Forever Families is one of the few notable doctrines that Latter-day Saints preach about that sets them apart from all other Christian religions. And yet, I’m shocked at how few of them actually understand why we preach that and what it truly entails. They see in their minds that this ideal is all about true love and never being parted from your loved ones. But, beyond that, they misunderstand the ideal of eternal posterity and eternal family completely. Likely because they were never taught. Likely because they didn’t always listen or pay attention. Most certainly because they didn’t take the time to study it.
Many people are drawn to the doctrine of eternal marriage and eternal families and yet they struggle with the doctrine of godhood. However, the two doctrines are one and the same. There is no eternal family without godhood. There is no godhood without eternal parenthood. Godhood is nothing less than perfect eternal parenthood.
God, our Heavenly Father, is the God of our universe—worlds without end. He is sinless. He is perfectly just. He is perfectly merciful. He is love.
God is bound by covenant to our Heavenly Mother. She is also sinless, She is perfectly just. She is perfectly merciful. And She is love.
Our heavenly parents have glorified, resurrected, celestial bodies. Not only are their bodies free from corruption, are perfect, and cannot die; their (celestial) bodies can create, beget, and organize eternal spirit children—in the same manner that we beget mortal children. And, as perfect eternal parents, they spend all of their eternal time helping these spirit children become like them—to become eternal parents, or gods.
The whole plan of salvation is about nothing more than helping each and every one of us become eternal parents, like our heavenly parents. The whole plan of salvation is designed so that we can become sinless, perfectly just, perfectly merciful, and become the embodiment of love. The whole plan is set up so that we can, if we so choose, receive a glorified, resurrected, celestial body. For, this is the only type of body that can enjoy “eternal life, (Moses 1:39)” sexual relations, and continue to beget children (i.e. eternal family, forever family) beyond the veil of death. All other resurrections i.e. immortality (Moses 1:39) (terrestrial, telestial, etc.) will glorify and perfect a body, but will not enable those bodies to enjoy sexual relations and beget spirit children. Modern revelation is fairly clear that all resurrected bodies are not the same (see Doctrine and Covenants 76, 88 for further study).
Forever family, or eternal family, is not simply about coexisting with another being (or beings) for eternity. It’s not about having everybody in our current family under the same celestial roof. Just as in this life begotten children grow up, leave home, and create their own homes; so also it is in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. “The same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which we do not now enjoy” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:2). That we may associate together is certain. That our lives are focused around each other is unlikely. We will (if we as family members all choose to inherit celestial glory) far more likely work side-by-side in our work and glory of “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life” of our spirit children.
In Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4 and 132:19-21 we are taught that in order to become like God, each of us must enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, an actual order of God’s Priesthood Power (i.e. sealing ordinance of the temple) and keep our covenants, in order to receive godhood, or in other words, eternal parenthood. God is, and always has been, very exact with how He dispenses Priesthood power, authority, and blessings.
God…has ordained that the highest order and class of beings that should exist in the eternal worlds should exist in the capacity of husbands and wives, and that they alone should have the privilege of propagating their species…Now it is wise, no doubt, in the Great Creator to thus limit this great and heavenly principle to those who have arrived or come to the highest state of exaltation…to dwell in His presence, that they by this means shall be prepared to bring up their spirit offspring in all pure and holy principles in the eternal worlds, in order that they may be happy. Consequently, He does not entrust this privilege of multiplying spirits with the terrestrial or telestial, or the lower order of beings there, nor with angels. But why not? Because they have not proved themselves worthy of this great privilege. (In Journal of Discourses 13:186) (Elder Orson Pratt, quoted by Douglas E. Brinley, The Keys of Marital Success—Part 2, Eternal Companions, pp. 90-91)
Brigham Young taught concerning the way we have children that “there is no other process of creation in heaven, on the earth,…or under the earth, or in all the eternities, that is, that were, or that ever will be” (Journal of Discourses 11:122). It is clear that God’s plan requires sexual intimacy, but he didn’t create us with compliance built in biologically. Instead he gave us a body like his, with all of the possibilities that entails. Our physical bodies are thus gifts, not givens. (Emily M. Reynolds, Talking About Sexual Intimacy, Eternal Companions, p. 147)
I have blogged before about God’s power not being absolute. He, in order to hold the powers, priesthoods, and position He has, must be bound by eternal law and covenant. If He were to soften, side-step, or go against any of these binding eternal laws and covenants “He would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13, 22-23, 25-26). I have also blogged about what true Motherhood and Fatherhood are and how we become such—it is through covenant that we attain such titles, not merely by birthing children. Such birthing makes us temporary, mortal parents only.
In fact, we, as mortals, and even as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, take for granted our opportunity to gain a body, marry, and learn true parenthood. So much so that we engage in sexual relations lightly, selfishly, and lustfully. So much so that we marry, divorce, cohabitate, and indulge in sexual addictions as though we were entitled to the satisfaction and pleasure by simply being alive. We are not. Whether we are heterosexual or claim other gender identities matters little. We are not entitled to eternal family or eternal parenthood unless we are willing to become like God.
