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Gospel Q&A: Do Latter-day Saints Believe in Hell?

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Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “Do Latter-day Saints believe in hell?”

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Latter-day Saints believe in the scriptures.

So, yes, we believe in hell.

But we don’t believe that all people whose spiritual bank has more credits than debits will spend all of eternity burning there.

So, no. We don’t believe in that hell.

Let’s begin, then, by defining what we mean by “hell.”

The First of Three Hells—Spirit Prison

“First, it is another name for spirit prison, a temporary place in the postmortal world for those who died without a knowledge of the truth or those who were disobedient in mortality.” (Gospel Topics Essay on Hell)

Following death, each one of us will have a temporary assignment for our spirits before we receive resurrection. For those of us who have not yet received Jesus Christ and the ordinances that “seal [us] his” (Mosiah 5:15), we will be temporarily assigned to a place called spirit prison.

“Spirit prison is a temporary state in which spirits will be taught the gospel and have the opportunity to repent and accept ordinances of salvation that are performed for them in temples.”

Spirit prison was never meant to be a permanent location. And it’s also not truly a place meant for punishment. It is a place meant for the teaching and training necessary to bring souls to Christ. It is “prison” because no further forward progress can be made until the soul has accepted Christ as his or her Redeemer. We are trapped here until we unlock the prison door by the key of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 138:35 says it this way:

“And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.”

Once the “prisoners” have accepted Jesus Christ and His gospel, they “may dwell in paradise until the Resurrection.”

John 5:25 agrees.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”

This first “hell,” therefore, isn’t any sort of traditional form of hell. It’s yet another chance the Lord has given us to repent and return to Him. If we have failed to accept the gospel from innocent ignorance, prejudice, or stubbornness during earthly life, we still have another chance—from the time of death until the time of Resurrection—when we can accept Him and He will receive us. As is His way, His “hand is [ever] stretched out still” (2 Nephi 19:17).

There are times in scripture when this hell is referred to as endless or everlasting. This is not to say that this temporary state will go on without end. Rather, “endless” or “everlasting” are descriptions of the origin of this “punishment.”

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

“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.” (D&C 19:6, 10-12)

“Endless” could just as easily have read “Godly.” It means it is from an Endless or Godly origin. It is offered as an intentional gift from the Lord to allow yet another opportunity to repent and return to God.

Second Hell—The Telestial Kingdom

Another definition of hell is the lowest kingdom of glory—the Telestial Kingdom. This is not a temporary place, but a permanent home for those of us who, despite being taught the gospel throughout our temporary time in spirit prison, have failed to accept Jesus Christ and His gospel.

“These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.

These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.

These are they who are thrust down to hell” (D&C 76:82-84).

This is the appointed place for people “who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” (D&C 76:103). Also included are those who profess to follow Jesus Christ “but received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant” (D&C 76:101).

Still, the Telestial Kingdom is not unending torment—far from it. It is a kingdom of glory. Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sidney Rigdon saw a vision of the Telestial Kingdom in which they saw “the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89). In God’s infinite mercy, even the lowest permanent dwelling for even his most disobedient children, is a place so glorious that it surpasses all of our understanding.

Does that sound like “hell?”

Third Hell—Outer Darkness

There is a final hell that more correctly meets the larger Christian world’s standard of hell. “There is a place prepared for them from the beginning, which place is hell” (D&C 29:38).

This is a place without glory (D&C 88:24).

This place is known as outer darkness. It is peopled with those who “learn to hate the truth with an eternal hatred, and they learn to love wickedness. They reach a condition where they cannot repent. The spirit of murder fills their hearts and they would, if they had the power, crucify our Lord again, which they virtually do by fighting his work and seeking to destroy it and his prophets. …

“Before a man can sink to this bitterness of soul, he must first know and understand the truth with a clearness of vision wherein there is no doubt. The Change of heart does not come all at once, but is due to transgression in some form, which continues to lurk in the soul without repentance, until the Holy Ghost withdraws, and then that man is left to spiritual darkness. Sin begets sin; the darkness grows until the love of truth turns to hatred, and the love of God is overcome by the wicked desire to destroy all that is just and true. In this way Christ is put to open shame, and blasphemy exalted.

“How fortunate it is that in the mercy of God there will be comparatively few who will partake of this awful misery and eternal darkness.” (Source)

For those few who receive outer darkness as their eternal home, they wouldn’t be at peace in any degree of glory. Placing them in a home with God’s glorious light would be, in its own way, hell. Thus, this place of darkness, devoid of God’s light and truth, is a merciful home for them.

Do Latter-day Saints believe in Hell? Yes. Not as many do, but yes. We believe that Christ gives us every opportunity to repent and return to Him. We believe that we will live forever in the place we belong because it is a place of our choosing. We believe that only a very few will choose outer darkness when given so many opportunities to choose Christ and His glory. We believe there are periods of hell for many until they are ready to receive more and progress, but that eternal hell, without the light of Christ, is only for the very few who, by then, want nothing to do with His light and truth.

Could there be a more merciful God?

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright
Becca loves audiobooks, dark chocolate, singing, hiking, walking,  going out with her husband, and raising their chickens and children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see flowing lava and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.

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