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Families are Forever… For Now

David - September 12, 2008

A friend– a former bishop and the son of a former temple president– once shared something with me that his father suggested to him, and I still mull over it. He said:

“You know how before we came to this earth, we were all brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father?”


“We were brothers and sisters to our parents, grandparents, our kids…”


“Well, once our missions on earth are over and we go back, do you really think that dynamic has changed? That suddenly we’re parents and children to our brothers and sisters?”

Um… I don’t know.

“Well, this isn’t official, but… doesn’t it make sense that once we go back, remembering everything, we’ll be brothers and sisters like before?”

What about families are forever?

“Let’s put it this way: In this earth life we need each other to get back as close to Heavenly Father as we can– you can’t get there alone. But when you die, it’s going to be just you and the Lord there when you’re looking at your life.”


“I don’t know. Just don’t be surprised if you’re still close to your parents and ancestors and children, but that the family structure you understand here might not be the same anymore there.”

Every once in a while a doctrinal curve ball whizzes past me, forcing me to stop and recompute. Do I believe what he told me? I know him well enough to believe that’s what his father told him, and I believe if his father’s passing it on to his son, there might be something to it. Does it affect my testimony? Not detrimentally. Does it change my view of the Plan of Salvation? A smidge, but not in such a way that it alters my behavior or direction. When my friend first told this to me it was almost as if my perception had re-focused to a stronger clarity. I’m not saying I had a revelation, but I felt “empowered” and that feeling strengthened my testimony.

This is what the Gospel does to me– not often enough for my liking, and not causing me to go off into evangelical calisthenics (see “chicken dance“)– but it provides me every once in a while with a little surprise that edifies me and reaffirms my loyalty.

Let’s assume for a moment that this theological tidbit were true. Why do you suppose it would be so, let’s say, understated? Does it necessarily affect our perception of eternal families? If, in the end, it all comes down to the Lord and us individually (and we’re back to being the collective brood), does it de-romanticize the whole Harlequin “I’ll wait for you!” scenario like the end of Somewhere in Time (1912…1912…)– instead more like going into the light and running smack-dab into the Verizon Network? Perhaps our partnerships are intended more as functional– utilitarian eHarmony compatibilities designed to get us from here to there (this is where some of you get all McFly on me and declare how you and “sweetie pie” will be together forever, and nothing I say can stop it). Okay, maybe it’s not that extreme… or is it?  I have to admit, I’d look forward to the ensuing schadenfreude if that ever became established doctrine.

Hey, I’m just running amok here. I do still find the “we’re all back to being brothers & sisters again” theory compelling, though.

Putting all that aside, do you think there are doctrines/truths known by the Church leadership that are kept under wraps (my friend’s words “this isn’t official, but…” keep coming back to me), and do you think they are left unknown to preserve the stability of the membership? Is stability more important than enlightenment?

Okay, whatever. The Church is true. Follow the prophet. He knows the way.


  1. I’ve always felt that it is the diad of Husband and Wife, not the group of parents and children, that is the important relationship in the next life. I just can’t see needing to be a parent to my grwon, eternally progressed, godlike children. I will be their peer and be proud that I helped them achieve their eternal potential. My relationship with my wife, however, I expct will be similar to today, thoug even more united in purpose and spirit – truly becoming one flesh.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — September 12, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  2. I agree with Gilgamesh. I love my parents and all, but it’s my husband I want to spend all my time with –and those kids of mine? I sure hope they’ll be feeling the same way about their future spouses.

    Stability more important than enlightenment? Good question. But we can’t all be enlightened at the same time and in the same way, can we? We’re all on different levels, aren’t we? So wouldn’t it make sense that stability, for the most part, IS more important than enlightenment, at least on a worldwide scale? Hmmm…

    Comment by cheryl — September 12, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

  3. I’m going to cast my vote with the other two. I think our relationship to our spouse is special but I think we are peers to everyone else. A few years ago, I found out after my father died that he had requested excommunication about five years before his death. I went to the temple president to ask him what would happen to the sealings of me and my siblings to our parents. He basically said not to worry about it because the sealing to my spouse was of the most importance.

