Editor’s Note:  We are pleased to present this once-a-week, all-summer-long series of familycentric essays from Richard Eyre. This is Essay 4 in the series.  As most Meridian readers know, the Eyres, for five decades, have focused their professional lives on strengthening families.  This focus has ranged from writing New York Times #1 bestselling books to speaking to parents in more than 60 countries around the globe.  But their true passion is for an Inclusive, Eternal Family Paradigm that can’t be fully shared or grasped without the insights of the Restored Gospel. And they feel that the reverse of that is also true:  The Restored Gospel can’t be fully grasped or shared until it is seen through an Inclusive, Eternal Family Lens.  The goal of this series of essays is to better understand and have more realistic expectations of both Church and Family. And “family” is broadly defined so that each article speaks to us all, whether we are single or married, parents or siblings, aunts and uncles or grandparents. To read the introductory essay, please click here, to read essay 2, click here and to read essay 3, click here.  

Author’s Note: You are invited to send any feedback or comments to me privately at my pseudonym email Dr*******@gm***.com where I will read and respond.

Distinctive, Pivotal Beliefs

Last weekend’s article stressed how singular and unique-in-all-of-Christianity is our family centric belief in a Premortal Existence.  This weekend we move to our equally unique and perhaps even more family centric belief in the Heavenly Parents who we lived with there, who sent us here, and to whom we hope to return.

Many Christian denominations throughout the world refer to God as “Father” but in every case except one, that reference is symbolic or metaphorical—with “Father” being used as a title of respect or as a synonym for creator (as in Edison being the father of the lightbulb.) The single exception is the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where we use the word literally.

All we need to do to verify the distinctiveness of our belief in a literal Heavenly Father—is to google it or ask ChatGPT.  Here is some of the answer AI gives us:

“Mainstream Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and all major Protestant denominations, while referring to God as “Father,” generally interpret this in a more metaphorical or relational sense rather than a literal, biological sense. These denominations typically believe in the concept of God as the creator and sustainer of all life, and they view the relationship between God and humanity in a spiritual or covenantal context rather than a literal, physical parent-child relationship…the LDS Church is the most prominent Christian group teaching the literal fatherhood of God over all human spirits. “

And that is referring just to Heavenly Father.  When we add Heavenly Mother, there is even more distinctiveness in our belief in a Parental God.

We believe that we are, in actual, factual reality, the spirit children of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother.

Why it Matters (is there anything that matters more?)

I know I promised that this summer series would be built around stories.  But today’s essay may be the exception, because there is so much to say about the power and paradigm of a Parental God that it lends itself to lists and bullet points.  Please bear with me on these, and consider each point on the lists, because the results and ramifications of what President Oaks calls “the beginning of our theology”—namely our Heavenly Parents—touches and connects every part of the Gospel.

It is impossible to overstate the profundity and magnitude of our unique belief and claim of a Parental God comprised of a literal Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.  To grasp its impact, try a simple hypothetical.  Think about a group of persons of any faith, anywhere in the world, who have always thought of God as a distant, powerful creator—and then to try to imagine what would happen to their hearts and to their souls if they found and embraced the concept of real and personal Heavenly Parents.  What might change within them?  What could that new paradigm of belief bring about in their hearts and minds?

  • They might feel a much greater sense of self-worth, viewing themselves as actual children of God.
  • They could become more tolerant and loving of their fellow men—now viewed as spiritual siblings, as literal brothers and sisters—thus becoming more likely to forgive others and to love them more naturally.
  • They could feel a new and more unconditional love from that Parental God.
  • They might better understand forgiveness and feel less guilt.
  • It could seem natural to them that there was a pre-mortal life where they lived with those Heavenly Parents.
  • It might make logical sense that this Parental God has a Plan for His children’s Happiness.
  • And the concept of an equalizing post-life Spirit World might also seem more natural—where all would have the opportunities they may have missed in this world.
  • Any prejudice or bigotry or xenophobia or racial or gender bias could flee in light of our universal siblinghood.
  • They might become more spiritually curious and seek more knowledge about the Parental God and His will for us.
  • Something in them could desire to follow our Parental God’s divine example of marriage and oneness.
  • They might more willingly accept the sacrifice and responsibility of having and raising children—seeing it as a God-like privilege.
  • They could pray in a more personal and intimate way and have greater hope in like-kind answers and blessings.
  • They might feel closer to Christ not only as their Savior but as their Spiritual Elder Brother, and more grateful for His atonement which makes it possible to return to our Heavenly Family.
  • They could begin to view commandments not as restrictions but as loving council from wise Parents.
  • They could feel that they were participating in Christ’s stated goal for each of us in this “life eternal” –to “know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
  • They might better understand the Parental God’s goal for us, that “men are that they might have joy” and begin to comprehend how this world of agency and opposition factors into that joy.

And the list goes on.  The point is that the blessings of knowing that we have and worship a Parental God are overwhelming—and that we who have that knowledge should all strive to be more aware of these insights and more grateful for them.

If a Father God, then a Mother God

The concept of a feminine divine is not distinctive to our Church…

Throughout ancient scripture and texts from virtually all faith traditions, there are traces and hints of a mother god.  Apparently whenever any part of humankind is pulled toward the benevolent notion of a Parental God, it becomes obvious that there are no fathers without mothers.

And across all time and culture there have also been those who made the connection between gender equality and divine paradigms. The early American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “The first step in the elevation of woman to her true position, as an equal factor in human progress, is the cultivation of the religious sentiment in regard to her dignity and equality, the recognition by the rising generation of an ideal Heavenly Mother.”

But the actual theology of a literal (not metaphorical) Mother in Heaven is distinctive to the Restored Church of Jesus Christ.

When one googles “Mother in Heaven” or “Heavenly Mother,” virtually all the reference links that come up are from LDS sources.  This is our theology; this is our distinctive doctrine.  And it is a belief of enormous importance and almost limitless ramifications.

So, what do we know of Her?

Well, first of all we know that it is God’s will that we only wait for His will with regard to more knowledge and insight about our Heavenly Mother.  And we know with certainty that we pray only to our Heavenly Father.  As Elder Renland says, “Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topics essay found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more. You too may still have questions and want to find more answers. Seeking greater understanding is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious. Reason cannot replace revelation.”

Fortunately, what is stated in that official Gospel Topics Essay on Mother in Heaven is unequivocal and clear:

“Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven.”

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women.  The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.”

“The earliest published references to the doctrine appeared shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, in documents written by his close associates.  The most notable expression of the idea is found in a poem by Eliza R. Snow, entitled ‘My Father in Heaven’ and now known as the hymn ‘O My Father.’ This text declares: ‘In the heav’ns are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare; / Truth is reason—truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.’”

“In 1909, the First Presidency taught that ‘all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.’”

“Susa Young Gates, a prominent leader in the Church, wrote in 1920 that Joseph Smith’s visions and teachings revealed the truth that ‘the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father.’”

“President Harold B. Lee stated, ‘We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.’”

“Prophets have taught that our heavenly parents work together for the salvation of the human family. “We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us,” taught Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”

“As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited. Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents.” (italics are mine)

And the Gospel Topics Essay concludes with the quote from President Oaks that is becoming the underlying theme of this whole Meridian series:

“Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”

What do we know about Them

There is so much we wish we knew about our Heavenly Parents—about their relationship with each other and about the incredible and unique insight and love they feel for each of their children.  But instead of wishing for more of what we don’t have, we can focus on what we can logically conclude from the knowledge the Restoration gives us through sources like our official Gospel Essays; always keeping in mind that “reason cannot replace revelation.” As we do, we end up focusing more on how we can grow by striving to be more like Them, and we find that all our beliefs about our Heavenly Parents are instructive and motivational for our own lives and relationships. Thus, Linda and I can strive to “comprehend the divine pattern” and emulate in our relationship the things we believe about Theirs:

  • That They are One in the deepest, most profound, and most loving sense of that word.
  • That Their equality is synergistic, not competitive. Their Oneness is similar (but infinitely greater) to some (rare) Oneness Relationships we see in certain earthly marriages that don’t keep score or demand sameness but find a teamwork and mutual regard.
  • That as our Parents, they taught and tutored and nurtured us until They knew that we needed to go elsewhere to continue our progression. And when we left, They gave us—fully gave us—agency and personal responsibility.
  • That They love us individually and uniquely, and unconditionally.
  • That They (and our Eldest Brother) were and are willing to prioritize us and to sacrifice for us.
  • That Their goal for us is Joy.
  • That They are pleased when we love Them and when we love each other.
  • That they are united and that They share the goal of our progress and happiness.

Every one of these divine relationship qualities can be applied in embryo to our own relationships here on earth, and while we can never fully emulate Their perfection, we can form eternal relationship goals, based on their perfect pattern and strive to move steadily and gradually toward Them.

The Trunk of our Theology

As mentioned, President Oaks called the doctrine of Heavenly Parents “the beginning of our theology.” I also like to think of it as the trunk of our theological tree—from which grow all the beautiful branches of the Restored Gospel.

