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The Misguided Eternal Nature of the Family

From LDS.org
This brief article explores a topic that has been on my mind a lot over the past 6-7 years. From my youth up I have been raised to believe that Families Can Be Together Forever. That is undoubtedly true, but there is a lot of revelation and nuanced details about it that can correct our thinking in many instances. 

Some of us tritely believe such a doctrine without really comprehending what is being said. Some of us have watered down the idea so much that we almost exclusively worship the idea of Families Being Together Forever instead of its source and purpose.

Speaking for myself, it took some rearranging of ideas in my mind before I got a more mature glimpse of what this doctrine means for us. A good place to start is a recent statement from President Henry B. Eyring:
"My promise to you is one that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once made to me. I had said to him that because of choices some in our extended family had made, I doubted that we could be together in the world to come. He said, as well as I can remember, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.”" (1) (bold added for emphasis)
If President Eyring, at one time, was worried about the wrong problem in what seemed to be something quite reasonable to worry about, could we be guilty of the same? Could the reverse be true as well? Namely, if we are so caught up in fantasizing about the eternal nature of our family could we be misplacing our hopes and dreams? In other words, how many of us might be hoping for the wrong thing? Or at least hoping beneath what we ought to be hoping for?

I am going to pause right here and say that I am NOT suggesting that our families and their salvation are unimportant. We have many instances in the Book of Mormon of righteous people and prophets concerned about the spiritual and temporal welfare of their families. What I am about to suggest though might better reflect how the ancients understood the eternal nature of their families.

To be concerned about the eternal welfare of our families as if our individual family unit will be a completely separate and sovereign unit in eternity is THE misguided idea. In irony only the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is capable of, Joseph Fielding Smith comments:
"When everything gets finished, we will all be one family—every member of the Church a member of one family, the family of God. And we will all be subject to our first progenitor, Adam, Michael, the archangel, who has been appointed and given authority under Jesus Christ to stand at the head and preside over all his posterity. We are one family. And we all have to be joined to that family....
Why do we go into the temples to be sealed, husbands and wives, and children to parents, and why are we commanded to have this work done, not only for ourselves, but also to be sealed to our fathers and mothers, and their fathers and mothers before them, back as far as we can go? Because we want to belong to that great family of God which is in heaven, and, so far as the Church is concerned, on earth. That is why....
Thus eventually we will be one large family with Adam at the head, Michael, the archangel, presiding over his posterity." - Joseph Fielding Smith (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:173-176)
How many of us have been sealed to a spouse but then rarely darken the door of the temple to perform the same blessing for our ancestors? If the summum bonum of the gospel is to have our individual families be sealed together forever than that begs the question as to why the ordinances for our deceased ancestors are so important. It begs the question, "what on earth is meant by "[our deceased ancestors] without us cannot be made perfect" (see D&C 128:15)"?

It ought to be plain now that many of us have our sights set too low when we overemphasize the eternal nature of our families. John Taylor explains it very well:
"To bring about this desirable end—to restore creation to its pristine excellency and to fulfil the object of creation—to redeem, save, exalt, and glorify man—to save and redeem the dead and the living, and all that shall live according to its laws, is the design and object of the establishment of the priesthood on the earth in the last days. It is for the purpose of fulfilling what has not heretofore been done—that God’s works may be perfected—that the times of the restitution of all things may be brought about, and that, in conjunction with the eternal priesthood in the heavens (who without us, nor we without them, could not be made perfect), we may bring to pass all things which have been in the mind of God, or spoken of by the Spirit of God, through the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world was." (The Gospel Kingdom, 132)
Nephi expresses this same understanding when he wrote, "I pray the Father in the name of Christ that many of us, if not all, may be saved in his kingdom at the great and last day." (see 2 Nephi 33:12, bold added for emphasis)

If we are really worried about the eternal destiny of our family, then we will catch the vision towards what John Taylor, Nephi, President Eyring, and a host of others are telling us. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear will comprehend these words of Truman G. Madsen:
"... as you look back at your seventy or so forebears . . . you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of many generations. And blood may not be a correct word scientifically, but in the scriptures it stands for seed, which means heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of us have them. You have the blood of this generation, from which we must become clean – ‘clean from the blood of this generation’ (D&C 88:85). If you do, you will be clean from the blood of every generation, because it is compounded and accumulated into now- and that includes the blood of some degeneration.
“So perhaps you do have problems that you can blame on your ancestors, and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it- you are involved. And this, I believe, is one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the book of Jacob, the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees. If you take a wild branch and graft it into a tame one, if the branch is strong enough it will eventually corrupt and spoil the tree all the way to the roots. But if you take a tame branch and graft it into a wild tree, in due time, if that branch is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification even of your forebears.“ . . . To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is perhaps the greatest achievement of this world. But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. One must be mighty. One must be something of a savior. And that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said we are: ‘saviors on Mount Zion.’” - Truman G. Madsen (“The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth”, pages 84-85)
Therefore, so what?

Could it be possible that a lot of younger people are not that eager to engage in temple work because they don't understand the cosmic scope of what they are involved in?

Could it be possible that too many of us live as if receiving the sealing ordinance is enough? We received the promise of powers, endowments, and keys in the ordinances for a reason. If we desire the salvation of our family, wouldn't we desire to be so full of priesthood power (men and women) that we transform our bloodline down to its roots?

Could this be what the Spirit of Elijah is actually testifying of when we become even remotely engaged in family history work? "The Spirit of Elijah is a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family" (Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, May 1998). The family the Holy Ghost is bearing witness of is the family of God, a.k.a the family of Adam.

Could it be that when we overemphasize the eternal nature of our personal families that we miss the greater blessing of being "Saviors on Mount Zion"? We miss the opportunity to have so much power in the priesthood that we don't experience what it means to have it influence ourselves and our posterity throughout all generations of time and throughout all eternity.

Our families can be together forever. The bigger picture, but closely related, is that our FAMILY can be together forever (note the singular instead of the plural, caps added for emphasis).



Comments

  1. "Some of us have watered down the idea so much that we almost exclusively worship the idea of Families Being Together Forever instead of its source and purpose."

    One of the reasons I was almost completely inactive for several years was the constant preaching about "Families together forever." I am so thankful for your article. It somewhat expresses my heart-felt desire to be a part of God's eternal family. Yes, I love my family here on earth. Yes, I would like my relationships to them to be in effect for eternities. But I see the focus on individual families, rather than the family of God's children, being almost worshiped by many in the Church.

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