Dear 100 Hour Board,
Comment to board question Board Question #22833
Just like to add a few things to what has already been said. Like many others in the Church, at one time I had a mental image of paradise and spirit prison as two distinct and separate locations. Spirit prison I envisioned as something like Azkaban, perhaps with Dementors gliding around to make sure that the spirit prisoners didn't slip through the walls of the prison and escape. The prophets, however, have taught us that paradise and the spirit prison are really the same place - the world of spirits.
Joseph Smith said, "the righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.... Hades, the Greek, or Sheol, the Hebrew, these two significations mean a world of spirits. Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one; it is a world of spirits." (Teachings, p. 310.)
Brigham Young taught, "When you lay down this tabernacle, where are you going? Into the spiritual world.... Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they inhabit one kingdom. Yes they do." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 376; (JD 3:369))
While some (and even some manuals) have speculated a forced "no contact" separation of paradise and spirit prison, I believe that a careful reading of the scriptures and the prophets shows that there is no physical separation between those in paradise and those in spirit prison, except the voluntary tendency of "birds of a feather flock together."
Alma explains to his son that when we die, and before we are resurrected, we will go into a state (or condition) of happiness, or a state of unhappiness, but he doesn't say separate physical places. Alma 40:12, 14: "And then shall it come to pass, that 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...
14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection."
D&C 138 is a great vision of the spirit world. Here President Joseph F. Smith sees the righteous assembled "awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death (v. 16)." It is to the most righteous saints who were gathered together in that particular meeting in the spirit world that the Lord chose to come. The Lord then appointed messengers to go forth among the more wicked and teach them the gospel. There is no mention of any physical barrier or hindrance of these more righteous spirits to mingle freely with the spirits among them who were in some degree in spiritual prison. The same as it is for us today.
Everyone in the spirit world is in bondage to some extent or other. "For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage (v. 50)." The wicked, in spirit prison, have an additional bondage. "I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead (v. 57)."
We know that those in spirit prison can be released as, "58 The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,
59 And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation."
To summarize and answer Christine Daae's question, the righteous and the unrighteous go to the same place. Righteous non-members will be in a limited state of happiness or paradise, as your bishop said, but to be fully free from spirit prison one must repent of all his sins and accept and obey all the ordinances of the temple, as you have been taught. To the extent a person is unrepentant and sinful he will be in bondage to sin and will be in spirit prison, wherever he wanders in the spirit world. Going from the bondage of spirit prison to paradise might be a sudden thing, or a gradual transition, depending on the speed of the spiritual progress a spirit makes, but it will be a mental or spiritual journey, and not a physical journey. Dementors are not what keep them in prison.
As Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. (John 8:32-34)"
You bring up some excellent points. Much of the discussion in the church does treat them as two seperate existences with notable divide, but do not explain the nature of that existence or divide.
Interesting ideas to think about.