A Terrifying Passage About Mormon Hell

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.

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9 Responses to A Terrifying Passage About Mormon Hell

  1. Stephen says:

    Interesting thoughts.

  2. I’m not sure that D&C 19 is a direct refutation of the passage in Mosiah. D&C 19 talks about “endless torment” and “eternal damnation,” but in the Mosiah passage, King Benjamin uses the words “never-ending torment” and “forever and ever.” So even if God’s name is “Endless” and “Eternal” as mentioned in D&C 19, it still sounds to me like either King Benjamin was teaching false doctrine that somehow got into the Book of Mormon, or there is some kind of torment that goes on forever.

    I speculate that there is an envy or disappointment for those who fail to obtain exaltation that goes on forever. Sure, the telestial kingdom is a “heaven,” but what is the point of having different kingdoms of glory if the happiness is the same in all of them? What could detract from our happiness in the wonderful telestial kingdom? We will have a realization that we are in a dead end condition, that we will never again have a family that loves us and that will continue on forever. It would be like working forever in a job where there is no opportunity for promotion.

    I just think that some worldly saints too breezily blow off the thought that they will end up in a telestial glory. And even if I’m wrong about the never-ending bitterness and disappointment of inheriting anything less than exaltation, I wouldn’t care to spend over a thousand years in the spirit prison. I imagine that a spirit is at least as pained by confinement as a living soul. And our prisons in this life are pretty disgusting. Can you imagine spending over a thousand years in one? It makes me shudder just to think about it.

  3. Andy says:

    You make some excellent points worthy of further consideration. Still, I’d rather be a member of the LDS faith than any on this planet.

  4. John wrote: 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.

    Our local CES director told a class I was in that the above is specifically not church doctrine, and has probably never been uttered by a prophet or apostle.

    It comes from the personal diary of Charles Lowell Walker who attributed it to Wilford Woodruff saying something like it in a Sunday School in 1977. But there is no evidence that Woodruff said it in any official capacity, and there is nothing else to corroborate that Woodruff said it at all besides someone’s personal notes.

    The exact quote from the diary was:
    “If the people knew what was behind the veil, they would try by every means to commit suicide that they might get there. But the Lord in his wisdom … implanted the fear of death in every person that they might cling to life and thus accomplish the designs of their Creator.”

    Note that it says “beyond the veil” not necessarily the Telestial Kingdom.

    Another reference is a quote from a talk given by Patriarch of the church, Eldred G. Smith at BYU on March 10, 1964″

    “The Lord has told us of three degrees of glory. There are three ‘heavens,’ as it is often referred to. We call them the telestial, terrestrial, and the celestial. I cannot for a minute conceive the telestial being hell, either, because it is considered a heaven, a glory. The Prophet Joseph Smith told us that if we could get one little glimpse into the telestial glory even, the glory is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there.”

    The above two tidbits are from:
    http://theboard.byu.edu/index.php?area=viewall&id=13041

    However, there don’t seem to be any other reliable documents attributing it to Joseph Smith.

  5. “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.

    1. Yeah, what “last lemming” said.

    2. Note that it is written “is like”, not “is as” nor “is”.

    “Like” means similar but not the same as. “Like” is in contrast to “as”. Remember the cigarette commercial “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.” And then they had the commercials about English teachers writing in saying it should be “as a cigarette should.”

    The Hell that lasts until the end of the millenium is a “temporary” (if you count at least 1,000 years as temporary) version of outer-darkness. The book of Revelation of St. John in the Bible also says that Hell gives up its dead at the end of the millenium. So the Bible backs our position.

    Both Alma and Bruce McConkie refer to “Hell” as “outer darkness.”

    3. I can’t put my finger on it, probably Section 76, but also in the 4 Gospels, and in 3 Nephi, scripture says that you don’t get out of “prison” until the last farthing/senine is paid. So once someone pays for their sins in Hell (Spirit Prison) and also repents, and fully accepts the gospel, then they are let out. So at that point, they have accepted the gospel, and are entitled to a kingdom of glory.

    But once Hell (in the spirit world) is entered, repentance alone is not sufficient for those who have sinned against the light, for it has become “everlasting too late.”

    4. I went through a process similar to you, leaving the church and coming back. The key event in my coming back was getting Section 19-ed, especially verse 20. The Lord withdrew his Spirit from me for brief periods until I figured out what was happening. It was a brief taste of outer darkness. And it was then that I realized that the Hell portion of the spirit world is a temporary or mini version of outer darkness. That experience will grind anyone down to powder and bring them (except the Sons of you-know-what) to repentance. I learned that people will repent in Hell.

    It’s not the withdrawal of the Holy Ghost that is Hell. It is the complete withdrawal of the Light of Christ, the light or power which energizes all things. DC 88:5-13.

    Hell (the Hell that lasts until the end of the millennium), is a place in the spirit world (I think it’s a sub-set or portion within the spirit prison) that has something like a force-field around it that prevents the Light of Christ from getting in.

    The withdrawal of the Light of Christ is complete separation from God. That is the definition of spiritual death, the second death, or eternal death It’s agony, it’s horror. It’s the removal of something that you took for granted before. It’s a panic like being a fish out of water, the withdrawal of that universal substance which sustains existence.

  6. J Max says:

    Jared,

    But I thought that the Book of Mormon contains a fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Does that mean the doctrine of degrees of glory is not part of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is there another “gospel”?

  7. Jared says:

    Also, I don’t think there is any evidence that the Book of Mormon prophets (in general) knew as much detail about the Plan of Salvation as we do now. They apparently did not know about degrees of glory and so they talk in very dualistic terms.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Yes, what last lemming said.

  9. Last Lemming says:

    Consider the following verses from D&C 19, particularly verses 6, 7, and 10-12:

    5 Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.

    6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

    7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

    8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.

    9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.

    10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—

    11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.

    12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

    13 Wherefore, I command you to repent, and keep the commandments which you have received by the hand of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., in my name;

    14 And it is by my almighty power that you have received them;

    15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

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