    Comment by Sherri — September 12, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

  4. I’ve always been skeptical about families will be together forever, and that we’ll live together with our parents in heaven. Is there a house big enough for all of us to live together as families? And what about our kids’ families, and their families, and so on? I’m thinking we will kind of go back to the way it was before mortality, but with added dimensions; and, there will still be close family relationships from our mortal existence up and down the genealogical lines; but, that the real ties will be between the couples, who will always be together (whatever that means and however far it goes). It will be interesting to see how it actually plays out, and how wrong many of our speculations and forecasts are when reality hits us.

    Comment by Dan Knudsen — September 12, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

  5. Maybe it’s because I’m a convert, but I’ve always seen things the way your friend suggested. I’m often very aware of how things were probably different in the pre-existence and how they will be probably different in the afterlife.

    Comment by Susan M — September 12, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

  6. Back in the day there was much more emphasis on the “patriarchal chain” pf command, as I understand. That has gone away and the families thing has kind of drifted with it. As a convert, early on I was read the scripture in D&C about the same relations there as here, and that meant friends too. I think we’ll have plenty of time to hang out with everybody though..

    Comment by MAtt W. — September 12, 2008 @ 7:56 pm

  7. This ties back to “adoptive sealings” that the early saints did in this dispensation, and how they were changed to “just seal yourselves to your biological parents and children.”

    I think there are two sealings, or “chains” from Adam down to the last generation of mankind to be born at the end of the millennium.

    The first sealing is the biological (or legally adopted) line. But, according to section 76 of the D&C, this “chain” is going to hop-skip-jump between the three kingdoms, as some generations are righteous and some less-valiant, etc.

    2. Yet, if the “Church of the Firstborn” (the exalted ones in the CK, the top degree of the 3 degrees in the CK) is going to live in eternal families, or more importantly, in a _patriarchal_ “order”, then there needs to be another relationship connecting you directly to someone in that upper degree of the Celestial, which in turn connects you on back. IE, another “chain” linking you to Adam, consisting of only those in the “Church of the Firstborn” (the exalted ones).

    Hence, I envision two sealing chains. One that links all inhabitants of all three kingdoms of glory, and one that links just those within the top degree of the CK.


    On a related note, this is probably one of those “off the wall” things that the early church leaders of this dispensation knew about, but was dropped along the way, because the membership couldn’t handle it or messed it up somehow. Personally, I think there are more such concepts. They aren’t to be taught officially, or in class settings, but the Spirit might teach them individually to people who are ready to receive them.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 12, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  8. I don’t think we fully understand what family will look like in the next life, but I do think the logic breaks down a bit because the whole reason we come here is to become like God, and He’s not just a brother. He’s a Father, and a Creator. And since we have a Mother, too, that means He’s married.

    We couldn’t have done or been what He is where we were before, so while I think there is something to the whole family of God thing, the fact that marriage is central to God’s plan to me is huge. And given what we are told about our eternal potential and destiny, I think your friend’s dad may be off a bit.

    Besides, anyone who starts a comment with ‘this isn’t offical, but…’ is probably stepping onto iffy ground simply because he/she has no authority to go there. If it really WAS true, and that person somehow had some insight come via the Spirit, then since the prophets don’t teach it, he should keep it to himself. :)

    Comment by m&m — September 12, 2008 @ 11:25 pm

  9. That’s exactly the reason why not many people know there are people living on the sun!! For every Kingdom there is a Space and every Space there is a Kingdom. Not to mention Everlasting Burnings:)

    Comment by Bret — September 12, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

  10. There’s another issue, as well. If Family’s are Forever, then how does divorce and remarriage, temple divorce, temple divorce after a spouse’s death so the wife can be sealed to her new husband, etc., all enter into it. It makes much more sense that everyone would revert back to a Family of God state after death. Otherwise, there’s an awfully lot of sorting out that would have to be done when everyone got to the other side, and not just the early church’s odd sealing habits, either.

    I doubt that a single LDS person doesn’t know of at least one instance where some really confusing Temple shenanigans have gone on, either after a divorce or death. The entire thing creates more confusion than order. When these kinds of things happen you see committed members shrug their shoulders and give the age old remedy-for-everything: “The Lord will sort it out. He won’t do anything that will make us unhappy on the other side.” In this way they get to keep their feel-good doctrine without ever having to really look at it.

