It is often said that Mormons believe practically everyone will be saved. Do Mormon beliefs include a belief in Hell?
According to many religions, in order to be saved you must, in this lifetime, accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. However, that leaves most of the world unsaved, since many lived before Jesus Christ was born and many others lived and died without ever hearing of Jesus Christ. Many others never received a witness from the Holy Ghost of the Savior’s divinity.
Mormon beliefs teach that God is loving, kind, and fair. He is the Father of our Spirits, knows us personally, and loves each one of us. Mormon beliefs do not allow for a God who would create a child and then coldly punish him for eternity for something he had no control over. To a Mormon, a God who would punish an infant for dying before it was old enough to accept Jesus Christ as His Savior—particularly when it is God who controls life and death—is not the God of the Bible.
And so, Mormon beliefs answer the age-old, hotly contended topic of how a loving God could punish people who never had a chance at salvation by saying “He doesn’t.”
Mormons teach that God created our spirits and we lived with Him for a while before being born. During this time He came to know us and when we came to Earth, He planned our lives based on what He knew. We are here to learn, grow, have experiences, and to find the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost helps us to recognize the truth when we hear it.
However, not everyone gets the opportunity in this life to hear the gospel. Some die too young, some lived before Jesus Christ, and some never heard of Him. Others never received a spiritual witness. God loves every one of us because we are literally His children. He wants us to succeed and so He planned for those who would not hear the gospel in this lifetime.
While there are no second chances after life is over, everyone is entitled to a first chance. Jesus told His disciples He was going to preach to the spirits who were in prison. Why was He going to preach to them if there was no hope for them anyway?
Mormon beliefs state that everyone will have the opportunity to hear the fullness of the gospel either in this life or the next, and to have a testimony that it is true. They will also, in this life or the next, have the opportunity to either accept or reject that message. Some will reject it, even knowing it is true, because they don’t want to live it.
That leads us back to the original question of whether or not Mormons believe in Hell. The Mormon belief is that most people will live an eternal life more wonderful than any they can imagine. There are three levels of Heaven and we will be assigned to one based on our choices. This does not mean we are saved by our works. It means that Jesus said we have to keep the commandments if we want to enter Heaven. We are saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ, but our actions matter in the eternities even as they do in mortality. Most Christians actually believe that because they believe a person must accept Jesus Christ as His Savior—an action—and many also believe baptism is required—another act.
Those who were willing to make the greatest commitment to the gospel, to sacrifice worldly pleasures for eternal ones, and to love Jesus Christ so much they are willing to keep the commandments will have the greatest reward—the ability to live with God forever. However, many people will live good lives without accepting the complete gospel or any gospel at all and many will love Jesus but choose to be sidetracked by worldly priorities. Most of those will achieve a measure of Heaven, not in God’s presence, but in a wonderful eternity. After all, they had once, before birth, chosen to come to earth and to risk their eternal home to carry out God’s plan.
A small number of people will be denied any part of Heaven and they will be forced into eternal darkness to live with Satan. Those will be the people who knew without a doubt of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His gospel and knowingly and willingly rejected it anyway. When they choose to reject Jesus Christ, they also choose to reject all He offers them.
Because of the requirement that a person have a perfect knowledge before rejecting it, we cannot know who will and will not be saved. It is not, Jesus taught, our place to make that call. We focus on our own salvation and on teaching others what they must do. The actual decision as to a person’s eternal status will be made in the final judgment.
Wallace Goddard, an LDS author, traced a history of Christian concern for this topic even outside Mormon beliefs. Many theologians have struggled with this question and come to the conclusion God would not randomly punish His children for circumstances they could not control—but that God could control. He quoted Elton Trueblood, a Quaker religious philosopher who served at both Harvard and Stanford Universities:
“Such a scheme [the eternal destruction of the unevangelized] is neat and simple, but it is morally shocking and consequently not a live option of belief for truly thoughtful or sensitive persons of any faith. What kind of God is it who consigns men and women and children to eternal torment, in spite of the fact that they have not had even a remote chance of knowing the saving truth? What sort of God would create men and women in love, only to irrationally punish the vast majority of them? A God who would thus play favorites with his children, condemning some to eternal separation from himself while admitting others, and distinguishing between them wholly or chiefly on the basis of the accidents of history or geography, over which they had no control, would be more devil than God” (1957, p. 221). (See Treasures of the Restoration
Who Gets Burned? The Latter-day Wideness of God’s Mercy, Wallace Goddard, Meridian Magazine, September 21,2012)