Thursday, August 13, 2015

Misunderstanding eternal marriage (or, idolizing the family)

The Stockholm temple
My wife and I got married on a clear day in December a few years ago (you can read more about what led up to that day here). We knelt by the altar and said, "yes" and "I do", kissed, got congratulated and went on with the dinner and reception. By then, we were sealed to each other for time and all eternity–or, so we were taught. Now, eight years later, I'm not so sure about this. For those who find deep peace and a profound joy in the promise of eternal marriage, this might be depressing and even threatening. But I believe that you can't find true and lasting joy from incorrect beliefs (or rather, unbelief), just as one can't find happiness in wickedness (Alma 41:10).

I don't want to burst anyone's bubble here, but I believe there's a score to settle with the 'doctrine' that marriage automatically becomes eternal through the temple sealing. If this is unsettling for you, then perhaps you shouldn't continue reading. If you decide to not continue, please ask yourself, "why does this make me feel uncomfortable?"

Now, let's continue.

What is eternal?

The work and glory of God is, "to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). Immortality and eternal life are two distinct concepts and mustn't be confused; one is quantitative, the other qualitative.

Immortality means to never cease to exist. It's entirely about the duration of our existence, or the quantity of time we live.

Eternal life, on the other hand, is the quality of this never ending existence. The Lord put it this way:

It is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore— Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment. (D&C 19:6-12)
The righteous are promised eternal life and the wicked are promised eternal punishment simply because whatever God gives us is of him and by him.

Jesus stated that knowing the Father and the Son "is life eternal" (Joh. 17:3). Really knowing God is to learn how to become like him. And to become like him is to be blessed with a 'God-like' existence. Joseph taught the following in the King Follet-sermon.

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me. (TPJS 346-347)
Anything eternal (as outlined above) is of God and by God and God-like. What about eternal marriage then?

The Holy Spirit of Promise

This is a grander subject than I can–or intend to–address once and for all. I just want to highlight a few aspects of this whole eternal marriage-thing that tends to get overlooked.

D&C 132 is a heavily debated chapter of scripture (see here, here and here). Even though many of the things taught in that chapter may be of unclear origin, I believe that verse 7 teaches a true principle.

All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, […] are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.
If a marriage is not entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, it is of no force in and after the resurrection of the dead. We often miss this piece of truth, even though it's plain as word can be. Henry B. Eyring taught the following during the april 2012 General Conference:
Henry B. Eyring 
The Holy Spirit of Promise, through our obedience and sacrifice, must seal our temple covenants in order to be realized in the world to come. President Harold B. Lee explained what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise by quoting Elder Melvin J. Ballard: “We may deceive men but we cannot deceive the Holy Ghost, and our blessings will not be eternal unless they are also sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. The Holy Ghost is one who reads the thoughts and hearts of men, and gives his sealing approval to the blessings pronounced upon their heads. Then it is binding, efficacious, and of full force.”
This negligence of truth causes some members of the LDS Church to stay in abusive relationships and others to not cancel their sealing after a divorce, just to be on the safe side.

Let's be honest - this is insane! If a husband, or wife, is abusive, do we really believe that marriage is eternal? If a couple can't stand each other and don't want to be married anymore, is that relationship  of God, by God or God-like? Of course not. So, let's not kid ourselves. Just like Henry B. Eyring taught, a temple sealing is of no effect unless the parties sealed truly live up to their potential as children of God and joint heirs with Christ.

The "olive leaf" starts with these beautiful verses:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you who have assembled yourselves together to receive his will concerning you: Behold, this is pleasing unto your Lord, and the angels rejoice over you; the alms of your prayers have come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded in the book of the names of the sanctified, even them of the celestial worldWherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John. This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom; Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son— (D&C 88:1-5)
Going through these verses, I looked for some key words to underline and I wanted to underline all of it. Read the verses again. 

The Holy Spirit of promise is the "promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom." This sounds like something from another world. And you know what? - it is. Because this is what truly makes a marriage to be of God, by God and God-like. Without this ratification from the Holy Spirit of promise, a marriage is not eternal, at least not yet.

The progression of the temple ordinances

Mormon couples getting married need to be endowed before being sealed to one another. This helps them get used to one part of the temple ordinances before taking the next step. For that's how it is - the sealing is the next step up from the endowment. The endowment builds on the initiatory ceremony. The initiatory ceremony
 follows baptism and confirmation. In this, we see a clear example of progression

"Ritual ordinances offered by the Church are," like Robert Sonntag stated, "symbolic of actual saving interactions with heaven. Those saving interactions are the 'ordinances' which we must all seek. Wrongly depriving one of the ritual will not prevent them from obtaining what the ritual symbolizes, any more than performing the ritual guarantees the blessing it symbolizes."

The endowment ritual points to a literal and real conversation with the Lord through the veil and is a pre-requisite for the sealing. I believe it's fair to say that the same holds true for the 'real endowment', it also being a pre-requisite for the 'real sealing'.

