The Eternal Family
Family is the central ideal behind the gospel. We have modern-day prophets emphasizing this by teaching such things as: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home” (David O. McKay), or: “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” (President Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, Sel. Clyde J. Williams , 280.) Thirdly, Julie B. Beck (an emeritus Relief Society General President) taught that: “we have a theology of the family that is based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.” (“Teaching the Doctrine of the Family,” Ensign, March 2011.) With such centrality in the teachings of the Church, it should be no surprise that in every hallway of the Plan of Salvation one can hear the footsteps of eternal families. One can try to hide far and near within the theology of the Church and never fully escape the importance of families. My purpose today is to point this fact out by following our progression and pointing out the doctrine of families along the way.
Before we were born, we lived as a part of God’s eternal family as spirit children. We are all sons and daughters of God the Father: “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 335). We had both a father and a mother there (Hymns 292, “O My Father”), and it seems that we were organized into some form of family units. We learn that from a vision that occurred during February 1847 when Joseph Smith came to Brigham Young in a dream and told him (among other things): “Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world. Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.” (The Journal of Brigham Young, comp. by Leland R. Nelson [Provo: Council Press, 1980], 209; emphasis added.) In addition, we all had gender there, since “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World). And so it is, in the premortal existence, we existed in a family unit, with God at our head as our Father.
What was the point of all this? Ultimately, our Father’s goal was and is for us to become like Him—to achieve a fullness of joy by developing His attributes and living in an eternal family. Just as He is our Father, He desires that we should become parents in the eternities. We learn from the teachings of modern prophets that: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World.) We lived with our Heavenly Parents during the premortal existence as families, and it was a part of the plan God had for us to become like Him, but it was a time of preparation for that which was to come.
The next step toward us achieving that goal was the Creation of the earth. Sister Julie B. Beck taught that: “The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be sealed and form an eternal family.” (Ensign, March 2011.) Nephi also taught the truth that the earth was created as a place for humans to live and raise families: “Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it.” (1 Nephi 17:36.) The earth was meant to be a platform for mankind to grow in family units.
Further, I believe that one of the main points of the creation accounts we have is to teach us the importance of the family relationship. We see a progression in preparation for the final and crowning creation of God: man and woman. When other organisms are created they are commanded to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the sea” and the earth (Moses 2:22). When these creations were presented to Adam, “there was not found an help meet for him” (Moses 3:20). So, the Lord created Eve (“The story of the rib, of course, is figurative” [Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 71]) who would be “a companion equal and necessary in full partnership” (Howard W. Hunter in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 68; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 50–51). These two were sealed in marriage, and “the ceremony on that occasion was performed by the Eternal Father himself whose work endures forever.” We know that “it is the will of the Lord that all marriages should be of like character, and in becoming ‘one flesh’ the man and the woman are to continue in the married status, according to the Lord’s plan, throughout all eternity as well as in this mortal life” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:71). Our first parents set the example of the family unit for us to learn from.
We see in the Creation account and in the story of Adam and Eve some of the greatest teachings about families in the Bible. We are taught that “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh” (Moses 3:24) To cleave is to be closely tied to be “one flesh” means to be one mentally, socially, sexually, and spiritually. In reading the passage, President Spencer W. Kimball observed: “Do you note that? She, the woman, occupies the first place. She is preeminent, even above the parents who are so dear to all of us. Even the children must take their proper but significant place.” (Ensign, Mar. 1976, 72). The marriage relationship is precious above all.
The importance of bearing and raising children is emphasized as well. In the pattern that had been established thus far, our first parents were commanded to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Moses 2:28). A fuller translation of the Hebrew might be rendered that they were commanded to bring forth fruit, and become many, and fill the earth. Modern prophets have expanded on this, teaching “that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World) so that the “legion of choice spirits waiting for” their bodies can have the experience of life as we know it (Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 12). We learn the importance of families in the Creation account from the emphasis placed on being fruitful and filling the earth and in the example of Adam and Eve’s marriage.
In order to make multiplying and filling the earth possible, there had to be the Fall. “The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Adam and Eve were family leaders who chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for them to have sons and daughters.” (Ensign, March 2011.) Elder Russell M. Nelson explained further that: “The Creation culminated with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were created in the image of God, with bodies of flesh and bone. Created in the image of God and not yet mortal, they could not grow old and die. ‘And they would have had no children’ [2 Nephi 2:23] nor experienced the trials of life. . . . The creation of Adam and Eve was a paradisiacal creation, one that required a significant change before they could fulfill the commandment to have children and thus provide earthly bodies for premortal spirit sons and daughters of God.
