I Believe in Hope for the Dead - and You Wish You Could Too.
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
My dad died when I was 12. It was unexpected and every bit as horrible as you might imagine.
I was attending a big Evangelical church in California at the time. I was 100% onboard with everything they were doing. I could not be at church enough. Even before my dad died, my life at home was unpleasant. Church became my family. So at 12, when my dad died, I had to become a little theologian just to reconcile what had happened. You see, he claimed no belief or faith in God. I actually don't know what he thought about God, truth be told. We never discussed it. But he didn't care for church and would only attend if me or my siblings were in some kind of performance. And the church's clear teaching was that those who didn't live a full life for God would burn in Hell. Eternal Conscious Torment with no hope of relief. Ever.
I knew this is what I was supposed to believe. I remember taking note of the various ways people in the church spoke about this. I remember revealing to a peer that my dad was not a Christian, and looked straight at me, and lisped through her braces, "I'm sorry your dad is burning in Hell." Others tried to get around the problem more diplomatically by saying something like: Well, you don't really know, he might have converted at the very last moment. Fat chance, my 12-year-old self thought. He was in a car accident and went straight through the windshield because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. He never saw it coming. Others tried to play word-games, "Well, when we say he is being tormented in Hell, it really doesn't mean that..."
And so I did the only thing I could do: I developed a belief that was different than the belief of my community, and kept it to myself.
I kept it to myself because I had to. What was developing in my mind was too precious to share. I knew it would be bulldozed over. But I started to believe that God would give my dad a final chance to say yes. If he wanted to choose life that was further away from God, that was his right. But that God might have a conversation with him and lay the facts bare, and let him decide what to accept based on full knowledge.
So last year, when I began investigating the church, my questions about death were at the front of my mind. I knew that Mormons baptized for the dead, but didn't really know what that meant. I was delighted to learn that it meant that my dad could have the opportunity to still accept God's love. Someone who is still living could get baptized in his name, and he could choose to accept it, or not.
Of course, all of my Evangelical sirens are going off. This is paganism! This is witchcraft! This is just plain silliness and a waste of time and effort!
And then I remembered that when I was getting my Master's of Divinity we read some of the church fathers who wrote about baptism for the dead. And that Paul refers to it in a neutral way. And my heart cracked open to the possibility that there actually might be hope for the dead.
I asked someone I knew at that time if he would be baptized for my dad. Males get baptized for males. He agreed to do it, but it never happened. So I still have to figure that part out. (Insert so much grief and sadness here, but its not appropriate to write about it yet. Maybe someday.)
So, like most things in my life, at the end of the day it's an already-not-yet reality. I believe in this hope, but the hope still eludes me.