The Gospel Doctrine lesson 30 manual objective is “To help class members gain a greater understanding of life after death and the mercy that is available to them through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
To learn about the role of women in the spirit world, and to examine varied perspectives on the afterlife from Alma and the Doctrine and Covenants.
A friend of mine once said that God was a Riddle Maker, and suggested that the body of scriptures was one interwoven work, unified by clues and connections. God wants us to dig and discover, she said, treasure hunts being more fun than lectures. And more memorable, because they engage and draw us out as we bring our own questions to them.
I have loved this perspective as I have sought to understand the dissimilar views of the spirit world and resurrection seen in this lesson, including a brief and beautiful glimpse of women in the post-mortal world.
In these chapters from Alma, and in D&C 138, we see three seekers curious about the afterlife from varied perspectives: Alma, his son Corianton, and President Joseph F. Smith.
Why Alma’s son Corianton is concerned about the afterlife we can only guess, but his serious recent sins might have something to do with it. His father Alma was ever curious about doctrine (see Alma 5:46; 40:1, 19-21), willing to state clearly what he knew and did not know, and bringing his own experience in youthful rebellion to the job. President Smith, in contrast, exhibits the inquisitiveness of one facing his own death, still learning about a seemingly strange doctrine unique to the church.
To his son, Alma explains clearly that salvation is not a child’s game. Real consequences of our decisions play out in the next life. He lays out the elegantly clear law of restoration. We reap what we sow, now and into eternity. If we choose wickedness, Satan will “take possession of [our] house,” and we will be “led captive by the will of the devil (Alma 40:13).” Moreover, “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). (One day I heard my then teenage daughter, whose path of faith was in doubt, repeat that truth to another friend over the phone, and I grinned for about a week.)
When we sow evil and misery, we reap evil and misery. Justice and mercy bring forth justice and mercy. Additionally, everyone will be resurrected so that they can stand before God to be judged of their works. This description of the afterlife is straightforward, simple and sobering.
More than 2000 years later, toward the close of World War 1 and in the midst of a flu pandemic, President Smith pondered on “the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son,”(D&C 138:3). His thoughts led him to 1 Peter and a practical question about the Savior’s work in preaching to the innumerable “spirits in prison” who had lived on the earth by the time of the crucifixion “which sometime were disobedient,” and the difficulty of visiting them all in the short days between his death and resurrection, as suggested in 1 Peter 3:18-20.
His meditation and its resulting vision provide a rare picture window into the very spirit world Alma contemplated, providing more details than Corianton heard from his father.
President Smith sees “the hosts of the dead, both small and great,” including “the spirits of the just…filled with joy and gladness,” assembled to meet the Savior. These, he learns, will be Christ’s messengers, sent personally to “carry the message of redemption unto all the dead.” (D&C 138:11, 15, 37)
Among them first “Father Adam, the Ancient of Days,” appears, followed by “our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God” (D&C 138:39). After the women, a good list of prophets up to modern times rounds out those who serve the Savior in bearing witness of Him to countless souls who died in ignorance of their Redeemer. In President Smith’s modern addition to scripture, we see a more nuanced spirit world with ramifications for ourselves as Christ’s people.
Once in the midst of my own worries, the phrase “our glorious mother Eve and her faithful daughters” entered my mind unexpectedly during a sacrament service. I felt in the moment that I belonged to that sisterhood, and that Jesus Christ could and would use me in his work—as a faithful woman. Just how is a riddle I’m pursuing.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Seeking Peace That Passeth Understanding, Patty Gutshall
“We were all in shock. It didn’t seem real. Like a bad dream that we were going to wake up from any moment and find him standing there and everything would be fine. We did wake up to find, in a sense, that everything was okay. We woke to a new understanding and appreciation for the power of the Atonement and the Resurrection. We woke to the promised peace that ‘passeth all understanding.'”
To Sit At The Feet of Christ, Christie Kay Hansen Frandsen
“[My children] love the scriptures and it is because I love the scriptures and I would share things with them. They would see me studying and I know that was a really great example, especially to my daughters. It is kind of a Mary story. To sit at the feet of Christ, to read the scriptures, to teach the scriptures with authority. My daughters have something to offer and men will be receptive to that.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Ripples, Virginia U. Jensen
“We, like Mary, Eve, Sarah, and Emma, are unique. We have ripples to make and water to share. Given our eternal heritage, we must remember how powerfully our simple, righteous actions can ripple through the hearts and homes of those around us. We have such a great opportunity to do so much good…”
The Holy Scriptures: Letters from Home, Ardeth G. Kapp
“Learning to study the scriptures is like learning to walk. When you first begin reading them, you feel unsure; you’d much rather read something familiar, like a favorite story. But I can tell you from my experience, if you will try reading the scriptures every day, just as you kept trying to walk, these precious records will become as important to you as being able to walk. In fact, I believe more so. Every day will go better for you. Your confidence will grow, and you will find the strength to resist temptation and discouragement. But you have got to begin.”
Looking for additional perspectives on this lesson? We recommend Mormon Sunday School, Meridian Magazine and LDSLiving.