“. . . The Fall of Adam (and Eve) constituted the mortal creation and brought about the required changes in their bodies, including the circulation of blood and other modifications as well. They were now able to have children. They and their posterity also became subject to injury, disease, and death” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 44–45; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 33). Thus, the Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to bear children—something they could not have done beforehand.
Once they had learned about the opportunity to be redeemed by the Atonement, Adam and Eve rejoiced in many of the effects of the Fall. Eve wisely observed that: “were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11, emphasis added). We likewise should rejoice, for (as Joseph Fielding Smith stated): “If it hadn’t been for Adam, I wouldn’t be here; you wouldn’t be here; we would be waiting in the heavens as spirits” (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 121–22). Because we know that the negative effects of the Fall can be overcome by Christ, we can rejoiced in the Fall because it gave us the chance to come into the world.
Another family insight we learn from Adam and Eve is that we are all related. Paul taught that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:24). This means that not only are we related in being spirit offspring of God the Father, but we are actually all blood relatives through Adam and Eve. Since we believe that we can be sealed to our parents as an eternal family in the temple by priesthood keys the ultimate goal is “to connect the chain of the Priesthood from Father Adam until now, by sealing children to their parents.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 303.) Patriarch to the Church Eldred G Smith stated that: “This family unit is so important that the Lord has made it known to us that all the families of the earth must be sealed together. By the time of the end of the millennium, all of Adam’s posterity who accept the gospel must be sealed together as one family by the power of the priesthood.” (“Family Research”, Conference Report October 1975.). It is a glorious vision and we are working on it, but have a long ways to go. When it is completed, all mankind will be welded together as one whole family, linking back to our great patriarch and matriarch—Adam and Eve.
So, the Fall was a necessary thing to get the family unit expanding by allowing Adam and Eve to bear children and raise them, then allowing those children to do likewise. There are difficulties that arise from the Fall which stand in the way of eternal families. That is where Jesus Christ and the Atonement step in.
The Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement have been referred to as the Three Pillars of Eternity. “These three eternal verities—the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement—are inseparably woven together to form one plan of salvation. . . . No one of them stands alone; each of them ties into the other two; and without a knowledge of all of them, it is not possible to know the truth about any one of them” (Bruce R. McConkie, “Christ and the Creation,” Ensign, June 1982, 9). We’ve discussed the first two—the Creation, in which the world was made for the human family to dwell and the essential foundations of families were laid, and the Fall, which allowed the whole of humanity to enter into mortal life. We now need to discuss the third of the three great Pillars of Eternity—the Atonement.
“The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness, also called the plan of salvation, was a plan created for families.” (Ensign, March 2011.) The Atonement of Jesus Christ overcomes death through the resurrection. All mankind will rise and live again in immortal bodies. It also overcomes the effects of sin, purifying us and allowing us to enter the presence of God in the fullness of salvation. These are two of the most basic and well-known aspects of the Atonement’s influence on us. What is, however, the end goal of the Atonement? Why is it that we want salvation? At least part of the answer comes from the nature of exaltation. Since the fullness of salvation is living in the highest degree of Celestial glory and since “in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood (meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage); and if he does not, he cannot enter” (D&C 131:2-3) it can be said that the fullness of salvation—exaltation—is to successfully create an eternal family. By extension, the plan of the Father—the Plan of Salvation or Plan of Happiness—is a plan for eternal families. Jesus Christ is the enabling power behind the whole plan.
Without Jesus, there would be no salvation, no exaltation, and no eternal families. The Atonement is what makes all of those things possible. It is the power of the Atonement that make priesthood and the associated ordinances effective. Without it, they would be pointless and have no power. That includes the sealing ordinance and all the ordinances that lay the foundation upon which it rests. Without the Atonement, none of it would be possible.
