burst of upward thrusters can't overcome a lifetime of downward acceleration.
Repentance in the Spirit World?
But what about the Spirit World? We believe that the Gospel is preached to the dead, therefore there is progression and repentance there, right? To an extent, yes. But don't expect hard 180-degree reversals:
- "Death does not change our personality or our desires for good or evil" (Preach My Gospel).
- "Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave.. and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us" (Melvin J. Ballard).
- "I do question the efficacy of proxy temple work for a [person] who had the opportunity to be baptized in this life… but who made the conscious decision to reject that course" (Pres. Russell M. Nelson).
- "This mortal life is the time to [repent]. Although we are taught that some repentance can occur in the spirit world (see Doctrine and Covenants 138:31, 33, 58), that is not as certain" (Pres. Dallin H. Oaks).
- All of heresy #4 from Elder McConkie.
In other words, those with an already upward trajectory will have enough fumes left in the tank to refine their course, but that seems to be about it. It's not that a strong negative spiritual momentum can't be overcome, it's that we wouldn't truly want to overcome it. The G-forces, the long upward climb, the blinding light, it will all seem so harsh and painful when we're so accustomed to darkness: "That same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in the eternal world" (Alma 34:34). Remember the unquenchable regret which Alma the Younger tasted, saying:
The very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God.
At the Resurrection, when the fuel is finally and fully exhausted, the wicked will share his sentiments:
We would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
But this cannot be; we must come forth… and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God…
They cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.
Thus, they wait "in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them… the time of their resurrection."
One man's treasure…
After all my studies, I still can't understand it on an emotional level. How could anyone not want this light and these blessings?
We've heard the expression "One man's trash is another man's treasure." I guess the reverse is also true: "One man's treasure is another man's trash." A third of Heavenly Father's children hated or feared the idea of a mortal life of learning and growth and left their first estate kicking and screaming. Many today fear the inevitable experience of death and leave this world kicking and screaming. Some of those in the Spirit World now fear the Resurrection and will come out of the grave kicking and screaming. I suppose they will then be brought into the brilliant light of the presence of God, again kicking and screaming.
To me and you and everyone who seriously involves themselves in the Gospel, an eternity of growth and learning and service to others will be heaven indeed. But not to all. One man's Celestial kingdom is another man's torment, so, out of mercy, "God will force no man to heaven." Those who find no joy in exaltation will be mercifully allowed to go to their own place, far enough from the brilliant presence of God to feel comfortably dim enough for them.
Even as I type this, I still don't get it. But come to think of it, I hope I never do.