    I believe the concept of sealing families was developed by men for men, to help LDS folks feel more connected to their families and committed to the gospel because of them. Think about how many “works” are motivated by a desire to keep our spouse and children with us in the next life.

    Comment by Katherine — September 13, 2008 @ 3:07 am

  11. Putting all that aside, do you think there are doctrines/truths known by the Church leadership that are kept under wraps

    Nope, I don’t. That’s not to say people don’t speculate in the COB, but I don’t think there is a secret set of doctrines only the leaders know. I find it about as plausible as the National Treasures II presidential book with all the national secrets which only the presidents have access to.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 13, 2008 @ 8:32 am

  12. m&m (#8),

    In all fairness to my friend and his dad, marriages weren’t mentioned in the scenario. I took some “if-this-then-that” license in my submission. Because the new and everlasting covenant is so heavily underlined in the Gospel, though, I agree with you that, if worthy, we will have eternal partners to populate worlds.

    That said, I share the same thoughts as Katherine (#10): The “it’ll all get straightened out on the other side” stock answer always frustrated me, felt too pat, a Get Out of Jail Free card. And not only for divorces, but for couples where one was more valiant than the other (my friend also once said if you do all you can and have rebellious children or spouses, the Lord will remember your faith and there will not be an empty chair at the table– which further confuses me).

    Another possible scenario, m&m, is that, since the family dynamic will revert back and our perceptions of things will change dramatically, then those who are valiant enough for exaltation will be paired off with someone else of more suitable fit. If this were true, I could certainly see why such doctrine would be downplayed.

    Comment by David T. — September 13, 2008 @ 8:41 am

  13. Jacob J,

    Wait– you don’t believe in the secret presidential book?? Oh buddy… I feel sorry for you.

    Comment by David T. — September 13, 2008 @ 8:43 am

  14. Another possible scenario, m&m, is that, since the family dynamic will revert back and our perceptions of things will change dramatically, then those who are valiant enough for exaltation will be paired off with someone else of more suitable fit. If this were true, I could certainly see why such doctrine would be downplayed.

    See, this idea terrifies me. If this is even a possibility, then what was the point of building such an amazing and lasting relationship with my husband, if we just go back to being “siblings”? That makes no sense to me. We’ve been promised that our relationships will continue into the next life, and we’ve also been promised that our personalities, desires, talents, etc. do not leave us when we die. So I would think it’s safe to say that the love and desire to be with our spouse –flawed, or not –isn’t going to just disappear (which kind of goes to yours and Katherine’s disdain of “it will all work out on the other side”). We’re going to want to be with those we love. And the idea of those relationships changing “back” instead of “forward” just doesn’t sit well with me.
    What’s “progession” if there’s no progression?

    Comment by cheryl — September 13, 2008 @ 9:22 am

  15. I can see I’m not the only one frustrated by “it’ll all work out”. So what are some of y’alls ideas about exactly what DOES happen with all of the nonsense we see? I have seen some crazy things done in regard to temple marriage and it doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I understand that suggesting someone just “made it up” won’t sit well with a lot of people. So straighten me out and explain to me why all of these things are allowed to happen, when God’s house is supposed to be a house of order (D&C 132:8) (1 Corinthians 14:33) and not confusion. I was always taught that confusion comes from the devil, but this particular doctrine confusing me completely.

    I find the explanation in Luke 20:29-35 much more satisfactory. I know it doesn’t feel as good, but explain to me WHY I’m wrong.

    Comment by Katherine — September 13, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  16. “The Lord will sort it out. He won’t do anything that will make us unhappy on the other side.”

    “So straighten me out and explain to me why all of these things are allowed to happen, when God’s house is supposed to be a house of order (D&C 132:8) (1 Corinthians 14:33) and not confusion.”

    Life has been messy since Cain slew Abel. There is a lot more “God will sort it out” in life than just temple sealings. Mormons, or even any historical set of “true believers” since Adam and Eve, are a tiny fraction of all the descendents of Adam and Eve.

    God will have to “sort it out” for probably 90% or more of humanity, because so many people never had the opportunity to hear the gospel in mortality. All the babies who were still-born, all the babies who took at least one breath and then died, all the children who died before the age of accountability, and even all the older people who died without hearing anything about God (or the true God) and without any notion of a Plan of Salvation.