If we were to try to name the branches that spring so naturally from that trunk, we might begin with what is listed below:

Think of it this way, IF we believe in the “trunk” of loving Heavenly Parents, THEN it is natural and logical to also believe in the following “branches:”

  • Pre-mortality where we lived with our divine Parents.
  • Earth as a gift from our Parents and an orbiting school of agency and growth.
  • Our bodies, in Their image, as a further gift that allows us to be more like Them.
  • Gender and physical procreation as part of that gift, that we might provide bodies for others of our spiritual siblings.
  • Family as the basic unit of society and as the prime way in which we can model ourselves after Them.
  • The deepest meaning of the first two great commandments to love our Heavenly Parents and all our spirit siblings.
  • An opportunity-equalizing spirit world following this earth where any growth, familial roles, and progression opportunities missed on this earth continue to be extended to us.
  • The need to respect and be tolerant of all people as our equals in our Heavenly Parents’ eyes.
  • Faith in our repeated ability to repent and in God’s loving and endless forgiveness.
  • The concept and objective of returning to Them and finding ourselves more like Them.
  • The covenant path and the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, all leading to being with Them and being more like Them.
  • The doctrine and challenge of putting family first and being true and faithful to these covenants.
  • The beauty of Their reflection in all things—in nature and in each of us.
  • The extreme and preeminent importance of “Turning the Hearts” of parents to children and of children to parents, both here and on the other side.
  • The combination of justice and mercy that maximizes our growth and gives us second chances.

Taken separately, each of these is a remarkable blessing and insight of the Restoration.  Taken together, they are the beautiful and harmonious branches springing with life and power from our theological trunk of a personal Parental God.

How do we Emulate and Implement what we Know?

The minute we believe the second sentence of President Oak’s statement “Our theology begins with Heavenly Parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like Them.” it begs the question HOW we can aspire; HOW we can be more like Them?

The big question (it is always the big question) is “What do we DO about all this?” “How do we implement our beliefs?  How do we live up to the gifts of the Restoration? How do we emulate our Heavenly Parents? How do we follow Their will and how do we find and fulfill the foreordinations they sent us here with?

This article lists things that I believe about God’s parenting, and challenges us to follow that example. Doing the same kind of specific defining and emulating with the relationship, the marriage and the Oneness of our Heavenly Parents is harder because we have virtually no direct revelation or information on our Heavenly Mother, or on Her partnership with our Heavenly Father. In fact, all of what we know about the relationship between our Heavenly Parents is by inference—but it is the strongest kind of inference, since They tell us much about what our own eternal marriages should be within the contest of Their desire that we become like Them.

God tells us to strive to be equal partners in our marriages, and to care for and respect each other on every level.  He tells us to love each other completely and exclusively—even to leave father and mother and cleave to each other.  His prophets suggest that we can find oneness in our marriages such that our combined total is greater than the sum of our two parts.

Thus, we know by inference that these are the characteristics and qualities of Their perfect union, and while we can never in this life approach that perfection in our marriages, we can point our relationships in the same directions and seek a similar trajectory that will, over eternity, return us as families within Their Family.

The Implications and the Message

This essay and the previous one in this series (articles three and four) have talked about two completely distinctive and unique (and highly appealing) major doctrines (premortal life and Heavenly Parents) that we and only we profess within the Christian world.  Hopefully, these two beliefs will over time become a bigger part of our identity and of our missionary work. They are such attractive and appealing doctrines that they may have been a part of what Elder LeGrand Richards was referring to in his classic book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder book when he quoted an outsider as saying, “You Mormons are all ignoramuses.  You don’t even know the strength of your own position.”

So, the other question, and certainly not one that I have the right or prerogative or wisdom to answer, is about what the Church can do to spread the Restoration’s pivotal knowledge of our family centric Premortal Live, our Parental God and our eternal view of marriage and families.

Perhaps some light is shed on this question by what President Oaks said immediately before the phrase “Our theology begins with Heavenly Parents” that this series has referred to so often.  He said, “The purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help all of the children of God understand their potential and achieve their highest destiny. This Church exists to provide the sons and daughters of God with the means of entrance into and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This is a family-centered church in doctrine and practices.”

Perhaps this will be a growing part of the missionary message in future days.  Our young missionaries, though not parents or marriage partners or experts in any way, are the product of a Church and a culture that succeeds far beyond the world on family matters.  These young missionaries are examples of a family-centered Church, and they can share both “doctrine and practices.”  They can help people learn the practices of family home evenings, of searching and discovering their ancestry, and of holding family councils.  And from those “practices” it is a natural transition to the “doctrine” of Heavenly Parents and the Premortal Life and the Plan of Salvation.

Closing Note

Let me end with some numbers to remind us of the rarity of our paradigm:  There are more than 2.5 billion Christians in the world who may refer to God as “Father.”  Among them, 995 of every 1,000 use the term Father figuratively, or symbolically, or metaphorically.  The other five of every thousand use the term literally.  Those five are we.  How blessed we are.