So, are there different degrees of hell, heaven?

I read a fascinating piece from a website,, on hell. It was titled, “Are There Different Levels of Hell and Heaven.” (Read) Frankly, the part about hell interested me more. I think that’s human nature; most of us are fascinated with hell, a place we’re more or less certain we will avoid. As for heaven, yeah, we’re pretty sure we’ll make it there and are more willing to be surprised.

We Mormons have an interesting take on hell (more on that later). A traditional view from others of hell, to me, has always been this line that separates the heaven-bound from the hell-bound. Don’t step to the left or you’ll fall into that pit of eternal fire. Keep to the right and you can hang out in beautiful gardens with Jesus Christ. Another traditional view of hell has been that even the sweetest grandmother will roast for eternity unless she accepts Christ as her savior in a manner consistent with what’s preached in the “Left Behind” books.

And that’s why I found the whatchristianswanttoknow article interesting. It differed in that it surmised that there must be a variety of sufferings in hell, based on an individual’s knowledge of the Gospel. This scriptures from Luke chapter 12 is quoted: “… the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

The writer still separates residents of hell as “unsaved,” meaning the loathsome “sweet grandma in hell” theory holds in the post. That is because traditional Christianity refuses to assign any “good works” as credits toward ascension to heaven. However, the “good works” theory appears to factor into the levels of punishment theory. The author writes: “While the Bible doesn’t address this specifically, we do know that some who are more evil in this life will have to suffer more for their sins.  Hitler will suffer more than the person who lived a pretty good life. The consequences of sin for the unsaved will be attributed to the degree to which they suffer.”

The author adds, “He is saying that the more a person knows about Christ and still refuses to do anything about it, the more they will be held accountable.  More so than the native in the Amazon who has never heard the name of Christ. To hear the gospel time and time again and not respond to it will be to regret it forever.  The more light a person has been given the more they will be held accountable.”

Frankly, the article, which assures its readers that the biblical description of hell exists, is pretty muddled about hell. It’s hard to find any mercy or distinct sufferings in hell when your theology describes it as a “lake of fire” where your “worm” burns for eternity. But I give credit to the author for at least contemplating that there may be cooler areas in the “lake of fire.”

Back to Mormonism: Its version that fits closest to a traditional biblical version of hell, with some type of suffering, is probably “spirit prison,” in which persons are rewarded or punished after death while awaiting a final judgment. Catholicism sees a place called purgatory, in which persons deemed worthy of salvation suffer for a time prior to admittance to heaven. The Mormon spirit prison is also a place for individuals to be taught about Christ and eventually declare Him as savior.

The Mormon concept of hell might surprise persons who are critical of the church’s strict adherence to traditional concepts of morality. Hell, which is called “Perdition,” is reserved for persons who have received a full knowledge of the Gospel and willfully rejected it and worked to persecute those who follow Christ. (In the knowledge sense, it bears similarity to the blog.)

Although with these subjects, lore sometimes mixes with doctrine, I have been taught that a virtual few will inhabit the Mormon hell of perdition. So we’re talking about the level of Cain, Judas, and maybe John C. Bennett, if I’m allowed a little Mormon levity. In any event, I don’t think the average Latter-day Saint who leaves the church and joins Ex-Mormons for Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc. is a candidate for Perdition, although perhaps more conservative members might disagree with me.

The progressive aspect of Mormonism is that it sends everyone, sans Judas, Cain, …, to a reward. There’s the Celestial Kingdom (heaven) and it has several levels. Then there’s the Terrestrial Kingdom, which has several levels, and the Telestial Kingdom, which has several levels. (This is likely a myth but I used to hear in church that Joseph Smith once said that the glory of the Telestial Kingdom was so great that a person would be tempted to commit suicide to inherit it.)

In any event, Mormonism is pretty close to universal salvation. I hope I don’t get my hand slapped for this, but even your garden variety mass murderer will inherit some level within the Telestial Kingdom, as I understand it.

The kingdom degrees of glory doctrine is tied to the Mormon belief in the family being eternal. One part of Mormons’ belief is that an individual can visit persons who exist in lower degrees of glory. Besides the old joke that the Mormon bishop who cheated on his taxes gets a visit from his Celestial Kingdom wife once a week, this doctrine comforts faithful Mormon parents who are discouraged over their children who reject their beliefs. This belief assures them, that if they remain faithful, they will still be able to be with their children, visiting them in the afterlife.


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26 Responses to So, are there different degrees of hell, heaven?

