Here is a very brief summary what I have learned on this subject. I can back all of this up from the D&C, the temple endowment, the Bible, and church history.
Some of this stuff might sound new to you because it is not taught in Sunday School. But it is a lot simpler and much more fair that than is being taught. The main difference is it is not calculated to install fear, but freedom and personal responsibility.
The reason for this is it comes from the revelations of God, not the teachings of an institution who is only interested in self-preservation and maintaining control over its members.
When Christ established his church, he said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The gates of hell are meant to keep people IN, not keep people OUT.
Terrestial are the honorable people who were deceived by the craftiness of men.
Telestial are those crafty men who lie in wait to deceive.
Celestial are the people who are honorable who neither deceive, nor are deceived.
It is important to remember that not all the judgments of God are revealed. Also, God wills that all mankind will be saved. Also, Christ saves all the work of the Father’s hands. Also, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ.
The vast majority of Mormons is not good enough for the Celestial Kingdom, and nowhere near bad enough for outer darkness. Read D&C 76, 130, 131.
The bracketed comment in 131:2 was not revealed through Joseph Smith, but was added later by Orson Pratt, under the direction of Brigham Young, in order to support plural marriage.
Even outer darkness is not a final state, but the folks there will have to wait billions of years for another chance.
There are kingdoms above the Celestial Kingdom.
The Telestial Kingdom is hell. It is also the world in which we live. This is a kingdom composed of people of many degrees of glory, as the stars differ in glory. You will run across Celestial, Telestial, and Terrestrial people here. The deceivers, the deceived, and those who are not deceived.
The reason why we have so many different churches and philosophies here is because God is trying to reach out to everyone and speak to them in terms of their own time, culture, language, and understanding.
We progress from kingdom to kingdom as we progress and obey the laws pertaining to that kingdom. Otherwise, we keep returning to the same kingdom until we learn and obey those laws and show that we are ready to move on.
The words damnation, condemnation, and judgment all refer to the state where we are “dammed in our progress”. We are stuck in one place, where we “suffer the wrath of God”, which really means we stay here and face the trials and lessons of mortality until we learn all the lessons we are supposed to learn and prove ourselves ready to move on.
“Eternal punishment” does not refer to the length of the punishment, but to the quality and intensity of the punishment.
By the same token “eternal life” means the kind of life that God lives. We can obtain and enjoy eternal life, even in this life. We not only can, but we must.
“… and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead…”
We can also volunteer to remain behind and help other struggling souls climb higher. This is why the sacrifice of Christ was so important and significant. Christ said “come follow me”. It is important to understand the full import of what that means, and always be ready to follow Christ, wherever he leads us, or asks us to go.
We are constantly taught, take a covenant at baptism, and renew that covenant every week to take upon ourselves the “name of Christ”. This principle is demonstrated quite literally and visually in the temple. The name of Christ means something and is not just a euphemism.
I don’t believe in being confined to a static destination for all eternity, no matter what that destination is. THAT is the definition of damnation. I expect to keep growing, learning, and progressing, as in the words of the hymn:
The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
So, keeping an eternal perspective i’m focused on the HERE AND NOW, and making the most out of this life, and assisting others to do the same. There is no reason why we can’t create heaven on earth. It will come when we are ready for it.
As the Lord said through the prophet of the Community of Christ:
“Zionic conditions are no further away nor any closer than the spiritual condition of my people justifies.” [D&C 140:5c – Israel A. Smith – April 7, 1947]
Zion is just the start. After Enoch built
Don’t be waiting for God. It’s up to us.