One of the hooks that draw people to the LDS church (and keeps them there) is the doctrine of “eternal families.” Mormon missionaries tug at the heartstrings of those they wish to convert with the promise that “families can be together forever.” It’s at the core of most testimonies. Even three-year-olds are prompted to publicly express their love and gratitude for their “forever family.” Children sing about it in Primary. Talks in Sacrament meetings and General Conference expound the promising doctrine. Lessons on the family are taught in every auxiliary of the church around the world. To say it permeates the LDS culture is a gross understatement. Praise be to The Family!
When I shared my decision to leave the church with family members, the number of Facebook posts of family and temple photos with testimonials and hashtags increased significantly: #familiesareforever, #ilovemyfamily, #eternalfamilies. It seemed to me to be an effort at self-inoculating against the threat of losing what they deem to be most precious. Fear pushed them to declare their faith more forcefully, and social media was the place to do it! I understood, and prayed for them.
This doctrine of eternal families became a very important issue to me as a teenager. When my father was excommunicated, my parents divorced, and my mother remarried, I was in turmoil. How was this family going to look and function in the next life? My mother pressured us children into writing letters to our father requesting he give up his parental rights so we could be “sealed” to her new husband, thus creating a “new eternal family.” When I protested, I was threatened with being excluded from the family for eternity. That’s when the wheels of reason began to turn.
Mormon doctrine teaches that only those who live worthy of exaltation will live with God in the Celestial Kingdom. And only in the Celestial Kingdom will family units exist. But didn’t we all belong to the family of Abraham? The family of Noah? The family of Adam? The family of God? Therefore, wouldn’t everyone who “earned” their way into the Celestial Kingdom be sealed together as ONE family? How could we live as separate family units if we were marrying into other family units and creating our own families? But the biggest question of all was, “How could we be together as a family if each worthy couple (along with their polygamist and polyandrous relationships) were to create their own worlds and inhabit them with spiritual children? Were Gods allowed time off for family reunions in the spirit world? As a teenager, I decided not worry about who my parents would be in heaven, but focus on creating an eternal family with my spouse and children. Well…that didn’t go as planned either.
This issue of family was brought to the forefront again this last week with the passing of my father-in-law. He was a good man, and one I considered to be my father for 30 years. We didn’t share any DNA, but he was my father none-the-less and I addressed him as such. I considered his wife to be my mother in every sense of the word. In fact, I was shown greater love and respect by them than by my biological parents. I have heart-ties to sisters-in-law, step-sisters, a half-sister, daughters-in-law, and dear friends that far exceed the ties of biology. We have adopted children and consider them family in every sense of the word. And that same family has excluded blood relations when they act and think in ways that are different from their own…myself included.
So it seems that biology has very little to do with family, and that family can be defined as anyone we love with our whole heart. Therefore, families seem to be created more out of choice than birth.
Jesus said, “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:35)
I love my adopted brother and grandsons as much as those that share my DNA. I leave the word “step” out of the conversation when talking about my sisters and grandchildren. Legal definitions have nothing to do with love. Hearts determine family, not biology or laws.
But how does all that fit into eternal families of the afterlife? Ah, that is one of the most beautiful aspects of Christianity, and I was so happy to learn this truth! There will be ONE eternal family with God, the Eternal Father, as the one and only father of us all.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
What will eternal life with God be like? The good news continues!
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore’…” (Revelation 21:1-8)
So I put aside the worldly (and LDS) view of families, and rest in the knowledge that all those who believe in Jesus Christ and claim Him as the only source of their redemption and salvation will dwell together in God’s “forever family.” Praise be to God!