As the tragedy and outrage of the September 11, 2001 attacks unfolded, we heard news reports about the tens of thousands of people that potentially lost their lives in the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on the airplanes. Estimates as high as 140,000 people came and went to the WTC buildings each day and so, high causalities were a real possibility.
As it turned out, while there were more than 17,500 people in the WTC buildings at the time of the attacks, in the end about 2,800 people were killed in the WTC buildings including those on the planes that crashed into them.
Among the stories of tragedy, harrowing rescues and escapes were many stories of people who were supposed to be in those buildings at the time of the attacks but, for one reason or another, were not.
You can find them here, here and here. The stories included one by my Brother-in-Law, who worked for Merrill-Lynch at that time and was supposed to be in one of the towers that day for training.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; …..” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
As I heard these stories, it got me thinking, “Who are the fortunate ones? The ones who died, or the ones who were spared?”
“And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.” Doctrine and Covenants Section 42:48
President Kimball in his book, Faith Precedes the Miracle, devoted an entire chapter to the question, “Death: Tragedy or Destiny?”
He says this:
“Why should the young mother die of cancer and leave her eight children motherless? Why did not the Lord heal her?…
Did God take the life of the young mother or prompt the child to toddle into the canal or guide the other child into the path of the oncoming car?…
Did the Lord cause the man to suffer a heart attack? Was the death of the missionary untimely? Answer, if you can. I cannot, for though I know God has a major role in our lives, I do not know how much he causes to happen and how much he merely permits. Whatever the answer to this question, there is another I feel sure about.
Could the Lord have prevented these tragedies? The answer is, Yes. The Lord is omnipotent, with all power to control our lives, save us pain, prevent all accidents, drive all planes and cars, feed us, protect us, save us from labor, effort, sickness, even from death, if He will. But He will not. (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, Chapter 8, excerpted)
So, the question remains in my mind:
“Are we better off dead?”
Sort of an unusual way of asking the question, but nevertheless, it is appropriate. We know that when we die, we go to the Spirit World (See Alma chapter 40:11-12), the righteous to a “state of happiness” called paradise and the wicked to a state of “outer darkness” commonly referred to as Hell or “Spirit Prison” where there “shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. (Alma 40:13)
So, another fundamental question is: Who are the “righteous” and who are the “wicked?” I asked this of my Gospel Doctrine class last Sunday and everyone had a hard time giving an answer. My first thought is the righteous are the valiant members of the Church, who have lived the gospel as best they can and they, for sure will be in a state of paradise.
“As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality; And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name. All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. “(Doctrine and Covenants Section 138:11 – 15)
And the rest?
“While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance. But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised; Neither did the rebellious who rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets behold his presence, nor look upon his face. Where these were, darkness reigned, but among the righteous there was peace; ” (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 138:18 – 22)
Reading this, I would say that those who were good people in this life, but did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel will have that chance and be “promoted” if you will, to paradise. The same would apply to members who, might not have been as strong as they should have been. The unrepentant wicked will stay that way and be judged at the final judgment.
Elder James E. Talmage said this:
“…many other great truths not known before, have been declared to the people, and one of the greatest is that to hell there is an exit as well as an entrance. Hell is no place to which a vindictive judge sends prisoners to suffer and to be punished principally for his glory: But it is a place prepared for the teaching, the disciplining of those who failed to learn here upon the earth what they should have learned…No man will be kept in hell longer than is necessary to bring him to a fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him into a better state.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1930, p. 97 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 342-3)
So, I go back to my original question, When our lives are “spared” by God to remain in this earthly life, are we “better off” than those who are taken from this earth? We know that this is the “time to prepare to meet God.” Are those who are taken prepared or not? Or, do they, as we teach, continue to grown in knowledge and truth? Eternal progression.
What are your thoughts?
“Are we better off dead?” — yes! Often, that is.
Nicely thought, well written, I hope this draws the attention it deserves.
Very interesting way to frame the central question, “Are we better off dead?” It’s not the question that I mind; it’s the implications – or rather the possible actions from some of the implications.
I personally think the question of whether or not we are better off dead is a false dichotomy – since we believe we are never “dead” but always alive. I prefer to focus on living each stage of life as fully as possible – to try to learn as much from each stage as is possible, which includes not shortening any stage prematurely through our own choices. Let God decide whether or not my appointed time has come; in the meantime, I will focus on sticking around as long as possible and continuing to learn in this stage of life.
In summary, while I have no problem with the question in theory, I would prefer to ignore the question in practical reality. Too many people have taken it and used it as a justification for abominable individual and societal actions, so I’d prefer it not become a widely discussed question in general – or, at the very least, be answered in general with a resounding, “NO!” I might agree with Stephen that often the answer is, “Yes,” but I believe that should be an individual answer – not a collective understanding.
I attended the funeral of a former ward member who died suddenly at age 38, leaving a young wife and four children, aged 12 – 1. Every single speaker talked about how K. had been called to a mission on the other side, how we don’t know what it is, but it must be important to call him away so suddenly. Even the bishop and stake president echoed this sentiment.