    Katherine, even if someone could answer your question on this topic to your satisfaction, you’re just going to go on to the other “God will have to sort it out” topics and pose the same question. The prophets have not given us any definitive answers in that regard. We’ve only been given generalities.

    God doesn’t owe us an explanation on everything. He only gives part of the the whole picture. In practically _nothing_ do prophets have _all_ the answers. And when answers are given, they are given a little at a time.

    We’re encouraged by prophets to get married and have children, (which I haven’t done) and to be worthy to be sealed in the temple, and stay worthy of temple attendence (ahem, which I haven’t done either). That’s enough for me to worry about in the here and now. If you’ve got a spouse with whom you are willing to live with the rest of your life, and he’s willing to live with you, then you’re far ahead of where I’m at, and I envy you.

    No human has come back from “the other side” and told us exactly what goes on in post-earth life. The scriptures even say it is forbidden to write what prophets see in heavenly visions. From that I assume that for some reason God _wants_ to keep us in the dark about certain things. But since He’s God, he knows best what we can handle, and what we’re ready for.

    We really have enough to worry about for this life, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end, and all that. In the absence of definitive answers, why get worked up about future situations on the other side?

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 13, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  17. Bookslinger,

    I can see a lot of that. I guess I get “worked up” because I was married, in the temple, at 20. It was a tough marriage, but I loved him. He died after six years.

    Seven years later I’m married to a wonderful man who makes me very happy. I love him with everything that I am. I’m told that I can “choose” to get a temple divorce from my late husband and be sealed to this one, or not. What a choice! I have children with both…and none of it makes any sense.

    So for me, at least, it feels very relevant, very here and now. On the other hand, it’s the relationship that’s important, our relationship with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that is, and not the details. I do believe Satan will try to distract us with details and get us off on to tangents that we’re better off avoiding. Saying all of that, though, doesn’t change the situation that exists in my life and thousands of others.

    And…if things are only revealed a little bit at a time and we’re left on our own to figure things out a great deal….what if they just got it wrong?

    Comment by Katherine — September 13, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  18. Just to clarify, I didn’t say I didn’t agree with “the Lord will sort it all out in the end,” I just don’t like that answer. But there’s a lot of stuff my natural man doesn’t like concerning the Church. I just deal ’cause I know its core– the Gospel– is true.

    cheryl (#14),

    If this is even a possibility, then what was the point of building such an amazing and lasting relationship with my husband, if we just go back to being “siblings”?

    You’re probably right, couples are probably safe. Even Brother Joseph said he’d go to hell to get Emma. Doesn’t sound like Borg assimilation to me. But just playing devil’s advocate, perhaps we went through all of this with someone else in such an intense co-dependent manner because 1) we can’t return without the new & everlasting covenant 2) we’re learning to be gods through service and devotion, and 3) we’re practicing for the partnerships we are bestowed in the eternities.

    Seriously, I’m leaning more towards parents and kids becoming brothers & sisters, and spouses remaining spouses insomuch as they do what they’re supposed to. I’m also counting on the belief that I’m going to look like Daniel Craig in the next life. Heaven knows I’ve been practicing the pursed lips enough in front of the mirror.

    Comment by David T. — September 13, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  19. “2) we’re learning to be gods through service and devotion, and 3) we’re practicing for the partnerships we are bestowed in the eternities.”

    I like those two ideas.

    And we’re all spritual siblings anyway, children of the same heavenly parents. By the way, we’re not the only church that believes that parents and children are spritiual siblings. I heard the concept from evangelicals/pentecostals over 35 years ago.

    Katherine, #17: Yeah, I now see that you do have a stake in the question. That’s got to be a heart-wrenching thing to ponder from your standpoint.

    I’m “49+something”, never married, and if I do get married, the possibilities are someone who is: a) divorced, b) widowed, or c) never married. There are no such issues in regards to c), but even with a), there is a matter of who the children are sealed to.

    One way to look at it is that we have no guarantee of exaltation anyway. And if we end up in any degree or kingdom below the top degree of the Celestial Kingdom, who we’re sealed to as husband/wife is moot anway, as we’ll be eternally single in that case.

