Because Mormons practice posthumous baptism for those who have passed on to the next life, more commonly known as baptisms for the dead, some people take this as evidence that Mormons believe in second chances and that it doesn’t really matter what you do in this life because you can be baptized in the next and all is forgiven. Is this accurate? Do Mormons really believe in second chances? Well, yes and no.
How many chances do we get to accept the gospel?
If this life is the only time and place when people can accept the gospel of Jesus Christ then I don’t see how you can call God just or fair. There are billions of people on the earth right now who have never heard of Jesus Christ. On the other hand there are people who live in areas where there is a strong tradition of Christianity and these people not only get second chances to accept the gospel, but third, fourth, fifth chances and more. Only if you accept the idea of pre-destination, that some are chosen by God to be saved while others are already destined to go to hell, can you believe that life here on earth is fair. But then it just moves the unfairness issue to a different time and place. Mormons don’t believe in pre-destination. We believe everyone on earth is free to make his or her own choices, and that these choices determine where we go after this life and more importantly who we will become.
So in one sense yes, we believe in second chances because we can see them happening all around us. Many people reject the gospel once in this life, only to accept it later. But what about a second chance after this life, you ask? Again, the answer is yes and no.
What is the next life like?
Mormons believe that the next life is a lot like this life in many ways. When you die your mind is not wiped clean, you don’t forget this life. That happened when we moved from the previous life to this one, but doesn’t happen with the next transition. You’re still the same person with the same memories, the same likes and dislikes, the same personality, the same weaknesses, the same strengths, the same desires. We walk and talk, we interact with other people. We can learn. We can change our minds on things. We can grow intellectually. Read Alma 40 in The Book of Mormon if you want to know more about what we believe about this next stage.
The first part of the next life is something of a waiting room, a temporary place, where we await the final judgment of God (in which we really judge ourselves). After the final judgment we are permanently divided into groups, depending on our actions and choices here on earth. In order to go to the best place, we need to get baptized, by one having authority to perform the ordinance. And of course we Mormons believe that authority only exists within the LDS Church.
Fair and merciful
Is God just, or fair? Mormons believe he is. Is he merciful, kind, and loving? Likewise, we would answer yes. Then, if so many people during this life don’t hear about God or Jesus Christ, and don’t have a chance to be baptized into the LDS Church, and therefore can’t go to “the best place,” how is this fair, just, merciful, kind, or loving? Who would want to believe in such a God?
That’s why baptism for the dead exists. Mormons believe that in the beginning of the next life, in that temporary place where everyone is awaiting the final judgment, people who never heard about Jesus Christ in this life get a chance to hear about him and accept the gospel. Is this a second chance? I suppose you could call it that, but in a sense it’s really a first chance.
Even if someone has heard of Jesus Christ in this life, is merely hearing about Jesus enough to say they’ve had a genuine chance? We all have different levels of comprehension and understanding, and it would be hard to say it’s just for God to accept someone who grew up in a religious home and was taught about Christ all day long, while rejecting someone who grew up in a non-religious home but happened to have overheard something about Christ for a few minutes once. Did the second person really have a chance?
The next life sorts all this out. Everyone gets a true chance to accept the gospel. This way God is completely fair and just, and merciful and loving as well.
That baptism thing
So why don’t they just do baptisms in the next life? Why do we do them here for those people?
In the beginning part of the next life nobody has a body. They’re just spirits, and apparently can’t be baptized because baptism is a physical ordinance involving going under water and I guess it just doesn’t work. Why not just let them say “Yeah, I accept baptism” and check that one off the list? Or why hasn’t God invented some sort of spiritual water to baptize spirits? Isn’t it kind of silly that people here have to be baptized on behalf of people who are dead and don’t have bodies?
I don’t know. Maybe somebody else can answer those questions, but I can’t. All I know is that people can’t be baptized there, but they can be baptized here, and so those of us here have to be baptized on behalf of those who have moved on, and then those who have moved on can accept the baptism we’ve done for them if they want it.
But this is immaterial to the question at hand. The point is everyone gets a chance. A second chance? Call it that if you want, I would say that everyone gets a real chance.