The Family – The Fourth Pillar of Eternity

During Conference there were a lot of talks about marriage and family. While the talks briefly mentioned current events such as same-sex marriage, they mostly focused on something somewhat different. Elders Christofferson and Perry in particular had very similarly titled talks which focused on the doctrine or the why of family (“Why marriage, why family” and “Why Marriage and Family Matters” respectfully). President Packer likewise talked about “The Plan of Happiness” and in doing so focused heavily on the doctrine of the family.

Twenty years ago, the Family a Proclamation the World declared powerfully to the world our unique theology and doctrine of family. In the interceding years, that vision has only become more and more essential. Yet, we often focus on the details of the proclamation such as teachings about the roles of men and women and lose sight of what this inspired doctrine taught about the nature of significance of the Family in God’s plan.

What I believe we are witnessing today is a great clarification and sharpening of the doctrine of the family brought about by current events and the global effort to redefine marriage. These challenges have led our leaders to ponder and reflect on the true meaning of the family. These challenges have deeply enriched our understanding of the gospel as a familial matter. Much more so than twenty years ago, our leaders today teach not merely what families should be like, but why this is so essential.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie famously taught of the three pillars of eternity as being the creation, the fall, and the atonement. Today, instead of three pillars Elder Christofferson put forward four things essential for realizing God’s plan of happiness. The first three were the same as Elder McConkie’s pillars—creation, fall, and redemption, but the fourth of these pillars is the Family “the setting for physical birth and subsequent spiritual rebirth in God’s kingdom.” Elder Christofferson explained that this is essential, because in marriage we are able to create “in partnership with God, the physical bodies that are key to the test of mortality and essential to eternal glory with Him.” It is in marriage that we become co-creators with God and therefore enter the path towards exaltation.

President Packer also discussed this theme in his remarks. He emphasized that “The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.” It is through this power, that “we may come close to our Father in Heaven and experience a fullness of joy, even Godhood.” Being able to responsibly use our power of procreation responsible is the great test of mortality.

Elder Perry likewise spoke about what makes our understanding of the family unique from the many other faiths that affirm the importance marriage between a man and a woman. He emphasized that in our theology families are eternal. They are not only vital to a stable society, but they are “the basic units of eternity and the kingdom and government of God.”

In other words, we understand that a family is not merely a tool used to advance God’s plan. Instead, his plan is by nature familial. We are all part of God’s family. Heaven is built around the family. Christ redeemed us because we are part of his family, and he made it possible to be part of his family eternally. Family is the binding power of the eternities. Ultimately, it is as a family that we will be exalted and transformed into God like beings.

In our day, I believe we are witnessing the doctrine of the family ascending to the forefront as the unique contribution of the restoration. Where once the Book of Mormon, Priesthood, or other doctrines represented our unique message to the world, today it is our teachings on the family that most fully personify what the Church has to offer to the world. This is not to suggest that the Book of Mormon is any less true, or that the appearance of the father and the Son to the boy Joseph Smith any less miraculous. Yet, as Elder Perry emphasized, the theology of the Restoration ultimately centers on family. The great and unfinished work of this dispensation is that of linking eternal families together.

Preach my Gospel makes the importance of the family quite clear. The first and second principles that missionaries are invited to teach investigators is that God is our loving Father in Heaven, and the Gospel Blesses Families. Thus, before we want missionaries to know about Joseph Smith, or even Jesus Christ, we want them first and foremost to know that we are part of the family of God, and that God’s plan is focused on eternal families.  This isn’t by chance.

When I was a missionary, I often glossed over and skipped over this second principle in order to get to what I thought was the core of the message of the restoration: the idea that God has restored his Church to the earth through a living prophet. Indeed, teachings on the family were far from the focus of my message as a missionary. Looking back at my mission now, I am filled with deep gratitude for the many miracles that I saw, and yet I also deeply regret that I did not earlier understand the central role of the family in the missionary lessons. I feel now that had I focused more fully on eternal families, I would have been able to teach more families and help more individuals stay faithful to the end. Today, I believe that the family is one of our most potent tools in helping individuals come unto Christ.

I have seen a lot of people expressing a weariness with the torrent of messages on the family. Ultimately, I don’t think talks on the family are going anywhere. Indeed, because we are just starting to understand collectively as a Church how fully the family is integral to the plan of salvation and the teachings of Christ, I foresee talks on the family becoming increasingly common. As Sister Oscarson emphasized in Women’s Conference, we will increasingly be called to be witnesses and defenders of the eternal doctrines taught in the Family Proclamation.