Jesus set the example of perfection in a human being and provided a way for us to become better people and better family members. He overcomes the effects of the Fall and our personal sins, allowing us to become more pure, more clean, and better people. It is the enabling power that gives the priesthood power, makes the gospel effective, and that helps us to live that gospel. The purpose of this gospel is “to change men’s lives, to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.” (See Franklin D. Richards, in Conf. Report, Oct. 1965, 136-137; see also David O. McKay, in Conf. Report, April 1954, 26.) Better men and women are better family members—to close family and the human family in general—and that could be seen as one of the primary goals of the Atonement and the gospel. “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World.) Families based off of these principles are living a Celestial law and are prepared for a Celestial glory. Jesus Christ and His Atonement, then, are the undergirding of an eternal, heavenly family.
The Three Great Pillars of Eternity lay the foundation for families. In the case of the Atonement, it helps us to live lives of righteousness and forge successful families, provides power to the priesthood that seals them together forever, and makes it so that we can enter the presence of God in physical bodies of flesh and bone with clean hands and a pure heart to live forever in a fullness of joy. Salvation is a family affair, and the Atonement makes it possible. We must learn about and apply the Atonement to ourselves during the days of our mortal lives.
Elder M. Russell Ballard taught that: “I believe the mission statement for mortality might be ‘to build an eternal family.’ Here on this earth we strive to become part of extended families with the ability to create and form our own part of those families. That is one of the reasons our Heavenly Father sent us here. Not everyone will find a companion and have a family in mortality, but everyone, regardless of individual circumstances, is a precious member of God’s family.” (“What Matters Most Is What Lasts Longest,” Ensign November 2005.)
We can see the importance of families as we look across the life of a Mormon.
Children are born into families and come as helpless infants. They cannot fend for themselves and are totally dependent upon their family—particularly the mother—for survival. The parents sacrifice to bear and raise these children: “successful families require that men and women make substantial and long-term sacrifices of their time, money, and personal fulfillment in order to dedicate their efforts to rearing the next generation.” (Bruce D. Porter, “Defending the Family in a Troubled World,” Ensign June 2011.) While it may seem contradictory that such sacrifice and effort would create happiness, “the sacrifices that fathers and mothers make for their children ultimately will result in the greatest possible happiness for those making the sacrifices. In all of human experience, there are no joys more tender, no love more sweet, no fulfillment higher than that found in the family. Those who honor the calling of righteous parenthood will find their souls refined, their hearts purified, and their minds enlightened by the most important lessons of life. They will rise to far greater heights of happiness than those who engage in the narrow and ultimately unsatisfying pursuit of self” (ibid). Both the child and the parents are benefitted by the infant’s birth—the child is placed in the care of individuals capable of caring for them and tending to their needs; the parents are able to learn and practice unselfishness, gaining greater happiness than otherwise possible.
As infants grow into childhood, families are the place where values are taught and practiced that makes them valuable to the world and prepared for eternal life. Because of this, “parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World.) In so doing, the family becomes the central place where we learn about salvation and put everything into practice. Some have called it a “laboratory of love.” It is because of this fact that “family [is] the fundamental unit of society” and “the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” (ibid.) The family is the central and most vital unit of society because it is the place where children are raised up to salvation and to contribute to the lives of those around them.
Church attendance is something that is emphasized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All through childhood, children attend sacrament meeting with their parents and then attend primary where they are taught gospel lessons. When a child reaches eight years old, they are baptized—making covenants of taking upon them the name of Christ, serving others, and keeping the commandments—and are confirmed an official member of the Church with full rights to the gift of the Holy Ghost. As they continue onwards, the young men are ordained to the Aaronic priesthood and join a quorum—a body of other Aaronic priesthood holders that learn, develop friendships, and serve together in the Church. Meanwhile, the women enter young woman classes with similar purposes. These Church organizations are places where proper instruction is given to youth and adults and opportunities are given to put things into practice.
While the instruction and opportunities to grow that are provided by the Church are important and helpful, it is—or should be—a secondary and assisting influence to the families. President Harold B. Lee taught: “With new and badly needed emphasis on the ‘how,’ we must not lose sight of the ‘why’ we are so engaged. The priesthood programs operate in support of the home; the auxiliary programs render valuable assistance. Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God’s overarching purpose, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) Both the revelations of God and the learning of men tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual’s total life experience. … Much of what we do organizationally, then, is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul.” (Harold B. Lee, Oct 1967, 107.) President Lee also said the Church is the scaffold with which we build eternal families. (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 267.) M. Russell Ballard referenced those quotes in general conference and went on to comment that, “the Church is the kingdom of God on earth, but in the kingdom of heaven, families will be both the source of our eternal progress and joy and the order of our Heavenly Father. As we are often reminded, we will be released one day from our Church callings; but if we are worthy, we will never be released from our family relationships.” (Ensign November 2005.) The Church is important—essential even—to help us out on the path to salvation, but it is not an end in and of itself: it is a means of teaching us eternal principles and strengthening us to live them so we can be saved with our families forever.
