J B Priestley makes an analogy in his book, Thoughts in the Wilderness, about the nature of this life. He says that the Lion lives in and commands the world of “dreary conformity.” Except that instead of honor, the Lion gets “shrugs, jeers, sniggers and roars of laughter.” He is chained up while we mortals try to impress everyone with our knowledge. Meanwhile the Unicorn, “old but timeless, potent in its magic” represents the heavenly realm where we are empowered to be boldly imaginative as we proclaim that honor, right and “truth that is beauty are neither dead nor undefended.” I believe that when Christ comes again, he will bring with him a new ideal that was only imagined in Camelot and laughed at in Don Quixote. His realm is like a Land of Unicorns. (Priestley/Root)
This essay is going to focus on neither the Lion nor the Unicorn but the space between the two. “Now there must needs be a space bewixt the time of death and the time of the resurrection.” (Alma 40:6) This space, or Spirit World, allows for period of reflection before the redemption and resurrection. It is the nature of this space that I want to explore. Some of my sources are religious and some are secular.
Jeffrey Olsen, in his book Knowing: Memoirs of a journey beyond the veil and choosing joy after tragic loss, speaks of his own near death experience and this is how he described what it felt like to be out of the land of the Lion, “Was it Heaven? I didn’t know, but it made my earthly existence seem like a foggy dream. What I was experiencing was far more real, far more tangible, and far more alive than anything I had ever known.” (Olsen, ch 5) This personal experience shows us one difference between mortality and the Spirit World. The spirit of man leaves the mortal body and enters a world that is peopled with others who are deceased and they are all waiting for the redemption to come. I believe they are essentially in another dimension on this Earth and that they can see mortals but they are without physical form and so mortals cannot usually see them.
In his book Lilith, George McDonald explores the redemption of a mythical princess Lilith. The main character of the book encounters Lilith in an imaginary world betwen life and death that harks back to a “Spirit World.” She is resistant to any kind of change from her devilish ways and so she remains while those who have submitted to the will of the Creator are at “rest” in the House of Death.
The first third of the book Lilith is very confusing and necessarily so. Without confusion, the reader cannot understand that the dead in the “Spirit World” are not sure why they are there and what it means to “rest.” They are not necessarily emotional although some are wreaking havoc as usual just like Lilith. The dead enter the “Spirit World” just as they are. “And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.” (D&C 29:25) The good and the bad are all still identifying character traits of the dead.
Lucifer, the dragon, has cast a shadow on the mortal world but he is not able to influence the dead. The dead may identify more with Lucifer’s mantra than Christ’s. “Lucifer is this accuser. He spoke against us in the premortal existence, and he continues to denounce us in this life. He seeks to drag us down. He wants us to experience endless woe. He is the one who tells us we are not adequate, the one who tells us we are not good enough, the one who tells us there is no recovery from a mistake. He is the ultimate bully, the one who kicks us when we are down.
If Lucifer were teaching a child to walk and the child stumbled, he would scream at the child, punish him, and tell him to quit trying. Lucifer’s ways bring discouragement and despair--eventually and always. This father of lies is the ultimate purveyor of falsehood and cunningly works to deceive and distract us, ‘for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.’
If Christ were teaching a child to walk and the child stumbled, He would help the child get up and encourage the next steps. Christ is the helper and consoler. His ways bring joy and hope--eventually and always.” (Renlund) People tend to think along one of these lines about themselves and others as an expression of what they were taught or how they were treated.
As the book Lilith progresses, we come to understand why Lilith has not gone to her “rest.” In a conversation between Mr Vane, a mortal recently arrived, and Lilith we see her resistance.
Lilith speaking: “I will be what I mean myself now."
Mr Vane: "If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?"
"I would do after my nature.”
“You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!"
"I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires."
"You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?"
"I will do what I will to do."
"You have killed your daughter, Lilith!"
"I have killed thousands. She is my own!"
"She was never yours as you are another's."
"I am not another's; I am my own, and my daughter is mine."
"Then, alas, your hour is come!”
“I care not. I am what I am; no one can take from me myself!"
"You are not the Self you imagine."
"So long as I feel myself what it pleases me to think myself, I care not. I am content to be to myself what I would be. What I choose to seem to myself makes me what I am. My own thought makes me me; my own thought of myself is me. Another shall not make me!"
"But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you! You will not much longer have satisfaction in the thought of yourself. At this moment you are aware of the coming change!”
“No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman! You are his slave, and I defy you! You may be able to torture me—I do not know, but you shall not compel me to anything against my will!"
"Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another's—not the Shadow's. Into the created can pour itself the creating will, and so redeem it!"
"That light shall not enter me: I hate it!—Begone, slave!"
"I am no slave, for I love that light, and will with the deeper will which created mine. There is no slave but the creature that wills against its creator. Who is a slave but her who cries, 'I am free,' yet cannot cease to exist!"
"You speak foolishness from a cowering heart! You imagine me given over to you: I defy you! I hold myself against you! What I choose to be, you cannot change. I will not be what you think me—what you say I am!"
"I am sorry: you must suffer!"
"But be free!"
"She alone is free who would make free; she loves not freedom who would enslave: she is herself a slave. Every life, every will, every heart that came within your ken, you have sought to subdue: you are the slave of every slave you have made—such a slave that you do not know it!—See your own self!” (McDonald)
In this dialogue we see a woman who has made up her mind to be evil even though she was created to be good. She is resistant to the Creator who can see her for who she really is and redeem her back to her good self. We see, “Our reluctance to give away all our sins--thinking, instead, a down payment will do. Likewise, our reluctance to let our wills be swallowed up in His will--thinking, instead, that merely acknowledging His will is sufficient!” (Maxwell) This is not a trivial thing. The will is a force to be reckoned with and controlling it is Lucifer’s greatest wish. The Creator asks us to offer to align our will with His.
The people in the Spirit World who are not at “rest” are those who “have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—“ (Alma 40:13). The shadow of the dragon can’t influence them but they have a spirit of the devil within themselves because they have chosen it. “There is no evil that [Jesus Christ] cannot arrest. All things are in His hands. This earth is His rightful dominion. Yet He permits evil [in mortality] so that we can make choices between good and evil.” (Ezra T Benson) In the Spirit World, the dead are in the Creator’s reality. They may not, however, be happy about being in His presence and so they aren’t immediately ushered into the Land of the Unicorn.
The space between death and the resurrection is a time for the soul to decide whether or not to accept redemption. The revelations say, “Strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am--not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.” (D&C 67:10) The choice is ours. “Freedom of choice is a God-given eternal principle. The great plan of liberty is the plan of the gospel. There is no coercion about it; no force, no intimidation. A man is free to accept the gospel or reject it. He may accept it and then refuse to live it, or he may accept it and live it fully. But God will never force us to live the gospel. He will use persuasion through His servants. He will call us and He will direct us and He will persuade us and encourage us and He will bless us when we respond, but He will never force the human mind.” (Ezra T Benson)
The Creator sends messengers into the “Spirit World” to convince the souls of men to humble themselves. “And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.” (D&C 138:31) Mr Vane, in Lilith acts as a messenger. He carries Lilith against her will to Mara, the moon, and she tries to illuminate for Lilith the truth about herself. After all her efforts, Mr Vane carries Lilith to the House of Death for further help. Despite the good intentions of others in Lilith, submission is an individual choice and true redemption is in the hands of the Creator. In the Spirit World, there may not be a Mara or a House of Death but there is a space. “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” (Romans 11:28) Lilith and others like her are “beloved enemies.” They have lived in the land of the Lion and they seek to manifest in themselves the power of God. But they have not accepted the truth nor acted in love. When they see the truth, they wish for annihilation, but annihilation is not something they have the power to do. Only the Creator knows how to disintegrate physical things. He said that the spirit of Man is intelligence and that it “was not created or made.” (D&C 93:29) “Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.” (McDonald) The messengers speak of redemption but the evil will must choose to be good or suffer.
The Creator will come in the morning of the resurrection and call us to arise. “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph 5:13-14) The Creator will infuse us with His light and all that was damaged or broken will be renewed and receive a measure of the Glory of God such as we are willing to accept. The timing and the environment in which we wait are His. The messengers come from Him. We hold the choice to submit in our hands.
The Doctrine and Covenants
The Book of Mormon
Benson, Ezra T. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. Intellectual Reserve, Inc. 2014.
Maxwell, Neal A. “Encircled in the Arms of His Love.” Ensign, Oct 2002.
McDonald, George. Lilith, A Romance. Chatto and Windus, 1895.
Olsen, Jeffery. Knowing: Memoirs of a journey beyond the veil and choosing joy after tragic loss. One Now Holdings, 2018.
Priestley, J B. Thoughts in the Wilderness. Heinemann, 1957.
Renlund, Dale G. “Choose You This Day.” Ensign, Oct 2018.
Root, E Merrill. America’s Steadfast Dream. Western Islands, 1971.