Latter-day Saint Life

11 Insights Into Life Before & After Our Mortal Existence

Latter-day Saints know that we lived before we came to earth and that we will live again after death. But exactly how many details do we know about this spiritual existence? Find out what Church doctrine teaches us about our premortal and postmortal life.

All illustrations courtesy of Alex Nabaum

Latter-day Saints know that we lived before we came to earth and that we will live again after death. But exactly how many details do we know about this spiritual existence? Find out what Church doctrine teaches us about our premortal and postmortal life.

In my nearly 40 years as a religious educator, few doctrinal topics have elicited more questions from students than the premortal existence and the postmortal spirit world. They are like bookends to our lives here on earth—inseparably connected, each one influencing the other. 

Here are some common questions that people wonder about:

- What did I look like before I came to earth? What does it mean to be a child of God?

- What did we do in the premortal world? Church meetings? “Spirit seminary?”

- Were there temptations and sin there? What about faith or repentance?

- Where do I go when I die? What will I look like? Will I recognize family and friends in the spirit world? Even if I never knew them on earth?

- Can those in the spirit world see me or communicate with me?

- What do we do in the spirit world? Play harps and float on clouds?

- Can a person repent and change in the spirit world?

Even though Latter-day Saints know that we existed before we came to earth, we don’t know everything about the “other sides.” As a result, we wonder about the details of premortal and postmortal life. The Lord hasn’t seen fit to reveal all the details, but He has given us more information than we think. 

Understanding these doctrines is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces. Some, but not all, of the pieces have been put together for us by modern revelation. As more and more of the pieces are put in place, the picture becomes clearer. Even without all the details, we “get the picture.” So it is with these bookends of mortality—our premortal and postmortal experiences. 

One of the most important truths revealed about our life before and after is that each is probably more similar to this earth life than we might think. In 1832, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “That which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual” (D&C 77:2). Our spiritual existence—before and after this life—contains many of the same kinds of conditions, relationships, and patterns as we see here on earth and experience in mortality. 

Here are just a few “pieces of the puzzle”—facts we may have forgotten from our life before and glimpses beyond the veil of what we can expect in the life to come.

Our Life Before


“The family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children,” the Family Proclamation states. We sing the words, “I have a family here on earth,” but we could also sing, “I have a family there in heaven.” In 1909, the First Presidency of the Church issued an official declaration concerning the spiritual as well as the temporal origin of man. Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund wrote: “All men and women are in similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”

Just as mortal beings take on their physical bodies in a procreative process involving both an earthly father and an earthly mother, the birth of spirits came about “in like manner.” This important truth implies that not only a Heavenly Father is needed in the spiritual procreative process but also a Heavenly Mother. 

So what does it mean to be a begotten child of God—a daughter or son of heavenly parents? President Lorenzo Snow taught: 

There is a nature of deity in the composition of our spirits. In our spiritual birth our Father transmitted to us the capability, powers, and faculties which he himself possesses, as much so as the child on its mother’s bosom possesses, although in an undeveloped state, the faculties, power and susceptibilities of its parents. 


Each child born inherits certain qualities and characteristics from his or her physical parents. In a real yet spiritual sense, each child of Heavenly Father likewise inherits characteristics and capacities from his or her divine parents. These capacities may not necessarily be talents such as athletic ability or artistic gifts, but no doubt all spirit sons and daughters of God inherit divine traits, characteristics, and spiritual gifts. Like here on earth, we were able to develop talents and abilities that would not only bless our own lives but also bless and help others.

We readily accept that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain in this life” goes with us into our next estate (D&C 130:18–19). It is reasonable to assume that the intelligence (light and truth) we acquired in our premortal home, along with talents and abilities, dispositions, and desires there developed came with us into this life and influence us here. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

Being subject to law and having their agency, all the spirits of men, while yet in the Eternal Presence, developed aptitudes, talents, capacities, and abilities of every sort, kind, and degree. . . . And all men with their infinitely varied talents and personalities pick up the course of progression where they left it off when they left the heavenly realms.


Prophets of the Restoration have declared that priesthood authority and Church organization existed in the premortal courts of the Father. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated:

The Priesthood is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years. The keys have to be brought from heaven whenever the Gospel is sent.

