We all know that Mormon’s don’t understand hell the way the Baptists do. We believe in “many mansions,” in three “kingdom’s of glory,” and in a “spirit prison” that is a temporary condition even for the unrepentant wicked. But we do believe in all the doctrine taught in the Book of Mormon, don’t we?
Last night Esperanza and I were reading in Mosiah when we came across this terrifying passage. At least I find it terrifying. It is in King Benjamin’s marvelous address, and he is speaking to a group of people who already have the gospel. Specifically he is speaking of those who turn away from the truth after they have found it. He says:
36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.
38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.
39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.
40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.
How do we reconcile and harmonize this passage with the Mormon concept of hell?
My best understanding is that King Benjamin is referring to the bitterness and disappointment that will be felt by eveyone who fails to obtain eternal life which is the highest of three degrees in the Celestial Kingdom, or in other words, exaltation. That is the only “hell” that I can think of that would never end, that would be endless torment.
Spirit prison will be over for all when its inhabitants are resurrected. We are assured that even the telestial kingdom is such a marvelous place that if we could look into it for five minutes we would all commit suicide to get there. So where is the “endless torment” spoken of by King Benjamin?
Anyway, I once turned away from the gospel as taught by the living prophets. That was after I had been taught by the missionaries and joined the Church. I tried to keep the commandments for a while, but I became discouraged and decided that I just didn’t have the strength or ability to keep them. I tried to go back into world I had known before being taught the gospel. I tried to forget about my new knowledge of God and what he expected of me.
But one day, after committing a particularly heinous sin, I was reading this passage of scripture, and the Holy Ghost caused it to jump off the page into my face. I was terrified. I knew that if I didn’t find the strength to live the gospel, this “never-ending torment” was in my own future, that I would certainly suffer as if being on fire “forever and ever.”
Yet I frequently run across Latter-day Saints on the Internet, usually saints who were raised in the Church, who believe that the mercy of Christ is so complete, that he will save them from such suffering regardless of their obedience in keeping his commandments. “Mormons don’t have a hell,” I am often told online. “Your Baptist upbringing is showing,” they say. “Even the telestial kingdom is wonderful, a form of salvation,” they comfort me.
So where have I gone wrong? How am I interpreting this Book of Mormon passage incorrectly? How do you reconcile this passage with the Mormon concept of hell? If I am confused, I want to be straightened out. If not, some saints are going to be awfully surprised when they find out where their labors in mortality are taking them. They are going to Mormon hell.