15 thoughts on “The Family – The Fourth Pillar of Eternity

  1. Twenty-two of us gathered for a family Easter feast between the morning and afternoon sessions this Easter Sabbath. Elder Nielson’s story of the way his family eventually helped heal his sister’s testimony gave a good example of one of the many ways a good family sustains us. No family is perfect and some are badly broken, but there seems to be opportunity for positive effects in almost every family that at least has an aspiration of being good.

  2. I cannot match twenty-two – for our pre-Easter feast on Saturday, we only had thirteen family (plus two missionaries).

    Even in our broken families, there was a chance at renewing ties. My oldest daughter has been offering her bunnies as a possible Easter event, and her uncle took her up on the possibility. Because of that reaching out (over bunnies) we became aware that the uncle had a heart attack this past Friday and my daughter was able to renew her acquaintance with her biological father, from whom she’s long been estranged.

    As I reflected on my former brother-in-law’s brush with death, I was also reminded with his missed chance to be a father years ago. In rehab, he engendered a child with a fellow patient (inmate?), the paternity of the child being proven after birth by the medical means available to us in this day. As father and mother were unfit to care for the child, the child was eventually put in a foster home. And it happened that foster family was Mormon. About fifteen years ago I received a call, asking if I wished to be present at the baptism of the child. And some months after that, I was invited to be present at a breakfast celebrating the pending sealing of that child to the family who had formally adopted the child. I remember sitting at a table with my former brother-in-law and the child’s grandmother, as we celebrated the life of that young person, and her chance to be in a family that believed in eternal unions. My former brother-in-law at one point looked bemused and said he possibly should be sad about what was about to happen. And yet, because his child was adopted into a family that cares about family and binding generations together, I argue he has likely had more to do with that child than had the child remained within the original biological network, broken as it had become.

    Cleaning the other day, I happened across the wedding announcement I received some years ago, telling of the pending marriage of that child, to be solemnized in one of the temples of our faith. I was reminded of the grace of God, and of the resilience of the human spirit. I was reminded of good parents who opened their hearts to a child of God of an age relatively few are willing to embrace, and to the gracious way they opened themselves to the biological relations of that child of God.

    Family is paramount. All the family of mankind is precious. When we look beyond the platonic ideal to our own, real, vibrant relations, and judge our families by the love we share rather than by how they conform to the “perfect” standard, we will be able to rejoice in the bright good of our families rather than be tormented by how our families fail to “measure up.”

  3. Daniel O, well done. Once you understand the importance of the family to the eternal plan you can also understand why Satan is working so hard at its destruction.

  4. Meg, I really have to call you on the way you dis those who want to hold up the ideal. Sure we live in a fallen world, and God pours out His blessing upon us anyway, but there is an ideal that should be held up. A fixation on how God can fix any mistake in beautiful ways, reminds me of what President Uchtdorf said, quoting Paul, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” “God forbid”.

    Yes, redemption is beautiful and compelling, and so sweet. But dismissing as tormented (ungrateful?) those who lament the loss of social norms that guide people toward functional family ideals is just so unjust. It’s like tut-tutting at someone who mourns the early death of a friend because they should be more joyful in realizing that death is not the end. From my perspective, it would be jarring if people were too jubilantly excited at funerals.

    Beside that, we know that death will bring resurrection, but we cannot be equally sure that every messed up family will ultimately be healed. So we should do our best to encourage the strongest kind of family formation we can perceive to be best. And I think the leaders did a great job of that in General Conference.

  5. Several times speakers made the distinction between the eternal perspective the gospel affords and the family-related beliefs and practices of the rest of the world. Elder Pino especially related to the essential quality of perspective when we focus on gospel issues.

  6. I don’t think Elder McConkie would displute the centrality of the family to God’s plan. I think including it within the context of Creation, Fall, Atonement, is beyond the descriptive intent of those three “pillars”.

    Creation/Fall/Atonment are all actions or phases of the pre/post mortal stage of life. There are certainly more stages to come as well.

    But Family just is. It’s how we came to be, and what we can go on to become. So you might say it’s part of the creation, but really it’s outside that kind of categorization. Creation:Fall:Atonement, where should family fit in? You’d thing before or after creation, but the reality is family isn’t an action verb like create, fall, or atone (you can’t conjugate it I family, he families, she families).

    I realize we’re splitting hairs here in how we choose to describe something, but rather than being a pillar of eternity, I’d prefer it as the bedrock of eternity. It’s deeper than the foundation in a sense. Or you could flip it around and the 3 pillars would all be to support and exalt the family, which would make the family the ceiling of eternity.

  7. Re: Meg and Lucinda

    “Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able…. Put first things first. Do the best you can while on earth to have an ideal family.”

