There has been a lot of buzz about a book and movie called, “Heaven is for Real.” They tell the true story of a preschooler who visited Heaven while in surgery. The book has generated a great deal of controversy and surprisingly, has upset a great many clergy members. Some have gone so far as to accuse the child of lying. For some, it is unnerving that much of what the little boy saw contradicts what they believe to be true about Heaven.
Although I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ve read many reviews and many of the statements of unhappy clergy members. One often-mentioned fact is that the child saw his grandfather and a sister who died before birth—and they both greeted him as family, not as random people who were once connected in some way. They didn’t say, “I used to be your sister,” or “I was your grandfather on Earth.” Rather, he was told they were his sister and grandfather now and the sister mentioned how excited she was that someone from her family had finally arrived and that she couldn’t wait for the others to arrive.
For Mormons, this is not unsettling at all. In fact, it is a core part of their faith. Mormons believe that Heaven is for real and families are forever. What do they mean by that? They mean that when we get to Heaven, we will find our families waiting there for us and that God hopes we will still be a family.
Think about it for a moment. One of the first things God did after the Earth was created was to give Adam a wife and to command them to start a family. He told them their families would come first. Throughout the scriptures, God focuses on families and their importance. He even made certain Jesus would have a father-figure in his home, rather than insisting Mary raise His Son alone. He sent Jesus to earth as a baby with a family, not as an adult.
All of this tells us just how important families are to God. While God allowed divorce eventually, Jesus explained that this was not how it was at the beginning; nor was it how family life was meant to be. It was allowed only because of the selfishness of mankind.
Mormons Believe Families are Forever
Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) believe that God, who does not believe in divorce, would not approve of scheduling your divorce right during the wedding ceremony. Nor would He promise us that Heaven is a place where we will be happier than we could ever imagine being…but we’re going to spend eternity there single, childless, parentless, and all alone, with no chance to prevent it. We’d hate that life here. Why do we imagine we’d love it in Heaven—and forever? We will be ourselves in Heaven. If we get desperately lonely here on earth without our families, we will not be thrilled to live without them there—and just being friends won’t be enough. After all, would you be okay with your spouse suggesting the two of you end your marriage and just be friends? Of course not. Your feelings would be hurt and the idea that he could be just as happy merely being friends with you as he is being married to you would be painful. Marriage and friendship-without-marriage are not equal.
Try to imagine getting to Heaven and being told your first job was to go off into a corner and fall out of love with your family—and to remember how happy you are while doing it. We know it’s not possible or fair. God is not cruel. He would never take our families without offering us the opportunity to keep them with us forever.
And that brings me to my very, very favorite part of Mormonism. Mormons know that God planned a way for us to keep our families forever. This is one of His highest rewards, reserved especially for those who have given the most to God through their love and service. Mormons call it eternal marriage, celestial marriage, covenant marriage, or temple marriage.
You’ve probably heard of Mormon temples. They are different from ordinary Mormon chapels because Sunday services are not held there. While Mormon chapels are open to the public, temples are not. They are reserved, except during public tours just before they officially open, for those Mormons who have demonstrated they have a testimony of the gospel and who have made a solid commitment to God. In the temples, they make covenants (promises between themselves and God), learn more about the gospel, and perform saving ordinances.
One such ordinance is marriage. The marriage ceremony is elegantly simple, involving the couple kneeling at the alter while the sealer (officiator) speaks about the sacredness of marriage and then joins them as a married couple. This marriage, however, does not involve marrying them only until “death do you part.” Those sad words are joyfully replaced with “for time and all eternity.” This means that when they die, they will still be married and they have the comfort of knowing they can be together for eternity.
Read how the widowed mother of nine found comfort in her eternal marriage when her husband died.
These couples also have the joy of knowing the children they have together will also be theirs for eternity, including those they adopt. Imagine for a moment that you had a young child who died. Your heart will be broken, but you will find so much comfort in knowing the child is waiting for you in Heaven. While it’s never easy to lose a child, it is far easier knowing that the child is merely away from home for a while—but not forever.
Really, people do know this, even when they claim they don’t. At every Christian funeral I’ve ever been to, I’ve heard people speak of this belief. “We’ll be together again someday.” “At least Mom and Dad are together again. Mom missed Dad so much.” “I’ll hold my baby when I get to Heaven.” We know that is how a loving God meant for things to be, but we push it aside because people who don’t know the fullness of God’s plan have told us it’s not possible. They lead us to believe God would happily take our families away and refuse us the opportunity to be with them forever. To me, it is one of Satan’s cruelest tactics to have taken that knowledge away from so many, depriving them of the comfort it brings and causing them to doubt God’s love and fairness. The restoration of something people once knew is one of the greatest gifts the gospel has given me.
How Eternal Marriages Help Couples
Does eternal marriage matter? It will matter to us after our deaths. It will comfort us today. It can also preserve the very marriages and families we are working so hard to strengthen. Mormons have a lower divorce rate than the average population and marriages that take place in the temple have even lower divorce rates (about 6%). After all, if your marriage is going to last forever, you need to work hard to make it eternally worth it. Furthermore, in the eternal scheme of things, the small things that often build to divorce are unimportant.
Even the big things are easier when you know marriage is forever. A popular evangelist shocked many Christians by suggesting that it was okay to divorce your spouse if she developed Alzheimer’s disease. A Mormon would remember that this challenge was only temporary and that when it ended, the marriage would return to its former state forever. Knowing this, divorce would not be an option.
Heaven is for real, and families are forever—if we are willing to make them worthy of forever and to do whatever it takes to get that spectacular gift from God.
One way to learn to make your marriage strong enough to last forever is to read Tudie Rose’s weekly column on marriage here at LDSBlogs.com. Every week, she gives us a challenge that will improve our marriages now and forever.
Watch the tear-evoking video below to see how one couple’s faith in forever keeps their marriage strong throughout the very hardest challenges of disability. This is what eternal marriage can give you—a love that can take anything.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.