One of the most important lessons learned by those people who have glimpsed beyond the veil of death is what is most important and lasting in life. It often brings a radical reordering of their priorities in mortality. These glimpses into the spirit world remind us that one of the greatest blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that we know which things matter most; what our eternal priorities should be. . . .
It is interesting to note that most of the people who encountered the spirit world and who had experienced the glory of the next estate came back from that experience with a new sense of purpose and priorities in life. Many changed professions, often into service-related fields, because they understood that relationships were more important and eternal than making a good living, and that people are always more important than things. One person said: “I gained a lot of understanding [from my experience]. I saw that we’re moving so fast in our society, we’re not taking time to look at what God has given us. We’re not getting to know people, which is the essence of what it’s all about. We’re not here to be making millions of dollars and getting to the top of the corporate ladder. That’s not what God wants us to do. We’re here for people.”
Another person who had a near-death experience described the changes that took place in him after his “visit” to the spirit world: “My joy comes from another’s smile. I also notice that I reach out and touch people more. . . . I have more insight into other people [now]. . . . It’s very difficult for me to lose my temper anymore. I can see the pain in other people’s eyes. That’s why they hurt other people because they really don’t understand. . . . The most important thing that we have are our relationships with other people. . . . It all comes down to caring and compassion and love for your fellowman. . . . Love is the answer. It’s the answer to everything.”
A common thread through all of the many accounts of people’s glimpses into the spirit world is that of love, an increased love for God and the things of the Spirit and an increased love for one’s fellowman. Isn’t that really what Jesus taught when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He said that upon two things “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40), which was His way of saying to a Jewish audience, “everything hinges on these two things”: first and foremost, loving God, and then loving others—our -family, friends, neighbors, strangers, everyone—including our enemies (see Matthew 22:36–39). The Apostle Paul in the New Testament and the prophet Mormon in the Book of Mormon both testified of the preeminence of divine love in heaven and on earth. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Saints: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
Mormon likewise testified: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never -faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:46–47).
The two most commonly cited words to describe the spirit world by both Latter-day Saints and those not of our faith are light and love—and they always go hand in hand. The light and glory that fills our souls and radiates in God’s realm is also God’s perfect love. Here are just a few of the accounts of people who experienced that perfect light and love in their encounters with the spirit world:
“Love is the major impression I still retain. In heaven there is light, peace, music, beauty and joyful activity, but above all there is love and within this love I felt more truly alive than I have ever done before.”
“There was the warmest, most wonderful love. Love all around me. . . . I felt light-good-happy-joy-at ease. Forever—eternal love. Time meant nothing. Just being. Love. Pure love. Love.”
This is an interesting glimpse of the righteous spirits on the other side of the veil: “Seeing these beings and feeling the joy, peace and happiness which swelled up from them made me feel that here was the place of all places, the top realm of all realms. These beings who inhabited it were full of love.”
And lastly, “I also felt and saw of course that everyone was in a state of absolute compassion to everything else. . . . It seemed, too, that love was the major axiom that everyone automatically followed. . . . There was nothing but love. . . . [It was] the real thing, just to feel this sense of total love in every direction.”
As I read these descriptions of the light and love that prevail on the other side, I immediately thought of Lehi’s and Nephi’s descriptions of the fruit of the tree of life, which is the love of God. Lehi said that “it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy” (1 Nephi 8:12). Nephi declared that the love of God “is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22). It is this perfect and exquisite love that caused Brigham Young to say that he had to exercise far greater faith to continue to live in mortality after he had tasted of what he called “the glory of the next apartment.” Likewise, it is this incredible light and love that led to Jedediah M. Grant saying that the greatest dread he had ever had was to return to his body after being in the spirit world, even for a short time. Numerous others, some not even of our faith, have had similar experiences. Speaking of a Being of Light, one person said: “What the light communicates to you is a feeling of true, pure love. You experience this for the first time ever. You can’t compare it to the love of your wife, or the love of your children. . . . Even if all [the things you love] were combined you cannot compare it to the feeling of love you get from this light.”
Many spoke of how the love they felt in the spirit world has now powerfully affected them in life. They try to love others more and try to live so as to be able to once again be embraced in that perfect love—forever. As one man who is not of our faith observed: “Going into that Light is a beautiful feeling in that you feel love and forgiveness. To not be able to stay in that realm of heavenly love would be hell. To experience it, to know it’s there, and not be able to partake of it: That’s hell.” Interestingly, Elder Orson Pratt taught that hell is the total absence of God’s perfect love.As I ponder his words I wonder if hell or what we often refer to as “outer darkness” is not only the absence of light, but also the total and absolute void of Light’s eternal companion, Love. All who have experienced this infinite light and love—these “better worlds and greater light”—know that they are indeed the great motivators. Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who partook of the pure love of Christ in a dream wherein he was embraced and kissed by the Savior, recounted: “The feeling that came into my heart then was: Oh! if I could live worthy, though it would require four-score years, so that in the end when I have finished I could go into His presence and receive the feeling that I then had in His presence, I would give everything that I am and ever hope to be!”
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Learn more with What's on the Other Side?
The Prophet Joseph Smith observed that death and the spirit world are subjects "we ought to study more than any other. . . . If we have claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject."
Brent Top, a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, highlights the wealth of information the scriptures and latter-day prophets and apostles have provided to us about death and the spirit world—its location and conditions, the nature of departed spirits, and the work performed for and by those there. Removing much of the mystery and fear associated with dying, this book demonstrates that knowing what life will be like after death can help inspire us to live better lives here and now.