    Richard G. Scott, “First Things First,” April 2001 General Conference

  8. Posts and discussion like these help me see most of the rest of the “Bloggernacle” in perspective. They have largely made themselves irrelevant.

    Thank you for keeping the Spirit alive and focused on principles worth consideration in this fine blog.

  9. The problem with relying on family as our message is that there is nothing in happy families that is unique or distinctive to Mormonism. Last weekend a Jehovah’s Witness came by my house and left a pamphlet. They have better graphic designers and copy writers than they used to. This pamphlet invited me to listen to their message about happy families. I was struck how it could have been an LDS pamphlet with just a name change. I have many friends in my community that have happy, functioning families, what is there in these family inspired messages to motivate them to transform their existing family into an LDS one? Eternal families would seem to be the only answer to that question but I have had many conversations with Protestants who assert that a loving God will let the love and caring they have for their earthly families continue on into the eternities, the priesthood authority to create eternal family units is not a very powerful motivator for someone who earnestly believes that. Eternal LDS family life is not as powerful a message to these folks as we might want to believe.

  10. KLC – intersecting with that take on eternal families is the fact that eternal families in the days of the restoration implied eternal increase as a part of Godhood. We’ve shied away from that, I assume in part because of its sacredness, but also because we get mocked or criticized so easily for it.

    Still, that’s the ultimate impetus behind LDS theology being different than normal Christianity to me. The concept of exaltation, eternal lives, worlds without end. It’s not that we’re all yahoos dreaming of our own planets, but we recognize our Father in Heaven’s ultimate hope is for his children to become like He is — not so we can sit around the fireside with an infinite number of babies on our lap, but so we can continue on with his work in the eternities.

  11. Lucinda, perhaps you are not as familiar with Meg as the rest of the long time regulars at M* blog.

    I think you misunderstood her and uncharitably parsed/interpreted her words.

    I’ll also take issue with your statement, “Beside that, we know that death will bring resurrection, but we cannot be equally sure that every messed up family will ultimately be healed.”

    Every individual will ultimately be totally healed, regardless of which kingdom of glory we eventually end up in. By the end of the millennium, every family and individual will be sealed (all the way back to Adam/Eve) by proxy, if not in mortality.

    We have scriptural and modern prophetic promises that literally everything eventually gets healed, physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually. Elder Oaks even went on record in an interview that people will be cured of same-sex attraction in the resurrection.

    Since families are made up of individuals, and all individuals are healed of everything, I do not see the reasoning behind saying some families won’t be healed.

    Those in the two lower kingdoms, plus the two lower divisions of the Celestial kingdom will live “singularly and separately”, so maybe that is what you meant by an unhealed family? However, the sealing, or welding link back to Adam will still have been done, even if that chain hops back and forth between the kingdoms as it connects people.

    Individuals of a family may end up in different kingdoms of glory, but I don’t think that is sufficient basis for saying not all families will be healed. OR did you mean something else?

  12. I was thinking about how to better express my frustration.

    I would say that redemption is meaningless if there is no perfection to which it leads. Like with Elder Christofferson’s (not this conference, but I think last conference), ‘a god that makes no demands is the functional equivalent of a god that does not exist.’ So I would say, A family that has no ideal organizational structure, (platonic though it may seem) is the functional equivalent of no family at all.

    In our efforts to see redemption in all the worst cases we tend to obscure (or at least make less urgent) norms that help young people make the kinds of decisions that will give them the best chance possible for getting close to the ideal in the here and now, which really does bring considerable happiness, and does a pretty good job of testifying to God’s love for us all on it’s own.

    I know Meg (though maybe not as well as I should) and I really respect her efforts. I know for sure she appreciates fearless discussion and weeding out misunderstandings. In taking exception to her comments about ‘tormented’ individuals worrying about ‘measuring up’, I’m just trying to make room for those of us who worry about the considerable degradation of family norms, who maybe engage in some “Chicken Little”ing and worry about how our children will interpret things.

    Constantly hitting the “Don’t worry, it will all be made right” sounds a little like “All is well in Zion” at times. We should be striving and grateful, and certainly notice God’s grace in extreme circumstances, but every once in a while, at least, we should celebrate when God’s appointed pattern outlined in the proclamation also provides wonderful grace to the ninety and nine, though less dramatic.

  13. Bookslinger, Meg and Lucinda have grown very close lately as Meg enabled and supported Lucinda’s publication of her post discussing patriarchy here on Millennial Star. Perhaps it was this very familiarity that led Lucinda to focus on a phrase in Meg’s comment that she interpreted as criticizing those who earnestly pursue the ‘ideal’ as Lucinda and her husband are struggling to do. I doubt Meg intended to dismiss anyone who is striving toward an ideal, particularly her younger sister.

Comments are closed.