OK, You're Dead — What Happens Next? (Alma 40)
Alma 40 reveals information that is of great interest to many people and is not spelled out as plainly anywhere else in the Word of God. It tells us what happens right after we pass from this life. It's not too surprising that this information is not more readily available since anybody who has experienced this is not exactly in a position to write about it for us. In the case of Alma, he has an inside source — an angel has shared the information with him — so we can benefit from knowing what he was told. We all know we're going to die someday. Here's what happens next:
Step 1: The Soul Leaves the Body and Returns to God
"The spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body…whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life." (Alma 40:11)
It is important to recognize that the soul is an actual entity; it exists. As such, it does not disappear when life on earth ends. It leaves the body at that time, and then it needs to go somewhere. Where it goes is back to God who then determines for each individual soul where it will reside until its resurrection day — see Step 2A and 2B below for the two possibilities of where the soul goes next.
Step 2A: Paradise
"The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow" (Alma 40:12)
Paradise is not Heaven — it is a resting place for the souls of the righteous as they await their resurrection and final consignment to Heaven. When Jesus was on the cross and one of the thieves hanging next to Him recognized Him as Lord, Jesus said to him, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Step 2B: Outer Darkness
"The spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil — for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord…shall be cast out into outer darkness, there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth." (Alma 40:13)
As with Paradise, Outer Darkness is not the final home for the souls of the wicked — it's a place where they await their resurrection. However, it's not really a restful place. These souls are in "a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them" (verse 14). Thus, the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
There was an occasion (recorded in Matthew 8) when Jesus recognized the faith of a centurion (a Gentile) and healed his servant of a serious illness. He remarked that many Gentiles would eventually enter the kingdom of heaven but that many Israelites would be "cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12). Similar references to Outer Darkness can be found in Matthew 22:13 and 25:30.
Step 3: Resurrection
"There is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth" (Alma 40:21)
The first resurrection occurred about 2,000 years ago when Christ resurrected along with all who had died prior to that time. "Many bodies of the saints which slept arose…after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many" (Matthew 27:52-53).
Everyone who has died since that time is waiting for one of the future resurrections. When that time arrives, each soul will be united with a spiritual version of their body. Any missing body parts will be restored to this body — even if you've lost your hair, it will be restored.
Each person then stands before God to be judged and assigned to a final home. Although it is called a judgment, your final home is already determined by where you are sent after you die. Only those who were in Paradise inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who were in Outer Darkness experience a "second death."
Presumably, all of us wants to follow the Paradise/Heaven path described above. Let's make sure we're on the right path now, and let's help others get on the right path as well. Then all of us can be numbered among "the righteous [who] shine forth in the kingdom of God" (verse 25) for all eternity.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.