What Do Mormons Mean by “Eternal Families?”

My family and I recently visited a young LDS couple that had just suffered a terrible loss.  Their first pregnancy resulted in a stillborn child, shattering their hopes for welcoming a child to their home in the spring.  Having been in a similar situation ourselves many years ago (and subsequently over-compensating with five daughters), I had more than a passing familiarity with what they were experiencing.  But I couldn’t help but notice that, along with the tears, there were smiles and confident expressions that the loss was transitory, and that their baby boy would be restored to them.  They expressed grief, but not anguish.  Disappointment, but not despair.

Because Mormons believe that families are forever.

Many years ago, while reading a biography of Andrew Jackson, I came across this quote, in which he expressed his feelings about his deceased wife:  “Heaven will not be heaven to me unless I meet my wife there.”  That is a sentiment that I understand and share, and I suspect that most people (at least those who actually like their families) feel the same way.  If there is an afterlife, and if it goes on forever, there is nothing about it that would attract me unless I could enjoy the companionship of my wife and children.  If at the gates of Heaven my dad, who passed some 16 years ago, is not waiting for me, eternity would carry with it deep disappointment.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches what most people instinctively believe, but other Christian churches stop short of proclaiming:  The loving ties we build with our families on earth can be carried on through the eternities through sacred covenants made with our Father in Heaven.  On my mission, I sometimes asked people if they believed they would be joined with their families after this life.  Almost all of them said they did.  What they couldn’t do is confirm that their church actually teaches it.

The doctrine of eternal families begins with the belief that God is literally the Father of our spirits.  Prior to coming to earth, we existed as spirit sons and daughters of God, meaning that the family was the basis of our organization before coming to mortality.

When God created Adam and Eve, they were husband and wife in the Garden of Eden prior to  the Fall and their introduction into mortality.  Thus, the first marriage was an eternal marriage.  With no death, there can be no “until death do you part.”  We believe that God has continued to ordain the family as the basic unit of society and that He intends for us to be saved as families.

The highest ordinance in the LDS Church is the “sealing” of families in our temples.  We believe that part of the priesthood authority restored through Joseph Smith was the power to “seal” things in heaven and earth, which is the same authority that was given to Peter.  In our temples, marriages are solemnized not only for time, but for eternity, and we believe that–conditioned upon our obedience–such marriages will be in full force and effect after this life.  Children born to sealed couples are considered to be “born under the covenant,” meaning that there is no need for an additional ordinance to seal the children to their parents.  Where the parents are sealed after a “time only” marriage (such as new converts to the Church), their current children are sealed to them in the temple at the same time they are sealed together.

This belief in an eternal family influences so much of what we do as a Church.  From programs like Family Home Evening, the Church’s Proclamation on the Family, to our position on moral issues, our doctrine is driven by the belief that families are divine and that our homes should be places of sacred security.  It helps to foster strong marriages by emphasizing an eternal commitment between husband and wife.   For me, the goal of staying with my wife long after diamonds turn to dust makes the commitment of staying with her today, and tomorrow, far easier.

Interestingly, in the LDS Church, our priesthood is structured around the family as well.  The priesthood is not restricted to professional clergy; rather, any worthy father can hold the priesthood and perform ordinances for his own family, such as baptisms, confirmation into the Church, and priesthood blessings.  Each time I lay my hands on any of my children’s heads to give them a blessing of comfort or health, I am thankful for a God that puts family at the forefront of our spiritual lives.

The family is the schoolhouse in which we learn our most important life lessons.  I believe that being a husband and father have taught me lessons in love, sacrifice, kindness and gratitude that I simply could not have learned in the same way in any other environment.  Fatherhood has given me a deeper appreciation of how my Father in Heaven sees me, and what my relationship with Him and my elder brother, Jesus Christ, should resemble.  Fatherhood is, for me, an introductory course in Godhood.

In my time as a member of the Church, no doctrine has meant more to me.  I am a family guy.  I always have been.  After nearly 25 years of marriage, I’m always anxious to get home to my wife and daughters because home is where I find my happiness.  The notion that these bonds of love that I have developed with my family are transitory, and that after this life I would live singly, is abhorrent to me.  To be divided from my family would be no less of a hell to me than being separated from God.  It is the hope of eternal union with my family members that has gotten me through the loss of those dearest to me and eases the sorrow that comes with missing them.  It is that hope that makes heaven something worth striving for.

8 Responses to “What Do Mormons Mean by “Eternal Families?””

  1. 1 Ryan Hawkins January 14, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Such a great way to put it. Indeed, heaven will not be heaven if my relationship with my wife and kids isn’t at least everything that it is now. Too many churches teach that in heaven, my relationship with my wife will be no different than my relationship with my buddy…or with the guy down the street…or with Joel Osteen. How deeply disappointing that would be.

    To me, that’s a perfect example of polluting God’s teachings.

  2. 2 1of10boyz January 15, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Reblogged this on middlekingdom1of10boyz and commented:
    Our friends always ask about how they can have a family like mine. The answer always comes back to this.

  3. 3 1EarthUnited January 15, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Beautiful post, thx for sharing this!♥

  4. 5 tonybrigmon January 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    To communicate true principles the way you do with humor, insight and clarity in less than 1000 words is amazing to me. It’s a gift you have, no doubt.

    In case anyone asks this post was a power-packed 993 words. Just long enough and short enough for old guys like me to manage and enjoy. Thank you.

    • 6 Becca May 2, 2015 at 10:34 am

      I agree. All of these posts on this blog are so clear and accurate. They are easy to read and genuine! Thanks for providing such great answers and personal experience. You inspire me to share the gospel with others.

      Scripture Blog

  5. 7 WPM April 1, 2015 at 4:41 am

    I can understand how a family (husband, wife and the kids) can spend eternity together, but how does this work when each of us is related to parents, siblings, grandchildren and so on. Will it end up being a giant sleep-over for eternity with all the various connections living with each other? Do we know?

    • 8 Ryan Hawkins July 23, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      This gets real messy when two sets are divorced parents are bickering over which couple gets to have the children from that previous marriage “sealed” to them. There are even times when a widow (who had been sealed to her late husband) remarries and has another child (which child is considered “born in the covenant” under that first, temple marriage according to the church handbook…and as such would be sealed to the mother and her late husband instead of to the living husband, who biologically fathered the child. As I consider unique situations like these and compare with the wording in the sealing ordinance, I can’t help but notice there seems to be more of a focus on the blessings that are associated with eternal parentage than there is about whose roof we will all be living under in the next life.

      That all points me toward my current opinion on this, which is subject to change, but I believe the most important sealing is to your spouse. I’m quite certain two spouses will be living under the same roof in the next life…but I am doubtful that our children and their spouses (and in-laws) would all be under the same roof with us. If they were, then you can imagine that the house starts getting pretty big, because now — in-laws and their children are all under the same roof as well…and then all their children’s in-laws…and then everyone’s grand parents, great grand parents, cousins, aunts uncles, etc. In fact, we could trace everyone back to Adam…then we are all family and everyone would be under the same roof. Personally, I don’t believe that is how it will work…but this is all speculation, so I could be wrong. I think we’ll be close to our children…but probably not under the same roof. And if methods of travel and communication in heaven are light years ahead of what we have here in mortality (pretty good chance they are), then it might not even matter whether “close” means ‘on the same street’ or in the same ‘galaxy’ if we can instantly visit each other either way.

Leave a Reply to WPM Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 596 other followers

%d bloggers like this: