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.
“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?