When giving his final counsel and charge to his son Helaman, Alma recounts, “I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell… yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities that the very thought of coming into the presence of God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body… for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:12–16).
If Alma deserved to suffer similar consequences as other evildoers, however—for spiritually “murdering” God’s children and “leading them to destruction” (Alma 36:14)—then why did his punishment last only three days and not forever? Does he contradict himself when he says he was racked with “eternal” torment (Mosiah 27:29; Alma 36:12)? Or is he referring to the kind of pain he suffered, from which one could, in the end, be delivered? In searching the scriptures for further instances of terms like “eternal torment” and “pains of hell,” what do we find?
A revelation received by the Prophet Joseph Smith describes “endless torment” and “eternal damnation” as God’s punishment, or punishment inflicted by God, whose name is “Endless” and “Eternal” (D&C 19:6–12). In other words, “it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment,” only “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men” (D&C 19:6–7).
Jacob describes “damned” souls as those who “shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end” (2 Nephi 9:16, 24). On the other hand, the righteous and innocent, he says, are delivered from “that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment” (2 Nephi 9:19, 26).
We read further that those who have “suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power”—namely, the “sons of perdition”—are “doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity” (D&C 76:31, 33). They “shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment” (D&C 76:43–44; cf. Isaiah 66:24; 2 Nephi 28:23). On judgment day, these souls end up “on the left hand” of God (Matthew 25:41; D&C 29:27–28) among those who “never knew me” (Mosiah 26:25–27).
Zeezrom, who suffered the “pains of hell” (Alma 14:6; 15:3–5), was told, “Then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness. Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will” (Alma 12:16–17).
None of these scriptures thus say that God’s punishment is of an endless duration, only that their “worm,” “fire,” and “flame” are endless or eternal. Jacob teaches that God “prepareth a way for our escape from this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit… And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other” (2 Nephi 9:10, 12).
The Lamanites who were converted by the sons of Mosiah, however, made this escape from spiritual death during their lifetime: “Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell… Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light” (Alma 26:13, 15). Jacob, too, invites his living audience to “arouse the faculty of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death” (Jacob 3:11; cf. Psalms 116:3–8).
The question is, How do we obtain such salvation, whether in this life or the next? Alma recalls, “I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more” (Alma 36:18–20). Likewise, Zeezrom, who lay near death with a burning fever, leapt up from his sickbed after declaring his belief in Christ (Alma 15:3, 5–11).
The wicked, however, are not the only ones who suffer “eternal torment,” “endless punishment,” the pains of hell,” and so forth. Jacob teaches that the Holy One of Israel “suffereth the pains of all men” (2 Nephi 9:21, 26). And the Lord declares, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16–17).
By considering these scriptures together, we can thus conclude several things: (1) that “death,” “hell,” “everlasting fire,” “eternal torment,” “everlasting destruction,” etc., are suffered by the devil and his angels, by the sons of perdition, and by all unrepentant souls, depending on the degree of their wickedness; (2) that many souls may be delivered from these sufferings by accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior, both in this life and in the next; and (3) that if unrepentant souls “must suffer even as I,”—and they suffer “eternal torment,” the “pains of hell,” etc.—then Jesus Christ suffered these same things, only vastly multiplied, on behalf of all God’s children, in order to atone for our sins.