Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on The Parental God. Read earlier articles HERE.
Article 4: Heavenly Mother and the Question of She, He, and They
The 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 (rather than a sovereign, impersonal or dictatorial god) it becomes obvious if not clear 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 of 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?
Let’s begin with some quotes from the Church’s official Gospel Topics Essay on Mother in Heaven:
“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.’”
And these gospel essay quotes are far from the only prophetic sources we have…
John A Widstoe wrote “The glorious vision of life hereafter…is given radiant warmth by the thought that we have a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”
Speaking of Heavenly Mother, Erastus Snow said that “to [the Saints] this great truth is most precious, precious to contemplate, and it is an inexpressible privilege to be able to draw nigh unto Him and Say ‘Our Father’…And immediately this great truth is impressed upon our minds, we very naturally begin to associate it with the idea of mother.”
Even more directly, he also declared “Diety consists of man and woman…I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts: a man and woman; the male and the female.”
Brigham Young said “we were created…in the image of our father and our mother, the image of our God.”
And of course, our Young Women’s theme begins with the words “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.”
Beyond Her existence and our divine relationship to Her, we can extrapolate so much from this combination of prophetic, unequivocal and without-caveat quotes: First, that it is appropriate to call Her “God;” second, that She is an equal partner and co-creator with the Father; third, that we are all (both halves of humanity) in the express image of God; fourth, that though we express our prayers to Him, they are also heard by Her; and fifth, that She is concerned, in a magnificently motherly way, about each of us—and that She touches and helps Her children.
A Topic that has become a Buzz
Over the last few years, there has been a strong increase and proliferation of interest in and discussion of Mother in Heaven. And the discussion is carried on not only in conversation but in podcasts, books, articles, and social media. I believe that this is a good thing because it pulls us closer to the true nature of God and causes us to think about a supernally important doctrine which over time has been largely overlooked or underemphasized or ignored.
The topic raises a host of “questions that we can’t answer,” most prominently around the two P words, polytheism and polygamy. I am not going to address either here, other than to point out that whenever I say “Heavenly Mother” it is capitalized and singular, and to say that if belief in a Heavenly Mother and a Heavenly Father and in Christ as a Their separate Son makes me polytheistic, then I am all in.
BUT… An Epiphany and a Pivot
I had planned to dive right into this buzz and focus this entire Article Four on Heavenly Mother, but the further I got into writing it, the more I felt that was not the way to go. I happen to be in Alaska as I am writing this, and something about the created beauty and grandeur of this place has made me pivot and lean strongly on a little different tilt.
I have realized that as much as I love the belief and the concept and the term “Heavenly Mother” I love even more the powerfully complete paradigm of “Heavenly Parents.” It is the quotes and prophetic statements that use these two words which warm me most deeply.
In the First Presidency’s Proclamation to the World,’ is this simple clarity: ‘Each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.”
“President M. Russell Ballard has said, ‘We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.’”
And to repeat President Oaks’ brilliant and comprehensive statement: “Our theology begins with heavenly parents and our highest aspiration is to be like them.” In this single sentence is stated our most distinctive and pivotal belief and our most eternal goal.
So, to be blunt:
Of late, there may be too much writing and speaking and speculation in the Church about the isolated topic of Mother in Heaven. I say this not because it is not an overwhelmingly important topic, but because it is a less complete concept than Heavenly Parents.
In fact, let me go one step further and say, within this vein, that there may also be excessive singled-out and separate focus on the divine He as well as on the divine She, and insufficient pondering of the divine They.
Because They are One. Because it is ultimately impossible to think about or talk about either without implicitly including or referring to the other. Because They are both our Parents.
Because in our unique Restored theology it is the divine They that is our creator God. It is the divine They that said “Let us make man (and woman) in our own image.” It is the divine They that is the foundation and the beginning of our theology.
In a recent group discussion that included two of my daughters, a friend said “We should be careful not to speculate too much about Heavenly Mother, since we really know so little about Her.” One of my daughters responded, “But in the same way, we really don’t know much detail about Heavenly Father either, and yet we speculate about Him all the time—what He might think or what or when or how He may have done this or that.”
I liked the friend’s point, but I also liked my daughter’s point. Wild speculation, and particularly trying to draw firm conclusions about things that have not been revealed could lead to serious error. But trying to feel Their Spirit and know Their will can be a wonderful and illuminating kind of speculation, and thinking about He and She and particularly about They is a direct response to what can be read as a scriptural challenge issued directly by Christ, “This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God…”
In that same conversation, as I was advocating that it was best to think about Heavenly Mother (and Heavenly Father) in the larger and more complete framework of Heavenly Parents, another friend pushed back and essentially suggested a kind of spiritual affirmative action—her point was that today we need to focus more on Heavenly Mother to make up for slighting Her earlier–that since She has been left out for so long we need to focus disproportionately on Her to restore Divine Equality.
I responded that I agreed with that sentiment—but that ultimately the best way we do that—the way we can best elevate and worship Her—is by trying to understand The Parental God which includes both and “equalizes” each as the two parts of the Creator God.
There are many, many things that we do not know about our Parents in Heaven, but the central thing we do know overrides and supersedes them all:
We know that She IS.
We know that He IS.
We know that They ARE, that They are One, that They are equal in a deeper sense than we can know, and that They are our Parents as well as our God. And knowing that, as the first two articles in this series discussed, changes everything. For one thing it allows us to interpret their “commandments” as loving council from wise Parents.
