Are those who are waiting in the spirit world conscious of time passing? Several people have told me they don’t do temple work because it will all be done in the millennium. It seems to me like they would be waiting for us to do the work so they can progress now, rather than waiting for whatever time is left before the millennium. In other words, the millennium statements are sometimes used to justify laziness. What are your thoughts on this matter?
Thanks for your question about whether the dead sense the passage of time. This is answered in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This section is an account of a revelation given to Joseph F. Smith, the president of the Church from 1901 to 1918. In it, President Smith explains Christ’s visit to the world of spirits after his death and how the gospel is preached to the dead. Let me quote a few verses from this marvelous revelation, bolding the relevant parts that indicate that the spirits of the dead do indeed note the passage of time.
- v. 16: [The righteous dead] were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.
- v. 18: While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful
- v. 27-28: [The Lord’s] ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection; and I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.
- v. 36: Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who had testified of him in the flesh
- v. 49-50: All these and many more, even the prophets who dwelt among the Nephites and testified of the coming of the Son of God, mingled in the vast assembly and waited for their deliverance, for the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.
- v.57: 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.
Given the teachings of this revelation, there can be but little doubt that the spirits of the dead are conscious entities that experience the passage of time, as we do in mortality.
You mention that some people forgo temple work by stating that it will “all be done in the Millennium”, meaning the thousand-year reign of Christ. I don’t know if they are justifying laziness or if they are simply ignorant about their duties, but in any case I agree with you. The dead who repent need to make the necessary covenants with God, and one of our duties while in mortality is to provide them with these covenants by proxy.
In his April 2016 General Conference address, President Russell M. Nelson mentioned the heartbreaking occurrence early in his medical career of trying, and failing, to save two sisters who suffered from congenital heart disease. In his talk, President Nelson told how the spirits of these two sisters came to him much later, in May 2015, begging for his help:
[O]ne night last May, I was awakened by those two little girls from the other side of the veil. Though I did not see or hear them with my physical senses, I felt their presence. Spiritually, I heard their pleadings. Their message was brief and clear: “Brother Nelson, we are not sealed to anyone! Can you help us?” [emphasis in original]
The dead are conscious of their state and aware of our efforts in their behalf. We should not take our temple duties lightly. It is unwise to postpone our efforts or say that “it will all be done in the Millennium.” Those spirits awaiting their covenants, and the Lord himself, would have us take an active interest in the welfare of the dead.