There’s been a lot on my mind when it comes to people taking issue with the doctrine of eternal families. Especially when it comes to people sitting in church and feeling somehow harmed because of the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” My central point is that the doctrine of families applies to everyone at all times, including those who may feel like it doesn’t.
Why is the doctrine on the family sometimes hard?
First and foremost, in the case of my friends and family members who struggle with this, the pain comes because someone cannot see right this minute how this eternal pattern applies to them. All they see is that they are different somehow–biologically stuck between gender, attracted to someone of the same sex, divorced, single, etc. They see happy families to which this pattern does apply, and it only exacerbates the differences they see in themselves. In short, they forget the full breadth of doctrine as it applies to families. One might even call it a keyhole view, rather than focusing on what a friend called “The other 50,000 or so testimonies.” Sometimes cultural blinders can really dull our ability to see these doctrines, and sometimes the inopportune or inappropriate comments of others dig at us.
But just as missing a loved one and longing for their presence does not necessarily imply that they should never be away from you or that the reasons they are away are wrong, the temporal pain of being the exception right now does not imply that the pattern is somehow wrong. The Proclamation can be 100% correct and still hurt.
The real risk of this pain comes in assuming that because we aren’t party to some blessings right here and now pertaining to this pattern, or because we have certain temporal complications in life that we are somehow justified in ignoring or criticizing the doctrine.
Furthermore, it won’t help anyone get closer to the Savior to insist that the eternal pattern he died to maintain in the hereafter is wrong.
Pain persists, I feel, because of a few main contributors:
1) Damaging ideas about the timing of blessings.
Nowhere in our canon does it restrict the reception of blessings to actions in this life only. Every blessing for which we are worthy will be given us. Church members can get caught up in thinking others will never receive a blessing because of their behaviors right now, and that sins are met with irrevocable condemnations. That’s not our doctrine. Others get so offended because they think a benevolent God should give them certain blessings in this life, and that making them wait for blessings in the next life is cruel.
Don’t assume someone is set forever in the state they are in right now. Understand that some blessings may not come in this life. The greatest figures of our scriptures did not receive the measure of the blessings promised to them until after they died.
Abraham is the prime example. His blessings of being a “great father” were all posthumously received. And if we are to be in company with these people of Abraham’s caliber, I don’t see how we could feel comfortable unless we have exhibited at least some measure of the same faith and determination.
I can think of no better application of faith in God’s blessings surrounding this doctrine than the story of Courtney and Rachelle, who placed their most prized relationship on the altar in order to come closer to Christ, his plan of happiness, and his eternal family pattern. That kind of faith is exceptional. It also shows the hope and peace that come in elevating our view of this doctrine above the level of political argument.
2) Not realizing that repentance is always available, and that there is some measure of repentance, change, and learning available after death.
The fact that we perform ordinances in temples on behalf of the dead that they may reject shows we have the capacity to change after this life. Although the same spirit that possesses our bodies here will continue, there is a point at which the chemicals and biological processes and imperfections of the temporal body will no longer apply, and we may have clearer understandings of how perfectly the pattern of families DOES apply to us.
3) Not remembering that the resurrection returns us to the perfection of our spirits, free from the things that have gotten in the way.
Joseph F. Smith noted what was taught by other leaders: “We will meet the same identical being that we associated with here in the flesh—not some other soul, some other being, or the same being in some other form, but the same identity and the same form and likeness, the same person we knew and were associated with in our mortal existence, even to the wounds in the flesh. Not that a person will always be marred by scars, wounds, deformities, defects or infirmities, for these will be removed in their course [per Alma 42], in their proper time, according to the merciful providence of God. Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall attain to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 23).
If all these things make the temporal frustrations we face right in the end, then what is really painful about the doctrine? I think it’s only when we are shortsighted and get marred by the “cares of the world” that our vision begins to dim.
So What About The “Exceptions?”
That leaves the question here: for those to whom the pattern does not appear to apply at this moment, but to whom the eternal pattern will and does apply, what are they to do?
Remembering that God’s work is to “Bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” we should recognize that, according to him:
Whatever pain may be experienced by feeling like the pattern of families doesn’t apply right now, creating an alternate version of it that won’t endure is not what our work is about, and it won’t lead us to the greatest happiness in the long run. Whatever pains there are, you can bet that Christ paid the price for every step that hurts. Every hour of obedience which he requires is repaid ten-fold. All losses are made up. So if he asks it, then it must be extremely important for our ultimate good, because if it weren’t, he would be suffering needlessly.
As for not knowing how the plan applies right now–these are the types of temporal unknowns the atonement was designed to heal. It is that relationship with Christ that the gospel is designed to strengthen first. Detaching ourselves from the vine because we’re not sure what direction the vine will grow will always leave us dried and lifeless at some point.
The kind of perfection God expects is for us to be “whole” or “complete”. Wholeness only comes in the atonement and grace of Christ. The fear of the unknown is swallowed up in knowing we have access to He who knows all.
Families truly are forever. But when “forever” starts may be different depending on temporal circumstances. At some point, we know what the end result will be.
There are just a few things to figure out in the meantime. Until then, our responsibility is simple.