    I know a woman in the church who’s first husband died while she was pregnant with their 4th (or 5th?) child. She later re-married out of the church so as to avoid the conflict of having to choose between two husbands in the hereafter. That marriage didn’t last and she has since married (husband #3) who is a recent convert.

    If children who die before the age of accountability are guaranteed exaltation, then Heavenly Father has or will provide some way for them to be sealed to a spouse, right?

    So if Heavenly Father can “work it all out” for people who die as babies, then I’m certain he can “work it all out” for worthy widows and widowers who remarry worthily.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 13, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  20. David thank for you for your thought provoking post. I have enjoyed reading the subsequent conversation. As always, Bookslinger has broadened my horizons. Thank you Katherine for asking the questions.

    Comment by JA Benson — September 13, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

  21. And then there are people … .. who did not marry correctly. That marriage failed. Who are not sealed to anybody but who have children they would like to be sealed to which is impossible without a man. Who is sealed to no one. The trite common sentence we have heard over and over again that they will be ‘given’ to somebody? Gee…thanks.

    Comment by Lucy — September 14, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  22. We don’t know where Heavenly Mother stands in Heaven. All we know is that from our perspective Heavenly Father “rules in heaven”, but Heavenly Mother could just as well rule over Him as beside Him or under Him.

    One of my pet theories (just a theory) is that Heaven is ruled by a council of Heavenly Father’s plural wives; and that Elohim and Jehovah are working off of a set of divine honey-dos.

    Maybe mortal life is like Heavenly Father and Jesus taking us camping. Out here in the wilderness, Jesus rules under Heavenly Father’s direction. (Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster?) But once we learn some manners, then we get to go back in the house, where Heavenly Mother(s) is(are) in charge.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 14, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  23. Bookslinger….funny stuff. Way to think outside the box.

    Comment by Katherine — September 14, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  24. LOL Bookslinger. Reminds me of one of my boys who told his Primary class, “The Priesthood is when the Mommies let the Daddies be in charge”.

    Comment by JA Benson — September 14, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

  25. Katherine,
    I just wanted to say my heart goes out to you. It must be very difficult to struggle with the situation you are living.

    I do think you are onto something about the details, though. As pat as it sounds, to me faith demands that we have to let go of many mortal questions. I think there are many beyond this very complicated issue of sealings. The injustices of life are baffling when considered in a here and now kind of a way, imo.

    But when I contemplate the wonder of the Atonement, I just have to believe that, as Pres. Hinckley said, it will all work out. And to me, those aren’t just pat words. Those reflect a faith that sometimes hurts, because life is extremely messy and sometimes even a bit baffling.

    I don’t think we are here to get it all right ourselves. God lets things be messy because that is part of our experience here in mortality. But the wonder of it all is that the Savior will make it all right. Because of what He did, I believe we can trust wholeheartedly that things really will work out, particularly if and as we hold to our covenants.

    That said, I still can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be where you are. I hope you can find peace and direction with what to do.

    Comment by m&m — September 14, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

  26. And David T., FWIW, I think there is something to this whole family of God thing…that the sealing ordinance is more than just about marriage. But I think we ought not minimize the covenant of marriage, either, in specific ways…but I think you got to that. And we simply have to leave room for some changes in the next life because not all will be faithful, not all will get married, etc. in this life.

    I think these things are supposed to hurt our brains, though. :) Again, faith demands us sometimes to really just accept what little we feel and know even when we can sense that what we feel and know relative to what there really is to know is simply so miniscule. I think that is there to remind us how dependent we are on God.

    Sheesh. I wax philosophical tonite. Blame it on the migraine.

    Comment by m&m — September 14, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

  27. What Susan M said. Per normal.

    Comment by tracy m — September 15, 2008 @ 12:18 am

  28. Tracy M & Susan M,

    I guess I should have grokked it, too, it makes all the sense when looking at it on a doctrinal satellite map. Or maybe that’s what line upon line does, it appears so obvious once you grasp it, you chide yourself for not seeing it sooner. But after 31 years of membership– and no significant surprises in a long time– I thought I already grasped it all.

    Comment by David T. — September 15, 2008 @ 6:51 am

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