Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Eternal Nature of Families

In 1995, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued an official proclamation concerning the Family: The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Please read it before you read what I have to say.

Together Forever is a free video discussing how our families can be together forever through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you would like a copy, follow the link.

Family Answers is another free video which discusses how to have successful families. Again, follow the link if you would like a free copy.

The Eternal Nature of the Families

Several years ago, I listened to a man tell of his wife's most prized possession: her set of silver. She had obtained it piece by piece over the course of years and maintained it with the greatest care. She wrapped each knife, fork, and spoon in a special cloth to keep it from tarnishing. Before each time she used it, she and her husband polished it, and afterwards, they washed and dried each utensil by hand. And to protect the silver from burglars, she hid it under the bed.
The man often thought his wife was "a little bit eccentric, and then one day [he] realized that she had known for a long time something that [he] was just beginning to understand. If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t expose it to the elements. You don’t make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by." F. Burton Howard, "Eternal Marriage," Ensign, May 2003, 92.

If we want our marriages and families to withstand the inevitable challenges and struggles of life, we must treat them differently than our common, day-to-day associations and relationships.

Our Pre-Mortal Family

All of us are members of a heavenly Family. We are children of God, and this relationship is not figurative or symbolic: He is the Father of our Spirits. As His children, we lived with our Heavenly Father before we came to Earth, and He loved us and taught us the ways of righteousness. We knew, worshiped, and loved Him. And when this life is over and we return to Him, "[n]othing will startle us more . . . than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us." (Ezra Taft Benson, "Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations, Ensign, December 1988).
Everything our Heavenly Father did and does is to bring about our eternal joy and salvation. We are not a cosmic pass time to occupy His spare time as He manages the universe. No, His gaze and eternal concern fix undeviatingly on us. That is why He sent us to Earth and why He sent His Best Child, even Jesus Christ to pay the penalty of our sins. And that is why we feel Him near as we pray. Even though His children number in the billions, He is a personal, loving Father to all of us individually.
It is through His Family that He is glorified, and it is through His family that He has received the fulness of joy.

Families Can Be Together Forever
And we can have the same joy within our earthly families as our Heavenly Father has in His! As early as 1831, the Lord revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith that marriage need not terminate when death separates a husband and wife. Rather, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ordinances available in holy temples, they can remain as husband and wife for time and all eternity, and their children will also be theirs forever. (See Doctrine and Covenants 132).
But the joy of an eternal marriage and family requires more than a ceremony in the temple. It requires living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, work, sacrifice, selflessness, patience, repentance, forgiveness, and fun. Husbands and fathers must put their wives' and children's needs before their own. Wives and mothers must put their husbands' and children's needs before their own. Fathers are commanded to provide for the temporal and spiritual needs of their family. Mothers are commanded to nurture their children. As equals, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, help each other in their God-given tasks. And children are commanded to honor and obey their parents.
Fathers and mothers bear a sacred responsibility to teach their children the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are accountable to God in this capacity. (Doctrine and Covenants 68:25-28). And modern prophets have counseled us to pray and read the scriptures daily with our families. Once a week, usually on Mondays, the Lord has instructed us to gather with our families for "Family Home Evening." During Family Home Evening, we sing hymns, pray, discuss the Gospel, play games, share our talents, and enjoy each others' company.
And as we work together as a family, the Lord has promised we will be together forever. I cling to that promise because Heaven would not be heaven if I could not have my wife and children near me. The thought of being separated from them brings me to tears, and I draw immense comfort that no matter what calamities or tragedies which may befall us, if we are true and faithful, we will be reunited in the resurrection to enjoy the eternities together.

The Grace in Waiting

Several weeks ago, I listened as one of my classmates talked of her older brother. He was a prodigal, and neither she nor her parents had talked to him in years. Her parents, hoping he would soon return, refused to change the locks to their house so he could get inside if they weren't home when he returned. But he hadn't returned. Then my classmate asked the following question, "Where is the grace in waiting for the prodigal who hasn't come home?"

I wish I would have spoken up and told her where to find the grace in waiting. The marriage ordinances available in the temple do more than bind a husband and wife together forever: They bind the couple's children to them. These bonds are stronger than most realize, and only the most serious of sins can sever them.
The prophet Malachi foresaw the day when Elijah would "turn the hearts of the children to their fathers." (Malachi 4:6). And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints solemnly testifies Elijah has returned to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. And the power by which our children's hearts can be turned to us is the bonds created by the marriage ordinances performed in the temple.
The Book of Mormon tells of Alma, the son of a prophet, rejected his father's counsels and sought to destroy Christ's church. (See Mosiah 27). But Alma's father fasted and prayed for him. And to turn Alma back to his father, God sent an angel who appeared and called Alma to repentance. Because of his experience with the angel, Alma fell unconscious and was tormented by his many sins:

Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

Yea, methought I saw, even as our father saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.

(Alma 36:15-22). Alma later became a prophet and leader of the Church.
We also learn of Enos who, although he was not as rebellious as Alma, did not live the Gospel as he should. Yet one day while he was hunting, he remembered the words his father taught him about "eternal life and the joy of the saints." (Enos 1:3). Enos knelt down and prayed all day and night until he received the remission of his sins through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Enos 1:4-8).
The hearts of both Alma and Enos were turned to their fathers. And even though they had been rebellious, the bonds linking them to their parents pulled hard enough to bring them to Christ.
Through His servants, the Lord has promised that if parents fulfill the promises they made when they were married in the temple, they will not lose their children:
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.
(James E. Faust, "Dear Are the Sheep That Have Wandered," Ensign, May 2003, quoting Orson F. Whitney).
It is within the ordinances of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ available in Holy Temples that we find the Grace in waiting. And like the prodigal, the children who have strayed will recognize there is "bread and to spare" in the house of their fathers. And as their hearts turn to their fathers, they will come to Christ and come home to their families.

2 comments:

john said...

Mark 12: 18Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,

19Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.

20Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.

21And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.

22And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.

23In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.

24And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

25For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

Craig said...

John,

That is a thoughtful and insightful reference to the scriptures. I'm very familiar with the passage and the parallel passages in the other Gospels.

I have two points that you may not have considered:

First, Jesus states that resurrected beings "do not marry, nor are they given in marriage." That is, no marriages take place between resurrected beings.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also teaches this doctrine: For a marriage to be eternal it must be solemized before the resurrection, and resurrected beings who had not been married may not get married to anyone.

Second, as I am sure you know, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. So they didn't think about the conditions that would exist in the resurrection. And in this passage, they're ridiculing not only the resurrection but the belief that people can be married for eternity.

My question then is, where did a group of people who did not believe in the resurrection and did not consider the conditions existing in the resurrection come up with the idea that a man and a woman could exist as a married couple in the resurrection?

I think the answer is simple: There were those in Jesus' day who believed and taught that marriage is eternal. And because the Sadducees were ridiculing Jesus' teachings, it's also likely that Jesus taught about the eternal nature of families during His ministry.

You may also want to read 1 Samuel 1:24-28. In this passage, Hannah brings Samuel to begin his service in the tabernacle. As she gives him to Eli, Hannah says she is lending Samuel to the Lord for the length of Samuel's life. It's interesting she didn't say she was giving Samuel to the Lord because when someone lends something, she expects to get it back. So Hannah believed that some time after she and Samuel died that she would get him back as a son. Hannah seemed to have believed in Eternal Families, too.