  1. Deseret Jim says:

    Mind expanding stuff Doug.
    Weather it be {7} complete sphere’s, “above us only sky”, or the [Hindi] thought and conjecture, of {7} dormished underworlds complete with “salt and fire”; A [buddhist] proverb resounds at this time:
    “Die each moment to grow anew each moment”.

    In essence, we cannot covet for the after life, can we?
    Let us be like the Christian [Apostle Paul], hoping like he was…. “raptured up to the third heaven”.
    May God Bless.

  2. Mormonism sends a lot of people to hell by teaching a different gospel, a gospel that will not save a person from the judgement of God.

    • Zera says:

      The Gospel is specifically defined in the Bible as this. That Christ lived, died, was buried, and resurrected, for the sins of all mankind.

      This is the same Gospel we LDS teach so according to the Bible you are a liar, by the way God has stated multiple times in the Old Testament that there is nothing he hates more than liars, so if you want to get on his good side, you may want to cut it out.

      • trytoseeit says:

        That’s excellent advice, but, sadly, Dave won’t take it. To Dave, preaching and thinking are two very, very different things. He is willing to do one of them, especially when the preaching involves condemnations, of which he is particularly fond.

        But your advice to him runs afoul of two problems. First, he doesn’t think that he needs to cut bearing false witness out of his life, because he figures that once you’re saved, you can sin all you want and God doesn’t care. You can’t threaten him with consequences for not obeying God’s law, because to him there are no such consequences and the law doesn’t even exist for him. He will even quote verses that he thinks proves that.

        Second, he really really thinks that salvation depends on having a theology that lines up exactly with his. This is an inconsistency in his theology (does God really want us to believe mutually inconsistent things simultaneously?) because he will assure us that salvation is by grace and not by works. But then he says that grace depends on believing exactly the right things in the exact particulars, with no deviations thank you. The work involved in getting one’s mind to get the exact right thoughts in the exact right relationship to one another seems, you know, like a “work” to me.

        Every once in a while, I explain (and now seems like a good time) that Dave and people like him irritate me as much as they do because I used to be fundamentalist/evangelical (you pick the label) like him, although I never, ever went around condemning other faiths like he does. It is embarrassing to me that the evangelical faith of my childhood and youth – the faith of my parents, which I still love – becomes perverted, and has every spiritual value drained out of it, by people like Dave.

  3. Zera says:

    Hell, as in the protestant and catholic versions does exist in Mormon theology, and it is not spirit prison. Spirit prison contain a lot of good people as it is the place any who have not received a testimony of Christ go.

    The whole point of temple work is in the hope that these people will accept Christ at which point they will go to paradise. It (spirit prison) is also the place where those who are wicked go as well but it is not hell.

    Hell in LDS ideology is the place where the wicked will suffer even as Christ suffers during the Millennial reign of our Lord. It is what most other Christian sects view as “a lake of fire and brimstone” it is also like Prison and Paradise temporary. It is reserved as stated by God in the Old Testament reserved for three types of people Liars, Murderers, and Adulterers.

    Perdition in our theology isn’t well defined but from what the prophets have said it will likely be very few. For example those who have received a sure testimony and commit murder (defined as the shedding of innocent blood) or the rejection of God after receiving such a testimony and the embracing of Satan.

    By the way Saying Judas is perdition is not likely accurate. He never had his “Peter” moment in which it was revealed to him that Christ was the Messiah. It is also clear from his suicide that he did not know that their intention was to kill his master. While he is most definitely a loathsome example of humanity he most likely did not qualify as perdition. Peter, James, and John are likely the only ones capable of the level of rejection necessary to be perdition as they were the ones present at the mount of transfiguration.

    Anyways despite the small theological errors I enjoyed your write up.

  4. Pierce says:

    Zera is right in that there is indeed a traditional “hell” or punishment, where the unrepentant sinner pays for their sins. This takes place after a person’s death and before their resurrection. God will decide who needs to be chastened and who does not, and to what degree that chastening will be. The fundamental difference, however, is that a person will be resurrected and granted a degree of salvation. Basically, that hell is not permanent, even if their station might be infinitely lower than those who choose to live to their full potential and accept God’s plan and Christ as their Savior. God does not unnecessarily torture people forever.

    In this I see both God’s justice AND His mercy, which dual aspects all Christians ultimately believe in. And that, to me, makes so much sense. Much more than trytoseeit’s method of salvation.

