Doctrine: There are two things faith cannot do: it cannot violate another person’s agency, and it can’t force our will upon God. Agency is the preeminent doctrine of heaven and earth–it cannot be overthrown. Covenants can only secure/bind us individually to God when we keep them. Our kept covenants cannot bind others to God. Sealing covenants bind eternally only those family members who keep their covenants.
The Abrahamic Covenant. It’s something most Latter-day Saints have barely thought about, let alone studied. It’s something they’ve heard bits and pieces of and like to quote ideals from; but they have no idea of the context of what they are quoting. And, most often, this covenant is misunderstood in regard to wayward family members.
Next, Agency. It’s another thing Latter-day Saints claim to understand—better than most, even. And yet, they only understand it as far as they like it. The parts of agency they don’t like, they disdain, ignore, or push away and purposefully remain ignorant of. And, the one place people like to pretend they can remain ignorant is in regard to wayward family members.
The word “wayward” means: difficult to control or predict because of disobedient behavior, having turned, or turning away from what is right or proper, etc.
Now, when I say “wayward,” I mean the children, or grandchildren, or other descendant posterity (from a man and woman who have been sealed in the temple and who are bound by the Abrahamic Covenant i.e. the New and Everlasting Covenant) who have rejected the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gone inactive from it, or who even actively fight against it.
So, what is the big misunderstanding? Many people who have been sealed in the temple falsely believe that if they (meaning the two of them) keep their sealing covenant and are faithful, that their wayward children will be forced by God to someday repent and “make it” to the celestial kingdom. And, they think that this will happen because of the Abrahamic Covenant by which they are bound. They mistakenly believe that their covenant with God will save their children despite the actions of their children. [See Elder Bednar quote and reference at the end of this blog post for the reason many people have strayed into this belief.]
It’s the hard truth, but this is simply not the case. It can’t be the case because it is contrary to all the foundational doctrine upon which the gospel is founded—upon which this life is founded. In Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 and 132:21 teach quite clearly that kept covenants are what bind us to God and give us access to His fullness. We cannot bind others to God by our kept covenants (Matthew 25:1-12). They must make and keep their own.
So, not only is this mistaken belief not part of the Abrahamic Covenant, but it totally goes against the whole plan of salvation which is designed to allow, encourage, and protect agency. God makes no covenant with any of His children which overrides the agency of any of His other children. If agency was that easily sidestepped then the Atonement of Jesus Christ would never have been necessary, or God’s plan, for that matter.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently taught in his October 2016 General Conference address, Fourth Floor Last Door:
Faith is powerful, and often it does result in miracles. But no matter how much faith we have, there are two things faith cannot do. For one, it cannot violate another person’s agency.
One woman prayed for years that her wayward daughter would return to the fold of Christ and felt discouraged that her prayers had seemingly gone unanswered. This was especially painful when she heard stories of other prodigal children who had repented of their ways.
The problem was not a lack of prayers or a shortage of faith. She needed only to understand that, as painful as it might be for our Father in Heaven, He will not force anyone to choose the path of righteousness. God did not force His own children to follow Him in the premortal world. How much less will He force us now as we journey through this mortal life?
God will invite, persuade. God will reach out tirelessly with love and inspiration and encouragement. But God will never compel—that would undermine His great plan for our eternal growth.
The second thing faith cannot do is force our will upon God. We cannot force God to comply with our desires—no matter how right we think we are or how sincerely we pray. Consider the experience of Paul, who pleaded with the Lord multiple times for relief from a personal trial—what he called “a thorn in the flesh.” But that was not God’s will. Eventually, Paul realized that his trial was a blessing, and he thanked God for not answering his prayers the way he had hoped.
Christ himself said to the Jews (the blood descendants of Abraham) who continued to reject Him (Matthew 3:8-9; JST Matthew 8:35-36):
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Why is it that ye receive not the preaching of him whom God hath sent? If ye receive not this in your hearts, ye receive not me; and if ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak. Repent, therefore, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance; And think not to say within yourselves, We are the children of Abraham, and we only have power to bring seed unto our father Abraham; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children into Abraham.
Christ declared that being of the literal blood of Abraham was not sufficient for salvation or Priesthood authority. The Jews had to also bring for fruits meet for repentance in order to fulfill their calling as God’s people.
So, what is the Abrahamic Covenant for if not to force people back to God?