 The Prophet clearly states that priesthood is eternal, and that through that eternal channel comes the knowledge and instruction necessary to prepare the spirit children of God for eventual exaltation. Just as the Church is the “kingdom of God on earth,” there is a “kingdom of God in heaven”—a Church organization of some sort that, by the power of the priesthood, administers the work of preparation and salvation within that sphere. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

It is reasonable to believe that there was a Church organization there. The heavenly beings were living in a perfectly arranged society. Every person knew his place. Priesthood, without question, had been conferred and the leaders were chosen to officiate. Ordinances pertaining to that pre-existence were required and the love of God prevailed. 

We learn from President Joseph F. Smith, that “even before they were born,” the children of God “received their first lessons in the world of the spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord” (D&C 138:33–34). What were those “first lessons”? The gospel of Jesus Christ, of course! The same gospel and principles of salvation taught on earth and in the postmortal world of spirits.

Before and After


President Joseph Fielding Smith stated that individual agency led to different levels of obedience, diligence, and righteousness, which resulted in varying levels of progression, capacities, authority, and responsibilities. He said: 

God gave his children their free agency even in the spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. Because of this, some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Some were of greater intelligence than others, as we find it here, and were honored accordingly.

Note in the previous statement the phrases “just as me that the premortal spirits had opportunities and requirements to be obedient, diligent, and faithful, as do mortals on earth. We were expected to be faithful in whatever commandments and duties the Father required of us. We were to develop talents, skills, and abilities that would enable us to live more productive and fulfilling lives, both there and here. We were to show love, kindness, patience, and consideration to our brothers and sisters. 

When we made mistakes, we were to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repent of our sins, and seek to more fully follow God. Each of these gospel expectations is the same “as we find it here”—and as we will find it “there” in the postmortal spirit world.


There are many ways that our premortal inclinations may influence our lives here. A somewhat common way is discussed in a correspondence between Elder Orson F. Whitney and President Joseph F. Smith. Elder Whitney asked: 

Why are we drawn to certain persons, and they to us, as if we had always known each other? Is it a fact that we always have? Is there something, after all, in that much abused term ‘affinity’ and is this the basis of its claim? At all events, it is just as logical to look back upon fond associations, as it is to look forward to them. We believe that ties formed in this life, will be continued in the life to come; then why not believe that . . . some of them at least, have been resumed in this state of existence?


While nothing has been revealed specifically concerning the appearance of the premortal world, there are some interesting statements from latter-day prophets that shed light on the subject. As previously stated, our temporal world is patterned after spiritual realms. With this understanding, it is reasonable to assume that the premortal spirit world must be quite similar in appearance to the postmortal spirit world. 

President Brigham Young spoke specifically of the premortal world when he declared that the spirit children of God were indeed “acquainted with every nook and corner, with the palaces, walks, and gardens” of that realm. 

Heber C. Kimball, recalling what Jedediah M. Grant once told him about his experience in the spirit world, said, “I have seen good gardens on this earth, but I never saw any to compare with those that were there. I saw flowers of numerous kinds, and some with from fifty to a hundred different colored flowers growing upon one stalk.” Heber C. Kimball then concluded, “We have many kinds of flowers on the earth, and I suppose those very articles came from heaven, or they would not be here.” He also spoke of the buildings Jedediah Grant saw there and remarked that the splendor of Solomon’s temple “was much inferior to the most ordinary buildings in the spirit world.”

Our Life After

In addition to knowledge of life before birth, Latter-day Saints also have a unique understanding about life after death. 


During one of Joseph Smith’s visits to the Johnson farm, he told Benjamin F. Johnson, “From a boy I have been persecuted. . . . Why should I not wish for my time of rest?” And then he said, “I would not be far away from you, and if on the other side of the veil I would still be working with you, and with a power greatly increased, to roll on this kingdom.”

This story highlights another important doctrine of the restored gospel: the spirit world is right here on earth, and the spirits of our departed loved ones are in reality among us. This doctrine is as comforting to the Latter-day Saints as it is unique among Christian beliefs. Our deceased family and friends are not gone, neither are they far away in some distant “heaven.” 