Priesthood and Temples
When young men reach the age of 19 or so, they are generally ordained to the Melchezidek priesthood, preferably by their fathers. Much was learned about this authority in 1835 when what is now D&C 107 was revealed. One American and Church historian, commenting on that revelation wrote: “Whether weak or strong, rich or poor, priesthood holders could pass priesthood to their sons. The 1835 priesthood revelation named the patriarchs who received the priesthood from father Adam: Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah; after Adam died, Lamech received the priesthood from Seth and Noah from Methuselah. As a later revelation was to say, the priesthood ‘came down from the fathers.’ Priesthood was a father’s legacy to his son, counting for more than lands and herds. … In restoring priesthood, Joseph restored fatherhood.” (Richard L. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 263.)
Another aspect of the priesthood that influences families is patriarchal blessings. The office of a patriarch “emerged out of the practice of public blessings administered by Joseph and by various fathers, most notably Joseph’s own father, Joseph Smith Sr. Gradually these spontaneous blessings evolved into more systematic blessings of comfort and direction and were regularized in the office of patriarch” (ibid., 261). The patriarchal blessings given today by the ordained patriarch of each stake are blessings of comfort, counsel, and advice from a loving Father in Heaven through that ordained patriarch. In addition, these inspired blessings connect us to a lineage of the tribes of Israel, providing a link to the age of the patriarchs and the blessings of Abraham. The office of the patriarch is another way the priesthood reinforces the importance of fathers’ relation to sons.
In addition to the formal patriarchal blessings, worthy Latter-day Saint fathers may give their children father’s blessings. These have been referred to as patriarchal blessings as well: “Every father, after he has received his patriarchal blessing, is a Patriarch to his own family; and has the right to confer patriarchal blessings upon his family.” (Times & Seasons, June 1, 1845, 921.) The blessings of the priesthood are a great boon to the family and provide a strong link from father to children.
In most cases young elders (and in some cases, sisters) embark upon a mission to teach the gospel in a foreign land. This experience does a few things to strengthen families. One aspect is that it causes maturing and growth in the young man or woman, and deepens his or her belief in and understanding of the doctrines of the Church. This reinforces his or her belief in families. Second, his or her whole goal in life becomes helping others gain exaltation and salvation. As one phrase that has become common in the Church states, a missionary is someone who leaves their families for a short time so that other families may be eternal too. Both of these points in turns strengthen the value the missionaries will put in their family. Thirdly, “the mission itself, during which the young man refrains from any sort of intimacy with members of the opposite sex, acts as a force hastening him towards marriage.” (Austin and Alta Fife, Saints of the Sage & Saddle [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956], 12.) When a man or woman returns from a mission, he or she is more prepared and driven towards marriage.
The Church teaches us that marriage is important, that it ought to begin earlier on in our lives, and that we should marry in the temple. “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. … Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan” (Proclamation to the World; see also 1 Tim 3:1-3; Hebrews 13:4; D&C 49:15) and “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11). We further learn that “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” (Proclamation to the World.) The sealing authority given to the President of the Church makes it so that “whatsoever [he] shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever [he] shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19; see also Hel 10:7). That power is delegated to temple sealers, which allows marriages performed in the temples by those sealers to be binding beyond this life. This is, perhaps, the most important individual moment in the life of a member.
These temple ordinances are the crowning rites of Church membership—there are no higher ordinances available to the majority of the Church. They are vital to an eternal, binding marriage: “If a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world…. And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of Promise, by him who is appointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood… it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and throughout all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world” (D&C 132:15, 19). Thus, a temple sealing is a vital component of an eternal marriage—without it, the marriage will not exist beyond this life.
