A guest post by Mette Harrison
I love the Mormon doctrine that our familial relationships are so deep, so important, and so sacred that they last beyond this life.
When I went to the recent Ogden Temple Open House, I watched a video in which Elder Holland remarked that he could not imagine a heaven without his wife and his children there. While I do not understand precisely how the principle of family sealing will work in the eternities, with our own children grown and their children grown, extending out forever, I feel deeply connected to my children and to my husband and am grateful for the blessing of a gospel that teaches that the family that brings so much happiness to me in this life will be part of the life to come.
However, the doctrine of families being forever can be painful to a segment of our fellow Mormons, and I worry that sometimes we ignore this. There are those whose family members are not part of the church, and those who do not have families. We sometimes do a poor job of acknowledging the pain that these situations cause, particularly when we are teaching lessons about temple work.
A friend of mine whose divorced parents were never active members of the church has no temple sealing to them. She’s been told that her parents may well convert when they are dead and that she can have their temple work done and be sealed to them later.
But what if they never choose to accept the gospel? What if she has no ties to her ancestors in the eternities?
As a single woman, she has also been told that she can be sealed to her husband and her children, but she’s at an age where that no longer seems likely or even possible. Being assured that she will be married in the afterlife to someone she has never known in this life, or that she will have children then that she does not now, seems to invalidate the lessons she has learned as a single woman and the worldview that she has gained.
If she is to become a completely different person, in what sense is this “heaven”?
My personal belief is that family relationships are not the only ones that are eternal. I have dear friends whom I have known most of my life and to whom I consider myself as closely bound as to family members. Is this any less true a bond than one that is made by blood and sealed officially in the temple?
I don’t think so. For me, heaven is just as inconceivable without my friends as it is without my family. Christ said to his disciples, describing both his own love for them, and the love He wanted them to follow in example: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
If Christ viewed friendship as one of the greatest loves, why wouldn’t we Mormons think the same?
Because I have family members and friends who do not believe in Mormonism or in any religion at all, I also find it difficult to believe that I will be cut off from them in heaven. I don’t know what it means to say that there are different degrees of glory. I certainly love the idea that there is no real “hell” for us to fear, that it is merely a matter of us choosing for ourselves how close to God we can feel comfortable being.
But my friends who are atheists or who are believing members of other religions must surely be as lovable to God as they are to me. Their deeply held beliefs are part of who they are, and I do not understand what it would mean for them to have to accept my beliefs in order for me to continue to have a relationship with them.
I suppose that I have more questions about the celestial kingdom than I have answers. Ultimately, I trust that if God is love and my love for others will make me more like Him, then I will not be expected to give up that love in order to abide in heaven with Him.