Latter-day Saints believe that after we die, we are eventually resurrected, judged, and then enter into a degree of glory based upon our righteousness. The highest degree is where our Heavenly Father lives, and where we strive to achieve.
This article is a collection of quotes by Church leaders who suggested, in some form or another, that we might be able to progress after final judgement.
A statement from the Secretary of the First Presidency,
“The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.
Sincerely your brother, Joseph L Anderson, Secretary of the First Presidency”
(Secretary to the First Presidency in a 1952 letter; and again in 1965)
Boyd K. Packer,
‘Some years ago I was in Washington, D.C., with President Harold B. Lee. Early one morning he called me to come into his hotel room. He was sitting in his robe reading Gospel Doctrine, by President Joseph F. Smith, and he said, “Listen to this!”
“Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.”
“There is never a time,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.”’
(The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18)
“None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods — all others would have to inherit another kingdom — they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process [progress?].”
(Brigham Young, in Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 Aug 1855)
Joseph F. Smith,
“Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but the privilege of passing from one to another (though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for.”
(Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 14:87 [November 1910])
J. Reuben Clark,
“I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come.”
(J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960, p. 3)
James E. Talmage,
“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.”
(James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421)
John A. Widtsoe’s
Moreover our punishment stands, at least measurably, throughout the endless ages, because, as we go onward, those above us go onward also, and the relative positions remain the same..
(Widtsoe, “Fundamentals of Temple Doctrine,” 132.)
The scriptures don’t say much about what happens in the millions, billions, trillions, and eons of possibly timeless eternities that follow judgement. Therefore, there’s been much speculation. Some Church leaders held to a belief that after Final Judgement, we’re stuck where we are. Other prophets, on the other hand, were open to a belief that one might be able to advance between kingdoms. This article isn’t taking a stance, other than showing that:
- It’s not revealed
- Some prophets were open to progression after Judgement
- We should be open minded as well, instead of dogmatic
As you might have seen, some prophets have been open, in some form or another, to the idea of progression after final judgement. Not that these quotes prove it’s a true doctrine, but they do show that the teaching may be possible. There have certainly been prophets who have opposed the idea, such as Bruce R. McConkie, who suggested that this idea was one of seven great heresies. Perhaps this difference in opinion among Church leaders is what lead the First Presidency to issue their letter quoted at the beginning of the article.
It is perfectly fine for prophets to disagree. Latter-day Saints allow them to have their own personal opinions. We don’t believe prophets are perfect. Only Christ was perfect. The Church has asked us to not take private opinions as doctrine. So when prophets disagree, we can know that the topic is unrevealed.
Church doctrine is established when prophets agree and make a teaching official before the Church. Since prophets have not made this doctrine official, the doctrine remains unknown and open. We are waiting more revelation. However, if more than a few prophets and apostles were open to this idea, then it’s safe to say that we can also be open to the idea. The idea of progression after judgement therefore seems possible.
Some members might object to progression after final judgement, considering it impossible, despite the Church’s neutral stance. Some members have interpreted the scriptures differently. However, it’s important to understand that the prophets above have read the same scriptures we have, arguably understanding them better than us, and have seemingly found no contradiction between the scriptures and progression after judgement. Hence why they have voiced support of it in some form.
The following are some common objections, along with at least one possible explanation. These explanations are in no way meant to be authoritative or absolute. They are simply ideas of how one might interpret the scriptures in support of progression after final judgement.
One common complaint about this idea is that the phrase “Final Judgment” must mean “Final”.
First, it’s important to note that the scriptures don’t necessarily use the exact phrase “Final Judgement”. But if it was used elsewhere, then what exactly is “Final”? In school, we take final exams. They are the last exams of a specific course, where we are finally judged, and given a grade. Afterwards, we go into another course. Final Judgement, in a sense, could simply be the final judgement of this mortal life only, while there may be other judgements after it.
Second, the meanings of words to our limited mortal minds might be different than how God defines things. We could be mistaken in our terminology or we could be taking things too literally. Furthermore, prophets have to use their imperfect languages to write down God’s revelations into scripture. And after thousands and thousands of years, those words have changed meanings through many translations.
Consider this example. We thought we knew what “eternal torment” and “eternal punishment” was, until the Lord totally changed our understanding of it in 1829 with this revelation to Joseph Smith,
Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. 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. Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. 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—Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:6-12)
From this scripture, we learn that the Lord had a different definition of eternal torment than we did. It’s only eternal because it’s from Him, not because it lasts forever. He may likely have different definitions for other words that we’ve assumed to understand. This is one reason why it’s always important to keep an open mind while maintaining our faith in God and His Church. God said he sometimes uses terms “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men.” Perhaps there are other terms he does this with.
