What’s the Difference between Immortality and Eternal Life?

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In church a couple of weeks ago, someone raised her hand and said that she taught early morning seminary in another state.  Every year at the beginning of the year she would ask her students, “Who here thinks they are going to make it to the celestial kingdom?”

Invariably, she said, two or three teenagers out of twenty would tentatively raise their hands. Year after year. But only those few. How discouraging!

What does that mean for us, as mothers in Zion? Why do our children think  it’s an unattainable goal? They must not understand the doctrine of eternal life.

I also heard this reference on the same Sunday, by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin:

“Because of the sacrifice of the Son of God, the hour will come when “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).

“The just as well as the unjust are given a priceless and incomprehensible gift: immortality. Because of Jesus the Christ, we will live forever. We are immortal.”

“Eternal life, however, is something altogether different. Immortality is about quantity. Eternal life is about quality.’

“To use a metaphor, immortality is how long the dinner lasts.( Everyone is invited to the dinner.) Eternal life is what is on the menu and who is with us at the table.”1

Choosing eternal life/exaltation means we can pick who we eat with and what we get to do forever. As mothers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,  we can talk to our children about their choices in this life and why it matters what they choose.

Brad Wilcox said:

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”

Doctrine & Covenants 78:7–For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.

He continues:

A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”

She said, “I just don’t get grace.”

I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.

Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”

Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”

She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.

I said, “Wrong.”

She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”

I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”2

These two simple examples of what eternal life can be—what the menu is and who is at the table, AND what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with, how comfortable we will be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there are helpful, digestible  ways for our children to understand why our choices here on earth are important.

To hear the story about the early morning seminary students who don’t think they will make the celestial kingdom was a wake-up call for me as a mother. My adult children and grandchildren understanding the doctrine of immortality and eternal life  is crucial in order to be motivated or even interested in following the Savior. It answers the why in our religious practices and covenants. Why pray, read the scriptures, attend church or honor our covenants made in the temple? Because  we want to return to our Heavenly Parents and their Son, Jesus.  We need to teach our children how  and why to prepare for that glorious eternity so they think they can make it. That is one of the amazing truths of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by Joseph Smith. He taught that families can be together forever. Let us teach our children how!

  1. https://www.lds.org/new-era/2006/11/what-is-the-difference-between-immortality-and-eternal-life?lang=eng&_r=1
  2. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/brad-wilcox_his-grace-is-sufficient/

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