  5. Steve D. Stones says:

    I don’t know about you Doug, but I would gladly and happily go to Hell (if I believed in such nonsense) if it means that I can still maintain my free-will and freedom of choice. You had a recent post on facebook that tried to suggest that liberalism is becoming totalitarianism. This is how I view any organized religion. An omnipotent being who wants to judge me or punish me for not believing in him is not someone who I would want to be in his presence. I’ll dance with the Devil any day if it means I can have my free will without the punishment or judgment of a supernatural, omnipotent being in the sky.

    • Doug Gibson says:

      Steve, regarding your concern that I was claiming liberalism is becoming totalitarianism. My concern was that elements from the left/liberal side of the spectrum are trying to “resolve” issues, such as gay marriage through intimidation, ridicule, propaganda or attacks on others, such as trying to have their jobs taken away, on those who take an opposite position. This is a totalitarian tactic. I am not claiming that what occurs in the U.S. is equal to what others have suffered. However, bills such as what Democratic Sen. Markey in New York is offering have that whiff of totalitarianism to them, and I hope you are concerned as well. Link:

      • Bob Becker says:

        Three points: (a) using “riducule and propaganda” (usually defined as “what the other side is saying”) is not a harbinger of totalitarianism. It’s free speech. Mocking opponents has been part and parcel of American political discourse since colonial days. (b) story on Markey: interesting that it references “hate speech”only once early on, and it’s the reporter who does that. All description if the bill itself references only “hate crimes.” That seems much less objectionable to me, tracking whether websites are being used to encourage murders. So I’m wondering, based on the story, if the bill addresses “hate speech” at all. (I’m not entirely comfortable with “hate crine” laws either, but that’s another discussion.) As for blocking jobs for those people disagree with being a characteristic of the left, I’d merely note that every GOP candidate for Iowa’s Senate seat recently announced that if elected he’d block the appointment of any federal judge nominee who was an atheist. Every one. (c) Re: levels of heaven/hell. How many angels was it who could dance in the head of a pin ( 21st century version)?

      • Michael Trujillo says:

        Doug, would you please look up the word “totalitarianism” in the dictionary, any dictionary?

        I just think you should understand the meaning of a word before you go around citing it.

    • trytoseeit says:

      This is completely incoherent. You’re saying you’d happily to to hell as long as such a place doesn’t exist. Well, me too I guess.

  6. Pierce says:

    Steve’s comments actually sound pretty “Mormonesque.” We do believe that we were offered a plan with a sort of “risk” of being separated from God by our own free will.

    By the way Steve, you mind find the LDS doctrine of salvation different from what you summarized, although your statement sounds like many conversations I’ve had with many protestants. Although many Christian beliefs have to do with a focus on “belief,” ours is more on “becoming.” This has to do with our understanding of why God made us to begin with and what mankind’s ultimate potential and destiny is. So belief, as it relates to salvation, is not as arbitrary as others understand it to be.

  7. Pierce says:

    I meant downtown dave in my 9:35 comment, not trytoseeit

  8. BWB says:

    I love how inclusive the gospel of Jesus Christ is. The very idea that God would create all of us knowing at the time that only a small portion would be saved …. doesn’t say much for Him nor for His capacity to love.

  9. Rockgod28 says:


    Dante’s inferno is what most people have an idea of the degrees of hell are or what to expect as punishment in hell. The lowest level reserved for people or beings like Cain, Judas and Satan. Betrayers and traitors. In that lowest level according to the story is not a lake of fire. It is cold, barren and quiet.

    Mormon theology is similar. Outer Darkness the final judgement of God for Satan and his angels along with all who followed as sons of perdition is not just cold and barren, but dark. A lack of light and isolation from God where all you have left are your thoughts. The comprehension of the horror of this kind of hell is unknown to most. It is difficult to understand why this is so terrible and should be avoided.

    You get exactly what you want. Freedom from God, to choose to do whatever you want to do. Yet in this freedom there is a huge consequence which is eternal separation from God. Total separation from God, not just isolation or exile, but complete removal from all glories, realms and kingdoms of God.

    The best description of hell is imagine being in complete total darkness. You can not feel anything, total sensor deprivation except for two senses. Sight, which you see nothing since there is nothing to see and sound. There is weeping and wailing. It reflects your own thoughts and words. Yet you can’t touch, smell or taste anything. All the while you and those around you curse God for eternity for your ‘freedom’ from him as you dance further and further away into the eternal darkness.