Today, many Christians are still struggling with the belief that after this life, it’s either eternal heaven or eternal hell. Latter-day Saints, however, enjoy the belief that this heaven and hell is a temporary state before the resurrection and final judgement. After the final judgement, we go to different glories depending upon our faithfulness. As Latter-day Saints, let us not get stuck into the same mindset as some are in, and believe that after we enter into a glory, there is no more progression after that. Let’s not limit what God has not yet limited.
Another common concern among members is that progression after judgement takes away from what the scriptures tell us about the importance of this life, that this life is “a probationary state” (Alma 12:24).
However, this need not be a concern. Going back to the meanings of terms above. Could this be one of any probationary states? That seems like a possibility.
Also, even though we may be able to advance up to a higher glory, we may miss out on experiences with family who arrive sooner to higher glories. Similar to missing out on a child’s wedding. Or worse, we may make it to a lower glory, while our spouse makes it to a higher glory, thus risk loosing our marriage partners. Hence why it is important to live up to the truths we have now. Therefore, this life is still very much a “probationary state” for this and likely many other reasons.
Some say that believing in progression after judgement is warned against in the scriptures, “And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin … and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-9)
However, this concern need not be an issue too. If progression is possible after judgement, it may still require some form of repentance and probably overcoming of consequences, while being stuck in a lower kingdom. It’s not like this is a free pass to the Celestial Kingdom, without any consequences. Maybe there are more tests, plans, sufferings, hells to suffer for those who want to advance. Maybe Christ’s atonement is eternal enough to help us advance. It is, after all, an ETERNAL ATONEMENT. But in any case, none of us want to suffer any type of pain. We’d much rather do our best now, to avoid the pain later. Sin will still cause suffering and consequences. Justice will still be served, in some form or another. We might have to deal with consequence and guilt of being judged into a lower kingdom, with very hard requirements to fulfill in order to advance. We should take advantage of Christ’s atonement in this life, and avoid any pain later on. Therefore, it will NOT “all be well.” Consequences will still happen, and will still need to be overcome.
Another common objection is what the scriptures say about being resurrected to certain celestial, terrestrial, or telestial bodies, and that once we receive these bodies, we are locked into them. Therefore, a telestial body can never enjoy what a celestial body can.
Many of the scriptures that people try to use to show that we are locked into our resurrected bodies can actually be interpreted in a different way. One way to look at it is that the scriptures are simply referring to one’s personal state the MOMENT after resurrection, while not explaining what can happen in the eternities AFTER resurrection. In this way, the scriptures are simply stating facts: If you’re resurrected to a Telestial body, then you can’t go into the Celestial Kingdom. If you don’t receive the Priesthood, then you can’t go into the Celestial Kingdom. But the scriptures are quiet about whether you can, through the eons of eternity, advance your body through obedience to God.
This may be similar to the idea of “Eternal Fire” mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Hell may be a metaphorical eternal fire, and those that sin have to enter that eternal fire, a flame that is eternally burning. But they may not have to stay eternally in that fire. It’s just that the fire itself is eternal, and people may pass through it, suffer it, and possibly leave it, through obedience to Christ.
These are simply interpretations offered that might explain the statements made by Church leaders who supported progression after judgement. These interpretations are not meant to be doctrine, but just to offer possible explanations.
Whatever our interpretations it’s important to note, as mentioned earlier, that the prophets above read the same scriptures we do. While some interpreted them one way, others interpreted them a different way in support of progression after judgement. Arguably, these prophets may have been in a better position to judge the scriptures than we are. It would be foolish for us to think of the idea as 100% false doctrine, when other prophets have been supportive of it, when the scriptures can be interpreted to support it, and while the Church has been neutral about it.
In the end, it doesn’t necessarily matter. What’s matters most is where we are now, and what direction we are facing. Eventually we’ll find out the truth, but for now, we want to be in the right direction so that we’ll always be on the right side of the God’s plan.
Christ’s atonement is an ETERNAL atonement. Making mistakes might still be possible after the resurrection. Hence, we may still need Christ to help us either advance, or to avoid falling, after resurrection. God’s love and plan for His children may surely be bigger and grandeur than we realize. Let’s not assume we know the majesties and secrets of eternity.