The importance and effect of this temple sealing influences how we view and carry out family living. Elder M. Russell Ballard wrote that: “on numerous occasions I visit with religious leaders from other faiths. Frequently they express interest in the emphasis we place on marriage and family. … When they asked if we’d share some of our family-related materials with them, we were happy to do so.” While they were happy to do so, he did feel that he had to be honest with them about one thing: “You’re welcome to anything we have on helping families, and you may implement any of our ideas and programs. But I don’t think our materials will work for you the same way they work for us. … There is a fundamental difference in the way we view the family. When a husband and wife marry in the temple and later welcome children into their home, they look at the entire experience of child-rearing and family-building with an eternal perspective. Even though our families face normal challenges and problems, they try to see past the here and now and make decisions that will keep their family strong and cohesive because they truly believe they can be together forever.”
He went on to write that: “That perspective makes all the difference, and it begins when a man and woman kneel at an altar in one of our dedicated temples.” (Our Search for Happiness , 64.)
Just as the Church is a means to an end, so the temple is too. Just as going to Church is not enough to ensure exaltation, going to the temple to be sealed is not a guarantee of eternal marriage. It is an authorization for its possibility depending on the continuing faithfulness of those involved. The preparation of a pure life to be worth to enter the temple, the knowledge gained there, and the extremely long-term commitment behind the ordinance sealed by priesthood authority are what lay the foundation for an eternal family—a foundation that must be built upon for it to last.
The family that is built upon that foundation is structured mostly after the pattern of Adam and Eve. Just as Adam and Eve were sealed by the hand of the Lord forever, the couple that is sealed in the temple is sealed forever by someone who stands in for the Lord. Couples are to cleave together and be one. As mentioned before, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth is still in force and parents are to care for and teach their children, just as the first parents did (see Moses 5:12). Children born into a temple marriage (“in the covenant”) are automatically sealed to their parents. Those who were not may be sealed to their parents and family when they are worthy to enter the temple. The family is to follow the structure of the great patriarch and matriarch of the human race.
Also, as mentioned before, people may return to the temple to do ordinances for the dead. Joseph Smith taught that: “I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
“I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fullness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time.” (D&C 128:17-18.) Later prophets have included the other temple ordinances: initiatory, endowments, and sealings along with baptisms for the dead in this category. This is how the human family is to be connected and welded into one big network of family once more. That is why Latter-day Saints are commanded “to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have the children sealed to their parents and run this chain through as far as you can get it. . . . This is the will of the Lord to his people” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 157). It is by these ordinances that we are sealed to those who have passed on from this life.
At death we leave our bodies for a time and continue on as spirits until the resurrection. During that time, they live in the spirit world. In the spirit world, we continue onwards as the same person we were here and have many of the same connections we did here. Joseph Smith taught that in the realms beyond the world as we know it: “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” (D&C 130:2.) Reasoning from this, President David O. McKay taught: “Will you name for me in your minds the most divine attribute of the human soul? . . . Love is the most divine attribute of the human soul, and if you accept the immortality of the soul, that is, if you believe that personality persists after death, then, you must believe that love also lives. Isn’t that sound? And I ask you this: Whom shall we love when we recognize those personalities in the next world?
“True, we are admonished to love everybody. Yes, we should love everybody now; but you and I know that we love those whom we know best. . . . When we meet these personalities in the eternal realm, we shall recognize them, and know them because of these experiences in this life. And that union of loving hearts will be perpetuated after life. That is why we are married—sealed—for time and eternity. It isn’t just a mere dogma of the Church—it is a truth fundamental to the life and happiness of all humanity.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay , 146.) We will know and recognize those we have known and loved in this life, particularly our family.
With this in mind, it would make sense that there is some sort of family organization in the spirit world. President Heber C. Kimball related a conversation he had with Jedidiah Grant: “He said to me, brother Heber, I have been into the spirit world two nights in succession, and, of all the dreads that ever came across me, the worst was to have to again return to my body, through I had to do it. But O, says he, the order and government that were there! When in the spirit world, I saw the order of righteous men and women; beheld them organized in their several grades, and there appeared to be no obstruction to my vision; I could see every man and woman in their grade and order. I looked to see whether there was any disorder there, but there was none; neither could I see any death nor any darkness, disorder or confusion. He said that the people he there saw were organized in family capacities; and when he looked at them he saw grade after grade, and all were organized and in perfect harmony.” (JD 4:135-136; emphasis added.) President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “Righteous spirits are close by us. They are organized according to priesthood order in family organizations as we are here; only there they exist in a more perfect order. This was revealed to the Prophet Joseph.” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.35-36.)
The spirit world is around us, and there is some interaction between the realms. Joseph Smith explained: “The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often painted therewith” (HC 6:52).