    There is one more hell. In spirit prison there is a place set aside that is hell as we know it. A place of burning and torment. It is found in Luke 16. The rich man experienced this hell. He was isolated and alone with a view of what might have been. His torment or burning was he could have made different choices and would have enjoyed the association and blessings of obedience of rest, peace and comfort.

    In the Doctrine and Covenants God explained what Endless amd Eternal punishment means. His name his Endless and Eternal. As a just God he knows better than we do when the punishment ends.

    So it is clear that Hell is not ruled by the devil. It is clear what Hell is, separation from God, spiritual death. There are degrees of Hell based on our choices and decisions of this life. There is a Final Judgement which at that day if we have rejected God completely as we stand before him with a recollection of all our guilt we will know without doubt whatever the judgment it will be total justice.

    If God removed all his gifts, his blessings and everthing he has given you what are you left with?

    Now that is the true definition of Hell.

  10. Nuclear says:

    While God will not force us into heaven, I’m sure He will wait eternity for us. His love for us is never ending.

    • BusyBee says:

      So you believe there’s no pressing reason to follow Christ, especially if it isn’t convenient fun, because there will ALWAYS be time to do that later? Even for Cain, Hitler, whoever? This earthly life is a time to be tried and tested–to make choices using our free will, or agency. Why come to earth to be tried and tested if the test never ends?
      God’s love is manifest not in allowing us to sin forever without consequences, but in providing a way for death and sin to be overcome, if we will rely on His grace.

      • Pierce says:

        I think Nuclear’s comment is more about the idea that the atonement is more encompassing than we can fathom. With God, all things are possible.

        I don’t believe that judgment is an evaluation of all our sins (sins are a given) as much as it is more about what kind of person we are and what we ultimately desire, and whether or not we will accept Christ and His atonement and doctrine to cover us. If a person wants “convenience and fun,” and doesn’t want to aspire to their potential, they will be in a place where they belong.

        Some people, myself included, are not comfortable with the idea that a person can never repent and move forward till the end of eternity because of a few decisions made here on earth. To say that people do not change is illogical, and to say that God wouldn’t recognize that or that the atonement cannot claim someone who wants to be claimed (even if it’s a billion years from now) just doesn’t sound right.

  11. BusyBee says:

    As a Mormon, I was taught at Institute in college that the “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth” that describe ‘hell’ in the New Testament refer to what will happen after the final judgment. When those who fail to achieve the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom (the third heaven) face the reality of knowing what they could have had, they will weep, wail, etc. They could have inherited Eternal Life (meaning life with our Eternal Father). They won’t inherit it, not because it was too hard, but because they refused to humble themselves, and chose to go against what they knew was right (putting earthly concerns first). It is too late, and their misery stems from them fully comprehending the consequences and realizing that there is no one to blame but themselves.

    • Pierce says:


      While some may interpret it that way, the scriptures indicate that “hell,” which is associated with weeping, wailing, etc., occurs after death BEFORE the final judgement, and is a temporary state (D&C 19:3-15). After final judgment, a person receives a place in God’s kingdom, even if it is separate from him (i.e. telestial). According to Joseph’s vision of the afterlife, this kingdom’s glory “surpasses all understanding.” I would leave open the possibility of regret at being separated from God at this point, but using the word “misery” as an eternal state of being doesn’t seem accurate.

  12. BusyBee says:

    Thanks for clarifying. It’s possibly my instructor meant that this realization/misery occurred before the final judgment. It’s been too many years for me to remember. But unmistakably he meant that the cause of the weeping and wailing, etc. was realizing what might have been, and that it was now unobtainable.

  13. Brother Florence says:

    Celestial homes with nuclear families, Church families and/ore the
    extended community families at large, could remember that
    traditions we hold dear, [transition] with us into the “after life”.
    After this “probationary period” on earth a door closes, and a
    vaste realm begins, as a new door opens.
    However no body has ever returned from that “weigh station” of
    life and death to report on it’s whereabouts except for Saints of
    Old, that most likely were under plenty of sleep/food deprivation.
    Calling [Latter Day Saint] “Heaven/Purgatory” an hallucination, leaves
    us all in a “limbo”. Better left to the “mystery schools”.
    We must all “purge” ourselves of iniquity prior to “leaving the body”.
    To have someone who cares and loves us, during that purge is to
    find a friend and lover, that shows us that when your with the ones
    you love, Heaven’s right where you are.

    May the good Lord Bless and keep you.

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