By Eric Johnson
Editor’s Note: The following was originally printed in the September/October 2015 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
The First Presidency message published in the June 2015 Ensign and written by Henry B. Eyring (“Families Can Be Together Forever”) is not revolutionary or new. From those belonging to primary age to the eldest member, Mormons understand that the goal in this life is qualifying to be together with one’s family. In fact, the LDS Church says that “only in and through the family unit can we obtain eternal life” (Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual Religion 231 and 232, 1986, p. 78). So it shouldn’t have been considered a surprise when President Eyring wrote on page 4,
The priesthood power to bind families eternally is one of the greatest gifts of God. Every person who understands the plan of salvation longs for that lasting blessing. Only in the sealing ceremonies performed in dedicated temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does God offer the promise that families can be bound together forever.
The image of the proverbial Christmas fireside scene with the grandparents, parents, and their children enjoying each other’s company is encouraged in Mormonism. The family is necessary in Mormonism if the religion is true. As the late James E. Faust (First Presidency) stated in a general conference, “The Savior’s supernatural gift to mankind gave us the opportunity for eternal life, but eternal life without our loved ones would be bleak” (“Eternity Lies before Us,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1997, p. 19).
Anyone who has attended a temple open house event during the past decade will remember this quote from Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland:
I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisiacal, beauty that we speak of heaven – I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife, my children. It would, it would not be heaven for me.
As Eyring put it in his Ensign article, “It is only in the celestial kingdom that we can live in families forever. There we can be in families in the presence of our Heavenly Father and the Savior.” However, the concept of “forever families,” while perhaps comforting to many LDS members, makes no logical sense for several reasons. Most importantly, every family member must be personally worthy. A person who fails to live up to “celestial law” is denied participation in the eternal family unit. The benefits of Mormonism’s celestial kingdom cannot be provided on the coattails of other “worthy” family members. As ElRay L. Christiansen, who was an assistant to the LDS apostles, stated at a general conference:
But an eternal relationship of families does not come about automatically, as some suppose. It must not only be planned for; it must be earned. We must realize that only when we have lived in complete harmony with all the laws and ordinances of the priesthood, including those received in holy temples, should we expect to find ourselves prepared to dwell in what I sometimes refer to as the ‘kingdom of families’ — the celestial world (“Three Important Questions,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1974, p. 25).
The requirements for entering the celestial kingdom as laid out in Mormonism are quite stringent. In fact, several leaders have gone on record as saying that the majority of Latter-day Saints will miss the mark. As tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith put it,
President Francis M. Lyman many times has declared, and he had reason to declare, I believe, that if we save one-half of the Latter-day Saints, that is, with an exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God, we will be doing well. Not that the Lord is partial, not that he will draw the line as some will say, to keep people out. He would have every one of us go in if we would; but there are laws and ordinances that we must keep; if we do not observe the law we cannot enter (Doctrines of Salvation 2:15).
If Mormonism’s leaders are correct, which family do you know would have everyone present in the celestial kingdom? And if being eternally connected as a family unit is what a Mormon describes as heaven, could such a place really be considered “heaven” if even one family member is missing? If families can be “together,” and if Mormons can follow in the footsteps of God the Father, we still have no evidence that the Mormon God resides with any of his relatives. Neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon teaches such a concept. In fact, with no evidence that God abides with any relatives besides his wife (wives), how can Mormons think they will have such an opportunity to spend eternity with grandparents and children?
Finally, the concept of living together in a nuclear family breaks apart when all things are logically considered. I decided to illustrate this point once at a church meeting by asking a middle-aged married couple to come to the platform. Next, I brought up an older married couple to illustrate the first couple’s parents. Finally, several children joined us on the stage. Looking at the audience, I said, “Suppose this illustration represents three generations of a family. All are faithful LDS. When they all die, what is their destiny?” If the grandparents lived according to a celestial law, they would be entitled to receive the celestial kingdom. I had them depart the stage so they could symbolically begin populating their new world.
Next, I turned my attention to the children. When they grow up, I said, they will want to marry faithful spouses in the temple and learn the new names and tokens necessary to progress to the celestial kingdom. I had them leave as well to begin their journeys with their spouses. In fact, all of the original couple’s relatives (assuming they were faithful Mormons) who hoped to attain exaltation (eternal life) and participate in eternal increase (having spiritual children in a new world) would not be a part of this couple’s world.
In essence, then, the middle-aged couple left on the stage would remain by themselves in their new kingdom, sans grandparents, children, or anyone else from this world. All they would have is each other, with the possible exception of other women who would join the couple to help the man populate his spiritual world. (Are these women the couple knew in this life? Few details have been provided.) This portrayal is a far cry from the idyllic scene presented by Eyring and the other LDS leaders. The illustration was a realistic eye-opener for many in the audience. If heaven is meant to be enjoyed with the family we know now, then how could this scenario be considered “heaven”?
Indeed, the carrot in front of the LDS cart is the promise of continuing one’s family heritage and community into eternity. Unfortunately for the LDS position, the whole image is nothing more than a mirage.
For more on this topic, check out The Family and Being Together Forever