“The question [that Joseph Smith addressed] was not escape from hell but closeness to God.” (Bushman, R. L. (2007). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Random House LLC., p. 199).
In other words, the question is not how do we escape from hell, the question is how close do we draw near to God? Permanent hell is reserved for relatively few individuals.
Conversely, with sin we suffer the pains of hell by being separated from the Spirit and from Heavenly Father. It is in separation that we suffer. When we ignore or shut out others in this life, when we place ourselves ahead of others and view others simply as objects that help or hinder us, we suffer. In doing so we cut the cords that bind us to others; we selfishly turn inward and refuse to connect with others. In this manner we force others away, even subconsciously, and make ourselves alone. It is in this aloneness, this separation from others, that we truly suffer. Even if we serve others, if we do not do it in the proper attitude, one of love and honest concern for the Other, then we can suffer because of that service. Being selfish separates us from others.
Being separated from others makes us suffer. Sartre once stated, “Hell is other people.” There might be some truth to that but I believe he is wrong. I believe that hell is isolation from other people. Hell is complete focus on the Self with no regard for the Other. Or, in other words, hell is being completely alone without connection to the Other. When we turn inward, disregarding others, we experience hell – we suffer. Hell is being with and only with the one person we ever learned to love – ourselves. The irony is that it is not possible to truly love oneself without loving another. Thus, those who are in hell or experience hell are alone and can’t even truly love themselves. Again, this is because love of Self only survives or has meaning when love is Other-directed. Those in hell have been cut off without root or branch. The Savior came to redeem humankind from death and hell – both of which are separations. Physical death is the separation of the body and the spirit. Spiritual death (which, without the Atonement of the Savior would require the sufferings of hell), is separation from God caused by sin. God is the one Other to whom a direct connection is vital. The Savior provides the reconnection between our bodies and our spirits and between our Father and us. He gives us both root and branch.
Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we find strength and power to overcome suffering. We suffer when we sin. We suffer when we are selfish. We are strengthened when we have faith and serve others. We overcome suffering when we love. God is love and only in truly loving others do we find solace from the storms through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We have a choice to not suffer. Viktor Frankl – a Jewish man who endured the unspeakable horrors of a Nazi concentration camp – wrote: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Those who chose to love others and share, even in their need, did not suffer even though they were in some of the worst situations imaginable. It is in forgetting ourselves and serving others that we become truly happy. There is an end to suffering, there is an end to pain. That End is reached by taking no thought for ourselves and following the Savior as He beckons and carries us Home.