Sunday, September 18, 2011

Endless Torment

In the scripture, we often read the description of hell as a place of endless torment. It is described as "a lake of fire and brimstone", "the fire that never shall be quenched", "eternal damnation" and "endless torment" (see Mark 3:29, Mark 9:43, 2 Nephi 9:19 and Mosiah 3:27 for starters). This is to be the eternal fate of those who do not please God.

As we understand it, life after death can go in two general directions. We can go to a spirit paradise-- what most Christians would call 'heaven'-- or to spirit prison-- which is often related to the general condition of hell. Alma, Paul and others have taught that our assignment to paradise or prison is a temporary state (Alma 40 and 1 Cor. 15, respectively); and Peter suggested that those residing in heaven or hell may move from one to the other if they meet (or fail to meet) the given requirements (1 Peter 3-4). Following the resurrection, all who have resided in these spirit dwellings will be given a more permanent allocation to one of three kingdoms of glory-- Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial (D&C 76, 137).

Although we are not alarmed that a person in spirit paradise may quickly move on to live in the presence of God, many are all-too-quick to consider the evil suffering misery and damnation forever. We take comfort in what we suppose to be the knowledge that those who are cruel, vile, wicked, or have wasted their life with lust and drunkenness will suffer for their unkind, irresponsible and sometimes horrifying evil. However, this too is temporary. The Lord explains:

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...For behold, I am endless, and punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name (D&C 19:6-7, 10; emphasis in original).

In other words, 'eternal' or 'endless' is merely the name of the torment, not an adjective for its duration. Our Heavenly Father is a god of mercy.

Despite the numbered days of an endless torment, and my casual use of 'merely', it remains a punishment of the highest intensity. The Lord continued:

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-- and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink (D&C 19:16-18).

We have two choices: we can accept Christ as our Savior and take his name upon ourselves through baptism, or we can reject the Christ and his repentance. Our choice leads us to salvation, if we are saved through faith in the name of Christ, or eternal torment, which is the torment experienced by Christ as the price that must be paid for sin. So we dwell in a state of paradise or a state of spirit prison until the resurrection of all God's children, through the merits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, when we shall be judged and delivered to our eternal glories-- Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial.

Our faith in God can be reinforced by the truth that our loving Heavenly Father is a God of justice and a God of mercy. His goal is glory, not torment; salvation, not damnation. Though we will receive varying degrees of glory proportional to our valiance, and though some will have to suffer the pains of hell for a time, almost all will inherit a kingdom of glory, not of suffering and woe.

We can avoid the endless torment that comes from a life separate from the Savior if we will have faith in him, repent of our sins, be baptized for the remission of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. That is the commandment:

Wherefore, I command you again to repent... and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken... walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me (D&C 19:20, 23).

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