There is no discrimination from God in this. All of us are born with issues that make it difficult for us to desire and pursue godhood (eternal parenthood). It doesn’t matter if it’s our sexual orientation, genetic obesity, missing limbs, propensity for sexual addiction (of any kind), mental depression, propensity for anger addiction or alcoholism, etc., they all make it difficult (heroic, even Abrahamic, D&C 101:4) to desire and pursue godhood. And yet, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we can have these issues and still become like God if we try our best to accept and follow His will and commandments. It matters not the status of our progress in comparison to others; only that we continue to progress and try—and never give up. If we simply try with all our might, mind, heart, and strength, then His grace is sufficient (Moroni 10:32). If we simply do not give up and repent every time we fail. If we do what we can do in keeping God’s ordinances, covenants, and commandments; we will be healed of our weaknesses and issues and become godly because we met the conditions for His grace. Mortal weaknesses, inclinations, and struggles will, and can, be overcome through grace by our efforts in this life, or healed completely before our final judgment and resurrection. Not one of us is ultimately denied anything, certainly not godhood/eternal parenthood, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Thus God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful (Alma 42) because of the atonement.
Eternal parenthood/godhood is not for the good or the better. It is only for the best (metaphorically speaking). Yet, if people decide to choose good or better, that does not diminish them. They will get what they want, ultimately, with some exceptions (Alma 41:10) wherein they want to find happiness in sin which simply cannot be had (now, or in the eternities). There is plenty of suffering in this life. More than we can bear. But, if we choose not to repent in this life we will be subject to the full weight of the law of justice. We will suffer for our own sins (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19). This cleansing from sin will proceed the final resurrection and judgment. We cannot be assigned to a kingdom of glory (even if it is not the celestial kingdom), without confessing Jesus is the Christ, that God is just, and that we have sinned (Romans 14:11, Isaiah 45:23, Alma 12:15, Mosiah 16:1, Doctrine and Covenants 88:104).
It’s important to note that Satan, who showed himself unworthy to even try for godhood in his attempted coup of God’s throne and power (Moses 4:1-4), was cast out of heaven. He was not allowed to be born on this earth, to get a body, or to seek godhood. He was damned—literally. He is left without family and any eternal association forever (Isaiah 14:12-20). Family, we should all understand, is the crowning glory of life and most certainly of godhood. Other glories are available, but they do not include this crowning glory, and cannot. For those who inherit them, while good, are not godly and cannot be trusted with the powers of creation (see quotes above by Orson Pratt and Brigham Young).
Many religions preach two eternal outcomes as locations. They are heaven or hell. The kingdoms, however, of which they preach are basically the terrestrial and the telestial. And, if one aspires to the ideals preached about these kingdoms, one will not be disappointed when this life is over—if that is one’s only aspiration. If our goal is simply to be basically happy. Then, that’s what we’ll get (Alma 29:4). If our goal is to bowl, play golf, chess, cards, Yahtzee, or other pursuits, forever, then that’s what we’ll get (though likely much better, as God knows how to give good gifts to His children, Luke 11:13).
On the other hand, if our goal is to enjoy the blessings of godhood, and eternal parenthood and family, which brings more happiness than we could possibly ever even imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9), then we cannot have the same expectations for our conduct in this life, nor in our eternal progression. And, it is possible to grasp this high goal and reach it, we will only trust God, have faith in Him, and believe it!
In Doctrine and Covenants 88 we read the following about the purpose of our souls and the differences in our resurrections based upon what eternal laws we are willing to abide.
14 Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead.
15 And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.
16 And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul (the spirit and the body).
17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
18 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory;
19 For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father;
20 That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it (the soul) made and created, and for this intent are they (souls) sanctified.
21 And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.
28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.
29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
30 And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
33 For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
35 That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.
36 All kingdoms have a law given;
37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
38 And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.
39 All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.
40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.
41 He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.
I hope you had the patience to study that long excerpt of scripture, because it is so powerful.
So, now let me address something very important.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is comprised of doctrines, principles, and commandments. Principles and commandments are subject to individual application and interpretation (many times) through the Holy Spirit because they are how we apply doctrines. However, doctrines (which are fundamental eternal truths) do not change and are not subject to interpretation or change. Principles can also dual as doctrines.
Now, the purpose of this blog is not to strain and gnats and swallow camels (Matthew 23:24) as in the tiny differences that can be talked about between doctrines and principles. The purpose of this blog is to point out a very important, fundamental point. Here it is.
While the personal, societal, historical, and cultural applications of the principles and commandments of God may vary, fundamental Gospel doctrines and universal truths do not change.