It is important to remember that we are separated from the spirit worlds, both before and after, by a veil—not a wall. The spirit world is not some remote part of the cosmos; it is nearby. Our loved ones—both those who have yet to join our family and those who have departed—are very close by.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “They are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions.” 


In the spirit world, the law of restoration is an absolutely perfect and just return for our actions in life. We get what we gave. We experience all the effects of our own choices.

The first question that pops up in response to this is, what about repentance? And must I still have that “life review” if I have repented? The answer is that when we repent, the Atonement of Jesus Christ cleanses and purifies us; we are made new creatures. So, yes we will have a “life review,” but it will be of the new creature, or the new life that Christ has created in us. 

Another doctrine that gives us hope is that of the incredible work of salvation that goes on in the spirit world. It has a direct application to all of us, for we will all be involved in some way in that work. President Wilford Woodruff taught that the priesthood and offices we hold in this life go with us into the spirit world. We engage in the same types of service and ministry there that we use the priesthood for here. 

Before and After


The doctrinal principle of “that which is temporal [is] in the likeness of that which is spiritual,” tells us that not only do we have an immortal spirit that generally looks like our bodies but also that, to a large degree, the spirit world looks and is organized like the earthly world. Brigham Young taught:

When you are in the spirit world, everything there will appear as natural as things now do. Spirits will be as familiar with spirits in the spirit world—will converse, behold, and exercise every variety of communication one with another as familiarly and naturally as while here in tabernacles. There, as here, all things will be natural, and you will understand them as you now understand natural things.


As Brigham Young taught, the spirit world will appear just as natural as do things here on earth, but it will be suffused with “inexpressible glory.”

For example, Brigham Young taught that when we enter into paradise, we will be “free to travel with lightning speed.” He compared this spiritual movement, including what we today call “time travel,” to lightning or electricity (or perhaps we could add fiber optics, satellites, and the internet). These, President Young said, “furnish a fine illustration of the ability and power of the Almighty. . . . When we pass into the spirit world we shall possess a measure of this power.” Perhaps this is what the Prophet Joseph meant when he described the righteous spirits as being “enveloped in flaming fire.”

Elder Orson Pratt spoke extensively of the mode of communication in the spirit world. There, he said, communication isn’t dependent upon sound waves and auditory nerves in our ears. Instead, we communicate mind to mind, spirit to spirit. In my research, I came across many accounts of non-LDS near-death experiences that described this telepathic communication. That may sound like something out of Star Trek, but in reality, the scriptures and prophets describe it as the “spirit of revelation”—that is, God speaks to our minds and hearts (see D&C 8:2–3). That is perfect communication.

There is another aspect of this enhanced capacity of righteous spirits in the spirit world that I really look forward to—increased ability to learn and retain knowledge. Orson Pratt explained: 

Instead of thinking in one channel, knowledge will rush in from all quarters; it will come in light like the light which flows from the sun, penetrating every part, informing the spirit, and giving understanding concerning ten thousand things at the same time; and the mind will be capable of receiving and retaining all.


Benjamin F. Johnson once described seeing the Prophet Joseph one evening and said that the prophet, “with a deep-drawn breath, as a sigh of weariness . . . sank down heavily in his chair, and said, ‘Oh! I am so tired—so tired that I often feel to long for my day of rest. For what has there been in this life but tribulation for me?’”

This promise of eventual peace and rest is at the very heart of the Prophet Joseph’s teachings on death, the spirit world, and consolation. He repeatedly testified that to the faithful, “all is well” at death. In an earlier revelation, the Lord stated, “Those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:46).

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to have the additional insight of modern revelation about our life before and our life after. Through modern revelation, we can know that our loved ones are at peace, that they are near us and engaged in a profound work, and that they have a never-ending reserve of hope provided through the Savior’s Atonement. We are blessed to have such precious knowledge of who we were, what our true potential is, and what great blessings await us. 

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 Issue of LDS Living Magazine. Read more by picking up your copy in any Deseret Book store or on

Learn more about the other side from celebrated LDS author Brent L. Top inWhat's On the Other Side: What the Gospel Teaches Us About the Spirit World. 

This revealing look at gospel principles 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.


Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content