I recall a decade ago working a shift next to a man who called himself a devout Christian. It wasn’t long before he asked about my beliefs. I openly told him that I was a Latter-day Saint, and he immediately began to challenge me. One of the first things he stated was, “you don’t believe in hell, even though it is plainly taught in the Bible.” I answered, “of course I believe in hell.” The man did a double-take and responded, “I’ve never met someone of your faith who believed in hell. Are you sure that’s what you believe?” I replied, “absolutely.”
Several weeks ago, I asked a district of missionaries where and when hell occurred. I received eight different answers, varying from “hell doesn’t exist,” to “it’s anything outside the Celestial Kingdom,” to “it’s just Outer Darkness.” I then asked, “why does it even matter?”
In 2 Nephi 28 we read about Lucifer’s deception:
If I don’t believe that hell exists, or that hell is only for those who were apart of the third of hosts of heaven who didn’t choose Christ and receive a body, and I read this in the Book of Mormon, what is to become of my testimony? Do I adjust my thinking or do I have to deal with mental gymnastics in order to keep my faith intact?
Amazingly enough, the answer to this question is found in Gospel Principles where we learn about Spirit Prison:
Here we learn that there are actually two divisions in Spirit Prison: those who are waiting to be taught the Gospel and those who have rejected Jesus Christ and His atonement and are suffering in a condition known as hell.
Doesn’t it make sense that our ancestors who never had the chance to accept the Gospel are in “prison” – more of a waiting room – and aren’t in the same place as the unrepentant murders, liars, and whores? Speaking of which, The Lord taught about those who obtain the Telestial Kingdom: “These are they who are thrust down to hell.” (D&C 76:84) As it states in the Gospel Principles blurb, heirs of the Telestial Kingdom inherit their glory after paying for their own sins. The Telestial Kingdom isn’t hell, but it requires hell to obtain it because its inhabitants rejected Christ’s sacrifice. (D&C 19:16-19)
The condition known as hell lasts through the Millennium while the Earth is in a Terrestrial state. Those who obtain at least the Terrestrial Glory will abide during the Millennium and will not suffer hell. These are they who obeyed the Terrestrial Law (The 10 Commandments) but did not accept the covenant that comes with baptism by priesthood authority. I discussed this at length previously.
The point of understanding this is so that we have a firm grasp on the Plan of Salvation and aren’t confused when we study the scriptures. There is no need to go through mental gymnastics when the plan is laid out clearly before us. A correct concept of the doctrine will only help our faith flourish and grow.
- “The Postmortal Spirit World” – Gospel Principles, Chapter 41
- “Holiness and the Plan of Happiness” -President Henry B. Eyring, October 2019
- “Repentance” -President Marion G. Romney, October 1980
- “The Millennium” – Gospel Principles, Chapter 45
- D&C 76
- D&C 138