Everything you Forgot About the Veil (or never knew in the first place)


One particularly insightful fifteen-year-old investigator learned about the veil of forgetfulness. And in her mind, this doctrine opened up a regular Pandora’s box worth of questions, that as members of the Church we often take for granted.

Below are her questions along with our best attempt at answering them for her.

1) If we have a premortal life then does that mean we might have met people before we came to Earth? Like friends and family or famous people or George Washington or Mother Teresa or Hitler?

All of the children of our Heavenly Parents lived with them before we came to Earth (Eccl. 12:7). We know very little about what we did there. But there are some things we can deduce happened there from the scriptures.
  • We made choices and developed personalities and talents (Alma 13:3)
  • At least some people knew their family connections. We know this because some people were foreordained to leadership positions (Abraham 3:23), and in the Old Testament some leadership positions required specific family lineage (Numbers 18:1)
  • We sat in great councils (History of the Church, Volume 6, page 314, also Abraham 3:22-28)

From those few points, we can deduce that we almost certainly associated with other people in the premortal life. There would obviously be no way to know who those people are.

2) Do we get those memories of the premortal life back after death?


President Russell M. Nelson taught, “Although your spirit had a veil of forgetfulness placed over it at the time of your birth into mortality, it retained its power to remember all that happens.” So our spirits absolutely retain those memories. So when do we get those memories back?

Latter-day Saints refer to forgetting these memories as a veil, and they often refer to the premortal life as “the first estate.” That should help you understand this quote. The Apostle Neal A. Maxwell taught, “The veil of forgetfulness of the first estate apparently will not be suddenly, automatically, and totally removed at the time of our temporal death. This veil, a condition of our entire second estate, is associated with and is part of our time of mortal trial, testing, proving, and overcoming by faith—and thus will continue in some key respects into the spirit world.”

So we don’t get those memories back immediately after death, at least in their entirety. We know that we do get all of our memories back by the time of judgment (Alma 5:18; 11:43). 

We do get our memories of the premortal life back. They don’t come back immediately after death, but they come back gradually. They will be back in their entirety before the judgment.

3) Doesn’t that mean people could change? Like if someone lived a bad life but they got back their premortal memories after death, wouldn’t that change them as a person? 

This is an excellent question.
In fact, it is very similar to a question that Amulek answered when speaking to the wicked Zoramites (Alma 34):
  • You can’t say that you will repent after you die
  • Because the same spirit we have on Earth we will have after we die
  • If we are the type of person who refuses to repent here, we’ll be the type of person who refuses to repent there

Evidently, we have an eternal personality. Amulek answers your question with a “No.” If you live a bad life, you don’t change after you die.

Remember the quote from President Nelson and the fact that we developed personalities in the premortal life. Even though we are born without the memories of our premortal life, our spirits remember, and we retain the strengths and personality we developed there.

In fact, part of the purpose of this life and the veil of forgetfulness was to prove what type of person we really were (Abraham 3:25) without the direct influence of our memories.

The prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “In our former, or spirit existence (pre-mortal life), we walked by sight. We were in the presence of both the Father and the Son and were instructed by Them and under Their personal presence. In this mortal life or second estate, the Lord willed that we should walk by faith and not by sight, that we might, with the great gift of free agency, be proved.”

Remembering our premortal life wouldn’t have changed us fundamentally as a person, but remembering it would have made us act out of fear and knowledge. We could never have proved ourselves. So this life acts to reveal who we truly are.

4) How would God judge said person on the Day of Judgment? What if they are like Hitler in life but change after death and become someone completely different? Then what? What happens when evil people change their minds?

Considering that we do not change dramatically when we recover our memories, everyone will be judged on the same basis.
The things the scriptures most often refer to us being judged on are our:
  • Thoughts
  • Desires
  • Actions
  • Words
Obviously, we will also be saved at the judgment by the grace and mercy of Christ.
But just because we won’t necessarily change dramatically because we recover our memories, does not mean there isn’t room for change after death.
Because we do temple ordinances, we know that people who did not receive the gospel while in this life still have the opportunity to receive it in the next. Ultimately we will be judged on who we have become as a result of our entire existence both pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal lives.
Dallin H. Oaks taught, “We conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”
So if after this life we do become someone completely different (which as Amulek taught is unlikely) then we would be judged on who we had become at that point.

5) Can spirits who haven’t been born yet visit the spirits of the dead?  Are the premortal life and the spiritual prison and paradise after death different places or are they the same/similar?

Before we were born we lived with God. God lives in the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76:62). The post-mortal spirit world is not in the Celestial Kingdom. Brigham Young taught, “When you lay down this tabernacle (die), where are you going? Into the spiritual world…Where is the spirit world? It is right here. . . . Do they go beyond the boundaries of the organized earth? No, they do not.”

Could God allow an unborn spirit to leave the Celestial Kingdom and visit the spirits of the dead on Earth? I’m not familiar with any scriptures or quotations answering this question one way or another.

We do know that “Those of the Celestial shall visit those in the Terrestrial kingdom,” from remarks by the prophet Joseph F. Smith, and from the context of his remarks it’s clear he also meant that those in the Celestial Kingdom could visit those in the Terrestrial as well. 

But no one will live in either the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms until after everyone is born (Revelations 20:5)

6) What happens to Satan on the Day of Judgment exactly? Does he just suffer for eternity or does he ever stop existing?

Joseph Smith learned exactly what would happen to Satan on the day of judgment. In a revelation in D&C 76:31-38, we learn that the devil and his angels will be cast into “outer darkness.” We generally know very little about outer darkness, though the scriptures often describe it as “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

D&C 76:44 also calls this an “everlasting” and “eternal punishment,” which suggests pretty strongly that he suffers for eternity. But because you bring it up, some prophets have speculated that the punishment is eternal precisely because they will cease to exist.

Brigham Young, for example, said, “[Those who go to outer darkness] refuse an eternal existence in an organized capacity, and to be contented to become decomposed, and to . . . the destruction of the organized being, ending in its entire decomposition.” 

In D&C 76:48 we learn that when it comes to those in outer darkness “the misery thereof they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation.”

So we are told that ultimately we can’t understand what happens there, so anything else really is speculation.

7) If Satan accepted God, would he be allowed into the Terrestrial kingdom or is he just eternally doomed no matter what?

It’s hard to speculate about the hypothetical since we know by revelation exactly what will happen to the devil. Whether the devil is doomed to outer darkness no matter what he chooses, or whether God simply knows the devil will never choose goodness we do not know.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.