Understanding these ideas, it should not be surprising that more often than not, it is loved ones that are related to us, or those who we knew in this life that watch over us and visit us. President Joseph F. Smith stated: “I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. … We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors … who have preceded us into the spirit world. We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties that we can not break. … If this is the case with us in our finite condition, surrounded by our mortal weaknesses, … how much more certain it is … to believe that those who have been faithful, who have gone beyond … can see us better than we can see them; that they know us better than we know them. … We live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; … their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.” (Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1916, 2–3; see also Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 430–31.) Family members and loved ones we associated with in this life continue to watch over us in the next.
Family organization continues into the spirit world, where the spirits of the dead go to await the resurrection. They are organized into family units there according to the order of the priesthood. They also watch over those of us who still live in this sphere of existence and interact in various ways. Families are important even when we die.
Kingdoms of Glory
After the resurrection—when our bodies are reunited with our spirits in perfect form—we will be judged and placed in a kingdom of glory, according to what we have done and become. This is the area of the Plan of Salvation what everything has been building towards—the end goal. As such, many of my remarks so far have been with this section in mind. While salvation has many meanings within the gospel, the fullness of salvation or exaltation is living in a continuation of the family unit in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.
Both individual decisions and family decisions are involved in the process of obtaining exaltation. “The development of faith in the Lord is an individual matter. Repentance is also an individual matter. Only as an individual can one be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. … [But] No man in this Church can obtain the highest degree of celestial glory without a worthy woman who is sealed to him. …
“Any discussion of family responsibilities to prepare for exaltation would be incomplete if we included only mother, father, and children. What about grandparents and other ancestors? The Lord has revealed that we cannot become perfect without them; neither can they without us be made perfect. Sealing ordinances are essential to exaltation. A wife needs to be sealed to her husband; children need to be sealed to their parents; and we all need to be connected with our ancestors.
“What about those who are not able to marry in this life or those who cannot be sealed to their parents in this life? We know that the Lord will judge each of us according to the desires of our hearts, as well as our works, and that the blessings of exaltation will be given to all who are worthy. …
“… In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, May 2008, 7–10.)
What are the conditions of those who obtain exaltation? It was written that those who are sealed in the temple and remain worthy: “shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” (D&C 132:19-20.) Lorenzo Snow explained the basic idea at hand by stating: “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.” (Lorenzo Snow, “The Grand Destiny of Man,” Deseret Evening News, July 20, 1901, 22.) That is to say, that God passed through the same experiences that we now are going through, gained His exaltation and perfection, becoming, well, God. By complying with the plan set before us, we may become as God now is. Achieving that is the essence of exaltation.
As explained in the premortality section, God is a married man who bears spirit children that He organizes and prepares to become like He is. That is how He progresses now: “God progresses in the sense that his kingdoms increase and his dominions multiply—not in the sense that he learns new truths and discovers new laws.”(Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” BYU address 1 June 1980.) Likewise, when we gain exaltation, we will have the same form of progression: “Eternal progression consists of living the kind of life God lives and of increasing in kingdoms and dominions everlastingly.” (ibid.) One of the greatest blessings of exaltation is to “be united eternally with … righteous family members and … be able to have eternal increase.” (Gospel Principles , 277.) It is through this “eternal increase” that we grow in kingdoms and dominions (and, by extension, God does as well). Joseph Smith explained that this increase is to have children after the resurrection (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 300-1) —a continuation of seeds forever and ever, as was said in D&C 132. So, the end goal is exaltation, and a central part of this fullness of joy is to live with our families and to continue to raise children with our eternal companion.
The family is central to the Plan of Salvation. Our current families are based on and an extension of God’s family that we lived with in the premortal existence. The Creation provided a place for us to come with our families and work out salvation and exaltation; the Fall provided a way for Adam and Eve to continue building family by having children; and the Atonement provides power and efficacy to the plan of salvation, allowing individuals and families to live with God the Father together forever. This mortal life is a time to build eternal families and help each other out in gaining salvation. Temple ordinances and priesthood power enable family relationships to continue after death. In the spirit world people are organized into families and watch over their descendants and relatives through the veil. After the resurrection, those who are worthy will live with their families in a fullness of joy and be able to continue expanding their families in some form or another. In every step along the way, families are an essential element to our Father’s great Plan of Happiness.