For example, the Israelites had a different word of wisdom than we do. We apply the principles behind this commandment differently based upon prophetic direction. We can eat pork. They couldn’t. And on and on. But the doctrine behind the word of wisdom is the same. It is: by adhering to a word of wisdom, as revealed by God, we mark ourselves as Christ’s, that when the time comes for the separating the wheat from the tares, the destroying angel will pass us by (Doctrine and Covenants 89:21). All other blessings and proposed purposes of the commandment are both spiritual and physical, but can side track us from its main doctrinal basis. It’s a law for the weakest saint to mark themselves as Christ’s (verse 3).
So, when it comes to marriage, family, and sex, it is clear that we are seeing both outside and inside the church, an incredible softening toward the unconventional family unit, and even unconventional sexual orientations and claimed genders. Genderless marriage has been approved by government and all around people are trying very hard to be tolerant of what historically have been unconventional and unaccepted forms of behavior and beliefs. These children of God have previously been treated unfairly and unkindly, even persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, and mistreated.
Many, inside and outside the church, are beginning to assume that this softening in treatment (or the increase of understanding how to love the sinner but not the sin) of such individuals, who are beloved children of God, means a future change in commandments…or an eventual change in doctrine and therefore policy. I think if they make this assumption, in this they will be verily disappointed.
To me, the big leap that is taking place is that the church (which God allows to be carried forward by His flawed children who must learn and be saved individually and collectively) is beginning to realize that treating more unconventional sinners as evil criminals is not only wrong and un-Christlike, but that it is ultimately unproductive in spreading the Gospel. Historically, the fire and brimstone preacher would have condemned all of these sinning souls to hell without any mercy. The unwed mother, the inmate, the interracial couple, etc. Gratefully, we are, if slowly, getting beyond that un-Christlike understanding and reasoning. But, I think it would be wrong to presuppose an eventual change in principle, doctrine, or policy regarding God’s plan for eternal families, eternal parenthood, and eternal marriage.
Here are two examples. First, addictions have also been incorrectly assessed and misunderstood over the years. Where once people were disfellowshipped, or even excommunicated, for struggling with an addiction (smoking, alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc.), they are now counseled, supported, maintained in fellowship, and even allowed to serve in some capacities as they willingly work through and try to work consistent recovery. However, that all of these issues are still sins, and prevent us from being happy and becoming godly, has not changed—and won’t change. Simply our understanding of how to love and support the sinner has improved. And God seems to be content with allowing us to learn as we go.
Second, while Latter-day Saint women have for years and years enjoyed greater rights and privileges than women in regular society, and even in other religions (and still do); recently the assumption was made that society’s attempts to finally catch up with this trend meant that God would eventually let women officiate in Priesthood Leadership positions within the church on the basis that women in other churches can become paid ministers and because women can do what men can do—it was just assumed. There are many fundamentally incorrect comparisons made to argue for women being ordained to the Priesthood, but it boils down to the fact that even “the men” don’t get paid, and that the Priesthood is God’s and He determines how it is utilized, dispensed, and officiated in.
Anyway, while overall, the church sought to self-evaluate and include women where-ever it was possible that it already had not; yet, it did not, and will not, change that fundamental doctrine. God has doctrinally established covenant roles within His plan and those will not change. Just as God, the Father, has a different role than Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost within the godhead (and doesn’t belly-ache about it and neither do the other members of the godhead); men and women have different roles in godhood, the Church, and eternal parenthood. God isn’t going to change that. It’s biological, spiritual, and doctrinal.
I can look all around me and I can see successful heterosexual marriages that may never be eternal because the couples have no desire to get baptized, live the commandments, and receive those ordinances necessary to achieve their exaltation. No matter if they are two peas in a pod. That they get along is great. But that alone is not sufficient to make them worthy of godhood (i.e. eternal parenthood). To be eternal parents, not just eternal lovers, we must submit to the conditions required for godhood. Why? Because that is the only way to also be eternal lovers.
The same applies to people who are in genderless relationships or marriages. That they are happy together is great. That they are also extremely wonderful and spiritual and kind is great. These traits and beautiful things about them are not diminished by their sexual inclinations. But just like all of us, they must still submit to God’s conditions IF they want to be like Him. And, if they don’t, they will still receive a kingdom of glory—which we often fail to preach. This is the doctrine! And it’s wonderful, and it’s beautiful. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about giving us the chance to become like God. God will not force it upon us. Neither will He hand it over lightly. Yet, the plan also provides for those who are good but also simply don’t want godhood on its universally required and unchangeable terms.
They are not the lowest of the low as society has (and we have) always been want to treat them. They are divine, amazing, spirit children of God with godly potential. They will be blessed, and are blessed, for all the good they do (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21). But, they are also denied blessings (like any other) for not submitting to God’s laws and commandments. That’s the doctrine.
Together Forever… the question only now remains, “Is that what you truly want?”