The Abrahamic Covenant is THE COVENANT God made with Adam and Eve, and all the righteous who lived thereafter. It was renamed after Abraham because of his faithfulness. The Abrahamic Covenant contains many smaller covenants, promises, obligations, powers, and assignments; which, if undertaken will help us become like God. That is its sole purpose: TO BECOME LIKE GOD.
The following covenants are all a part of the Abrahamic Covenant:
Baptismal covenant (Abraham 2:9-11)
In the baptismal covenant we agree to try to become like God by keeping His commandments, serving our fellow men, and sharing God’s plan with others. We accept the command to receive the Holy Ghost and live worthy of His companionship. By entering this covenant, we become the seed of Abraham (whether we are already blood descendants or not).
The Gift of the Holy Ghost covenant (Abraham 2:9-11)
When we enter the baptismal covenant we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. This power is the baptism of fire. Different from the power of the Holy Ghost, and the Light of Christ, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is what cleanses us and changes us—over time—into a godly being. As we exercise our agency to do good, the “fire” of the Holy Ghost is able to make permanent changes in our nature (like a blacksmith using a forge to heat metal and change it into something; the heat is necessary to create the malleability needed to make long-term change to the metal).
Priesthood Ordination covenant (Abraham 2:9, 11)
Both men and women act under the authority of the Priesthood of God. Therefore, the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:5-44) applies to all; especially endowed members (who have gone to the temple to receive “the fullness of the Priesthood”. We are to live by every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. We are to receive, embrace, and keep our baptismal covenants and temple covenants.
Part of having access to the Priesthood is using it to spread the gospel and offer its saving ordinances to all mankind. This is one of the chief responsibilities of the Abrahamic Covenant—of God’s people. It is not just to preach the gospel, but to make available its saving ordinances to all. This is a responsibility and a command. It is not just a nice thing to do.
Endowment covenant (Abraham 1:2-4; 2:8-9)
A primary part of the Abrahamic Covenant is taking upon us deeper covenants to live in such a way that we can become like God. The endowment is not just about “living with God.” It’s about “becoming like God.”
The covenants that accompany the endowment are critical to us binding ourselves more firmly to God (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10) and His plan for His children, and for us. As we receive greater knowledge and power to be righteous and godly, we become “like God.”
Sealing covenant (Abraham 1:2-4; 2:8-9)
God promised Abraham eternal seed (family). This is what God has. If we want it also, we must enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. It doesn’t guarantee that all our children will be exalted. It does, however, guarantee that those of our children who keep their covenants with God will be bound to us forever, as we are bound to God by keeping His covenants.
Contrary to the generalized belief that most Latter-day Saints have, getting married in the temple is not “about them.” The sealing covenant is an individual covenant made with God to live worthy of having eternal family. It is a covenant made in the pursuit of receiving godly privileges. Even if one member of the marriage fails to keep their covenant, the covenant is still in force for the person who remains faithful. Those who take upon them the New and Everlasting Covenant agree to join God in His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. That’s what the sealing covenant is!
This is the covenant that so many people think means God will force their posterity to repent and live the gospel. This is not the case. The sealing covenant, however, does provide something that often gets mistaken for God forcing people to give the gospel. What is it? Well, let me tell you.
In Jacob 5 we read the olive tree allegory. This allegory is long. Most people skip over reading it. They are overwhelmed by its symbolism. But, this allegory is a strong visual of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Throughout the allegory we see God do everything He can to get his olive trees (the primary tree being the House of Israel) to produce good fruit (or to be righteous). He takes wild (wicked) branches and grafts them into good (righteous) trees. He takes good branches and grafts them into wild trees. He takes good branches and plants them in different places and soil trying to preserve the righteousness of the tree they came from. He slowly prunes away wild branches trying to give those that remain a chance to turn good.
Back and forth, and back and forth, the Lord goes trying to save The House of Israel, the Covenant People, the Children of Abraham so that they might “salt/save” the rest of the vineyard. The House of Israel carries the responsibility to preach the gospel and carry the ordinances to all the rest of God’s children! So, the Lord promises, because of the covenant, that He will work extra hard to provide conditions for those “children of the covenant” to choose to fulfill their covenant responsibilities. But, He will not force them to change. He will merely go back and forth, back and forth, pruning, grafting, dunging, planting, etc. trying to get “His people” to keep their covenants and bless the lives of each other and the rest of His children.
