Terryl Givens is a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and author of By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion.
[What do Mormons believe about the afterlife?]
It's been pointed out by other observers of the church that Mormonism probably encompasses a more detailed picture of the afterlife than is common in other faith traditions. ... I think the emphasis that Mormonism puts on the eternity of the family, the conviction that is so central to our faith and to our culture, that the family survives death, that my marriage to my wife is an eternal bond, that death will interrupt but not permanently -- I think that those aspects of our faith make the passing of loved ones and our own imminent death more tolerable, more consolable. ...
There's a quote from Brigham Young: "Even though a person's body can be buried in the earth, eaten by wild beasts, turned to ashes, the particles will be watched over and preserved under the resurrection. At the sound of the trumpet of God, every particle will be reassembled into every man, and not one particle will be lost." What is that speaking to?
There are many religious groups that believe in some kind of eternal duration of the human soul in one form or the other. Mormonism may be a little unusual in its insistence of the restoration of the complete physical organism as it existed in this life. There are Scriptures in the Book of Mormon, there are quotations from Brigham Young that emphasize that not a single atom or particles of our body will be lost, but everything will be reconstituted as fully as it was. It's almost a kind of celebration of the totality of the triumph over death. Not only will something remain, but everything will be reconstituted as it was.
And the temple, which is of course the central feature, the central phenomenon in Mormon spiritual life, exists as a kind of series of ordinances and covenants, which all have, as their central meaning, a transcendence of the power of death to abrogate human relationships, so that the temple exists as a kind of vehicle through which we conquer mortality. ...
President Gordon B. Hinckley is the 15th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has led the church since March 1995.
… I've spoken to a range of scholars, both Mormons and non-Mormons, who have said to me that the Mormons are one of a very few religions that believe in a richly detailed, concrete afterlife. ... Can you talk to us about this?
Well, this is a very personal thing for me because I lost my wife two years ago, so I've experienced something that I believe is real and personal, and there's no question in my mind that life goes on. The whole essence of the Christian religion is based on the atonement of Christ -- his death and his resurrection. There would be no Christmas if there was no Easter. The fact that he was resurrected gave credibility to his whole life's mission, and that's the essence of it. We go on living. This is a stage in our eternal journey. We lived before we were here. This is our mortal existence, and we shall go on living after this.
I'm wondering whether you can talk to me a little bit about what you imagine the afterlife will be. Who will be there? Will there be purposeful activity?
Of course there will be. There will be a great deal of activity. We're not just going to be there and have wings and float around. Of course not. We'll be personalities. We'll be individuals. We'll be purposeful in what we do. We'll talk; we'll work; we'll be very active in every respect. There's no question in my mind about that.
Marlin K. Jensen is the executive director of the LDS Family and Church History Department and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
We believe that when a person dies -- if I had a glove I could illustrate it, because in a sense, when I put my hand in a glove, the glove comes alive like my hand is. And when we die, that spirit that enlivens a body lives on. The body comes off and gets buried, but the spirit lives. ...
I was very close to my grandfather, and at least on one occasion in my life, I know that there was a spiritual contact between him and me at a very critical point in my life when I might have done something I shouldn't have done. I felt his closeness; I felt his interest, and it motivated me to make a decision that I might not have made in the way that I did because of his love.
So I know that when people die they don't lose interest, nor do they just vaporize into the cosmos. They're there. Their spirit body is intact, and on the day of resurrection they'll have it reunited with their earthly element. For us, the soul of man is body and spirit; that's what we are all about. But there will be a little time between death and the resurrection when we'll just be, and during that time they may well commune with us and we on occasion with them. I believe that.
There is concreteness and specificity of the Mormon afterlife. That's different than the rapture or hopefulness of other religions.
Yeah. And isn't that really a wonderful thing, to have that kind of clarity about what awaits us? Not that we know all the details -- I mean, we'd all love to know more, but we have the general outline that heaven is more than just a place and hell is just another. There are gradations, just like there are gradations of people, and that we'll get a just reward for our lives here on this earth, how we've lived them, the choices we've made, the way we've exercised our agency. I love that. It's part of this clarity idea that when you have something you can cling to, then your life can be regulated accordingly. ...