I was really uncomfortable with this whole line of reasoning. Given that when I helped him move some furniture two years ago he could hardly go up and down the stairs without gasping for breath (he was at least 60-80 pounds overweight), I think that the 90% arterial blockage was more likely the cause of his death than a calling to the other side.
We try so hard to find answers to every question. I think we need to (1) take some personal responsibility (yes, I’m trying to lose weight) and (2) be willing to say, “I don’t know” which is part of the Kimball quote above.
Great point, Michael. I know a lady who was killed by a drunk driver, leaving 7 children behind. I didn’t agree at all that “it must have been her time”. I blame the drunk who killed her. Period.
“Let God decide whether or not my appointed time has come; in the meantime, I will focus on sticking around as long as possible and continuing to learn in this stage of life.”
I agree with the later part of your statement, because I don’t think that God decides to have a drunk driver make a bad choice which leads to a death of an innocent person. In fact, I tend more toward Pres. Kimball’s point that He permits more than He directs.
I keep thinking of Job, which seems to exist specifically to teach that God lets bad things happen to good folks and to show how they should react. I also keep thinking of Ecclesiastes. “Under the sun” we’re all subject to time and chance, except for those exceptional times when we get an intervention.
This issue actually touches on how we fundamentally view blessings. Are we to accept, as an independent and fundamental truth, D&C 130:11-12 re: how obedience and (if that verse is viewed in isolation) obedience alone brings blessings? Must we then conclude that those who are spared from disaster were “blessed”? They say they were…and it is QUITE presumptuous of anyone living to contradict them. Yet the well worn “bad things happen to great people” mantra is still a major strain of LDS thought. How to reconcile?
I would propose a rather postmodern bent to the concept of blessing/cursing. If we view blessings as primarily (and often exclusively) as a “state of mind,” then it allows us a way out of this conundrum. When we receive the blessings of a life lived longer than expected (as I have on several occasions when I really should have seen my “final transfer” on the “transfer board” in the sky), the blessing is not the longer life itself but the perception that longer life is a blessing. This fits into the general program because the perception of increased longevity is really the key element to a person’s discipleship. Whether it is indeed or not is a moot point. And God knows it. Pres. Hinckley so noted that our actions are largely guided by our perceptions; therefore, it would reasonably follow that Heavenly Father would primarily operate through them. Similarly , Elder Maxwell noted that when individuals call certain events faith-promoting, these events are “symptoms” of faith, not generators of it. Interesting indeed…are these blessings of increased “spiritual sight” rather than actual substance?
To me, this approach helps us out of many difficult questions as to whether the righteous are blessed with wealth, life, or anything else. It helps account for why those considered “wicked” might still enjoy the so-called “blessings” of righteousness. To me, the wicked have not received the real blessings, for they have not come closer to God/received the proper mindset from the things/”blessings” they receive. In the end, because they have not sought after this mindset, they will realize that their blessings were simply quirks of a fallen world that happened to work in their favor.
I agree with Ray’s sentiment. We never really “die” anyway, we just keep on living. That spirit with which we leave this life is the one we take to the next. So, we should continue to learn as much as we can at every stage of life (and after life).
Ok, fine. Get me on a technicality. 🙂 Shall I rephrase to say, Are we better off passing on to the next life?
Jeff – I’m not looking for an exit any time soon. If I were, I’d be eating a lot more cookies!
Jeff, according to Mormon theology, we are – unless we qualify for Outer Darkness, that is. 🙂
That is a much more difficult question, however, for religion in general. Without an underlying purpose for this life that includes negative repercussions in a future life for “incorrect” actions in this life, what keeps someone from intentionally leaving this life in order to get to the next one? Conversely, does a belief in a better life to come diminish the tenacity with which we cling to this one? If so, is that a good or bad thing relative to the supposed purpose of this life to learn and grow?
We all have heard of people who kill themselves or their children or others so that they can go to Heaven – specifically because of the belief that Heaven really is more glorious than we can comprehend. Such a justification was behind the torture of the Inquisition – coercing people into “confessions” to cleanse their souls and allow them to be accepted into Heaven.
This really is a two-edged sword, but I personally believe that we can’t blame the religious construct for someone’s actions relative to life and death – since many others share that same construct and make radically different decisions. Ultimately, it is the individual, not the theology, that drives actions, imo. That’s why I support people in their efforts to find religious philosophies that help them be constructive and happy and positive and growing in this life.
“We all have heard of people who kill themselves or their children or others so that they can go to Heaven – specifically because of the belief that Heaven really is more glorious than we can comprehend. Such a justification was behind the torture of the Inquisition – coercing people into “confessions” to cleanse their souls and allow them to be accepted into Heaven.’
Forcing someone into the next life cannot possible have a positive reward attached to it. That said, I think this is a hard question to answer. We always heard that oft spoke phrase, “he/she is in a better place.” Yet, we are commanded (I guess) to find and obtain joy in THIS life.
We really know so little about the next life, it is hard to have a strong desire to leave this one, which we are familiar with. I suppose it is akin to leaving the pre-mortal life for this one as well.
Better off Dead? All I can say is watch out for the paperboy seeking his 2 dollars 🙂