“For of whom much is given, much is required (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3)” which is why the Lord works extra hard to make sure that those of us who have entered into, or who have been born into, His covenants, don’t end up with “greater condemnation.” This is also why He tries to encourage us to make those covenants only when we are prepared to embrace them. God’s covenants are not just membership in a church, or saying we want to be affiliated with the church. They are a firm contract between we and Him about our responsibility to do His will and learn to become like Him.
Now, let’s talk about agency.
In order to have agency we must have:
- Law defining right and wrong
- Opposing choices
- Opposing enticements
- Power to choose (to act and not be acted upon)
- Environment that does not interfere with choice
If we take away wrong choice in order to make things nice and to keep people from feeling bad, then we also take away right choice. Law defines both. Remove law, neither exists. Remove wrong, the other disappears also. So, we can’t say, “But, I love my son/daughter. I cannot imagine heaven without them. Even if they are unwilling to keep such and such commandment, surely God will still let them in—for my sake.” Not going to happen, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:13).
Notice God said He cannot look upon sin with the least “degree” of allowance. That’s why they are several “degrees” of glory. The degree of sin any of us is determined to hold onto, and not repent of, will also determine the degree of our glory (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15, 18-24, 33-39).
But, here’s something else to consider: if we love our children more than we love God…or if we love our version of God’s plan more than God’s version; so much so that we would force our children to live in a kingdom of glory they would not be prepared for, would not like, nor appreciate (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33), then perhaps we don’t really understand what degree of glory we really desire.
If our children don’t succumb to the pruning, grafting, dunging, etc.; if they don’t succumb or submit to the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, then we cannot manipulate them into becoming godly. It’s terribly sad. It’s heartbreaking. But, that is simply not the plan. We cannot override their power of choice. God is the one who has given it to them, and who are we to try to fight against God?
If there is anyone out there who still struggles with this concept, please read, Faithful Parents and Wayward Children: Sustaining Hope While Overcoming Misunderstanding by Elder David A. Bednar.
But, here is one quote from it:
The statements by Joseph Smith and Orson F. Whitney are construed by some members of the Church to mean that wayward children unconditionally receive the blessings of salvation because of and through the faithfulness of parents. However, this interpretation is moderated by the fact that the most complete account of the Prophet’s sermon was not available to Church historians at the time they compiled an amalgamated version of his teachings from the notes of Willard Richards and William Clayton. In the more complete set of notes recorded by Howard and Martha Coray, Joseph Smith is shown to have qualified his statement to make the promised blessings conditional upon the obedience of the children:
“When a father and mother of a family have [been sealed], their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the Parents have been sealed. And this is the Oath of God unto our Father Abraham and this doctrine shall stand forever.”
So, I’m posting this blog, not to dash hopes. But, to hopefully influence the actions of those lovingly, but sadly, misdirected parents. Salvation is dependent upon our individual relationship with God (St. John 17:3; Matthew 25:12). We cannot make our children have a relationship with God. If they are to have His image in their countenances, then they must do their part to become like Him.
So, if you’re a parent and you’re trying desperately to be more righteous, in an unbalanced way, in order to save wayward posterity, then you are missing the point. You can’t be more righteous on their behalf. You can only be righteous on your own behalf.
So, what can you do?
You can focus your faith and your energy on what you can control. You can focus your faith and energy on helping them come to know God “through you” by showing charity, grace, and love to them where they are in their spiritual journey and no matter what degree of glory they choose. You can invite them to serve and love you and their family and friends. You can pray for opportunities to speak to them by the Spirit. You can focus on using your agency to invite (not manipulate or coerce) them to use theirs—to choose God.
You cannot visit the temple an extra ten times, or read your scriptures an extra fifteen minutes, or serve yourself into exhaustion in order to force the Lord to save your children despite their agency. What a useless burden to carry? How little trust in the Lord and His plan? How selfish to force our desires on others?
The beautiful thing about God’s plan is that we will all get exactly what we want. Sure, those of us with a testimony of what’s best will always mourn when others choose less than the sum that’s available to them. But, ultimately, we all end up exactly where we want. And that, alone, should give us peace.
I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
So many people have often said to me, “I wish I could do <fill in the blank> like you.” But, they don’t really want to. They think it would be nice to do <fill in the blank> without any practice, study, or effort. But, when it really comes down to it, they put the effort into the things they really want. And, if they wanted to do <fill in the blank> just like me, then they’d put the effort into it. It’s as simple as that. And that’s what God is asking of all of us, whether parents or children. We must bring forth our own fruit.