When Jesus Christ, "hath spiritually begotten [us,] our hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, [we] are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters." If we press forward and are "steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works," then Jesus Christ will seal us his. (Mosiah 5:7, 15) This sealing to Jesus Christ will make us ready to be sealed that to another person. In other words, receiving the Second comforter it's a requirement for having your marriage to be sealed by t
he Holy Spirit of promise.

The Mormon business

As a missionary for the 
Church, I rarely had the chance to teach about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I mentioned it whenever we got passed the first lesson, which in Finland, rarely happened. During my last month on the field, I had an epiphany. I realized, and the Spirit bore testimony, that Joseph restored "the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Elemantary? You bet, but it changed those final weeks for me. I felt a surge of power and spirit when I contacted people and taught about the Gospel. It was great, but, that's not really what we we're selling.

Instead of focusing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
 we marketed the Church and the concept of eternal families. At least, I did. Why is that? One reason might be that most people already know about Jesus Christ and his Gospel–or, at least the think they do. Thus, preaching this wouldn't have helped in bringing people into the Church or given us the edge we needed on the market of religion. The edge of the LDS Church–compared to other churches–could be summed up with these words: we have the priesthood authority and keys by which we can seal families for eternity

Let's look at some examples of this overemphasis of the importance of the family and the Church.

The first chapter of Handbook 2: Administering the Church centers around the family. The first sentence of this chapter states that, "the family is ordained of God." In a First Presidency letter, dated Feb. 11, 1999 (quoted in Handbook 2, section 1.4.1) we read:

We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility. 
I love this question from chapter 16 in the Harold B. Lee manual: "How do the principles of Church correlation help the Church and the family work together to save souls?"

The answer in the next paragraph is even better:
While serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Harold B. Lee was charged by the First Presidency to oversee an effort to focus all Church programs on the ultimate purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). This effort was called correlation. Correlation includes emphasizing the importance of the family and the home by ensuring that Church auxiliaries, programs, and activities strengthen and support the family. It also includes placing all the organizations and work of the Church under priesthood direction. In the 1960s, many steps were taken to accomplish these purposes, including reemphasizing family home evening and reviewing the curriculum of the Church to ensure that it strengthened the home and family.
This is such a great quote, because it makes me smile.

Harold B. Lee also said that "the Church is the scaffold with which we build eternal families." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 267)

These are just a few examples of the great emphasis that is put on the family bu the Church. 
Another example, is the opposition of the Church to same sex marriage. This opposition might be based on a desire to stand up for good morals and speak up against sin. But it might also stem from fear of having your edge taken away from you. The LGBT-people can be viewed as being in the business of degrading or devaluing eternal marriage when they claim the right to marry for themselves.

I recently met and older lady who is childless and don't want to attend church nor General Conference because of the constant talk about family and children added insult to injury and made her feel worthless. That's truly sad. I wish she would still attend church and could have heard more about the grace and love of the Father and the Son.

When is this gonna be canonized?
In "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" we read:

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
When and how did the family become a savior from the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets? (Maybe since it was put in the driver's seat through correlation.) Is the family anything without Christ? Are we anything without Him? As a church, are we looking to the family for only what Christ can give? Do we worship and idolize the family? If so, this idolatry stems from the false beliefs that, "the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and [that] he hath given his power unto men" (2 Ne. 28:5), that rituals are ends instead of means, and that Christ is satisfied with a ritualized and symbolic relationship with us.

If I'm splitting hairs, I apologize. But I believe that the overemphasis on the Church and the family leads us away from the Savior. Eternal life consists of really knowing the Father and the Son. Without that knowledge, not even strong families will save us.


  1. Beautifully written! I don't believe you are splitting hairs at all. Thank you for this post and for having it in English ;)

    1. Sally! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Christian, I didn't serve a mission,but i am a missionary at heart. I too was taught by the spirit to focus only on Christ. I got this prompting at a moment when I was sharing how important the family and the church was, how special we are because of Keys and Authority. When it is He, our redeemer and having a relationship with Him, should be our focus and center of our hearts, mind and speech.

    1. Sister, thanks for your comment!

      It's difficult to let our focus be placed where it should be, when there are so many "good" things to talk about. But these things are also distractions.

  3. It is always a nice surprise when you've carried a thought for quite a while but not yet shared it, and then you come across someone who is troubled by the exact same things... Thank you for putting it out there.

  4. I agree with you.
    I know that D&C 132 is very doubtful.
    But what about D&C 131? I mean, except for 132, this section is apparently the only one passage of scripture that seems to indicate that "exaltation" comes through marriage. I find that doubtful too. I mean, the Book of Mormon by itself should contain every ordinance we need for "exaltation". Some people believe it doesn't, that it merely contains the ordinances for salvation. But "exaltation" is not even a word used in the scriptures to refer to man post-resurrection state. I repeat, it is highly doubtful to me that an eternal marriage is even an ordinance we must perform to become like God. Why is there so little information about it in the whole canon? But, of course, I could be wrong, I would accept I am wrong if anyone can prove that 131 is actually from God. But if, otherwise, someone is able to prove that 131 is not what it seems, I would be glad to hear him.

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