We also know that in order to dwell with Them in the eternities we must enter into and observe and be true to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage which They live and which They offer to us. This means that all we aspire to in our marriages exists in Theirs. It means that the fidelity, the commitment, the empathy, the full range of the highest love, and the oneness we all should strive for in our marriages is completely and perfectly embodied in Theirs.
Much can be learned from the commandments and admonitions and statements of purpose that They give to us and have for us, because all of them reflect Their desire for us to become more like Them and partake of more of what They have. So, when They say “men are that they might have joy” we learn that they have and share a fullness of joy. In that light we can interpret Nephi’s statement to say “Adam fell that men (and women) might be (mortal) and men (and women) are (mortal) that they might have joy.” Perhaps then, the briefest yet most illuminating adjective describing God is “Joyful.”
Putting the two “mortality-purpose” scriptures together becomes even more enlightening. We are put here in mortality to strive to know the only true God and to find the joy that They have and that They designed mortality to facilitate within each of us.
One friend who pre-read this article responded, “Thomas Jefferson’s declaration [that all men are created equal] was wrong: we humans are all eternal intelligences—not created at all and not equal as persons—given that we have all already lived forever and differentiated ourselves by our choices. From before this world until now we have perhaps had a “comparing problem,” feeling that we are “less” than others in innumerable ways because we don’t love each other enough to take joy in others “more.” This is one reason the privilege of parenthood is so useful in our growth—we desire our children to surpass us and we take joy in them. While we don’t yet have revelation on how sealed eternal souls become spiritual parents in the heavens ahead, we try to extrapolate forward from our current very veiled and limited experience and wonder if learning to take joy in others and developing more loving designs may be what will make the eternities interesting.”
Indeed, the term “equality” may never be exactly accurate except in the case of our Heavenly Parents. Nevertheless, it is a blessing that, in today’s world more than ever before, equality is much sought and much discussed. The word undergirds the macro issues of race, of gender, of patriarchy, of wealth redistribution, and of first and third world politics. And on the micro level, equality is a prominent and essential marriage and relationship topic.
As evidenced by the quotes that began this article, we in the Restored Church believe that our Heavenly Parents are equal partners, fully equal, completely equal, magnificently equal, equal to the point of Oneness.
The thing to remember is that there are two kinds of equality: The first is Competitive Equality which keeps score, which harbors resentment and resistance, and which often defines equality as sameness. The second is Synergistic Equality which seeks complementary Oneness and both recognizes and relishes compensating differences, and which produces outcomes and results that are greater than the sum of its two parts.
Clearly, the Divine Partnership of our Heavenly Parents is the epitome and ultimate manifestation of this second kind of equality.
And since this true realization of equality has only ever been fully achieved by our Heavenly Parents, perhaps we should not use the term at all in discussing any marital or human condition. For we mortals, “equality” becomes a squishy term that can’t handle the full weight of reality. For us, “complementary” would be a more useful and approachable term.
Another “reviewing friend” of mine who read a draft of this article totally got what I am trying to do. He said, “You have the potential to turn this narrative from one of gender equity to one of shared power, privilege and family inclusivity based on truths that have been restored concerning the eternal nature of family.”
He also said, “Elucidating the Goddess which reigns alongside our Eternal Father seems to spell the breaking through of the ultimate Celestial glass ceiling.
“The yearning to know our parents, to be accepted and loved by them, to please them is such a visceral and profoundly universal feeling. Overlapping of what we know/feel of earthly families with the nature of an eternal family pre-mortality and an eternal family post-mortality does indeed have the capacity for reshaping so much of what we think and how we live.”
Indeed, it is the higher, most synergistic form of gender equality (or complementarity) and partnership that we should each seek in our marriages, “aspiring” as President Oaks taught, “to be like Them.” And because this is an eternal aspiration, and we have an eternity to pursue it, it should not feel excluding to any who are currently single.
When Eliza Snow posed her rhetorical question “In the heavens are parent’s single?” she may have had a double meaning. First that a parent can never be singular—no child is ever created without a father and a mother. And second that, in the heavens, parents are also not single in the sense that they will all be married in the New and Everlasting Covenant, as is the God Couple to which we aspire. As we remind ourselves that eternal goals can take an eternity, no one is excluded and we should feel less separated as married or unmarried “children” in this world—content with our awareness that all will ultimately have this opportunity for marriage oneness.
We can find in our own lives little illustrations or approaches to the beginnings of our progression to the separate but combined and unified Oneness of our Heavenly Parents. I see and feel these faint beginnings with Linda as we work and struggle with our own parenting and grandparenting. For example, I do something called “Grandfather’s Secrets” which are principles of living that I try to teach to our grandkids in a fun and creative way. Linda is aware of them and helped me develop them, but it is I who wrote them and who focuses on ways to teach them. Linda, on the other hand, does a series of “Grammie Camps” with them each Summer where she works with them on music and art and other things dear to her. I am aware of them and love to help Linda where I can with the camps, but they are her project and her focus. Certainly, on a vast and complete scale, this same kind of individual but connected and complementary communication and action with Their children is a part of the Oneness of our Heavenly Parents.
Prayer, Parents, and Christ
I asked a friend, (you may have noticed how much feedback I need on this series) “Do you think it is possible to pray to Heavenly Father as we are told to, but to believe that both Heavenly Parents are privy to not only our prayers but our feelings and non-prayer communication with Them?”
He replied: “I would think that both would be privy to our prayers. It would make no sense for father God to be the only one aware of them.”
And I responded: “This is the heart of what I am trying to explore. If only eternally sealed couples can be complete enough to live in the highest part of the Celestial Kingdom—then you or I, as individuals, are not by ourselves perfectible entities nor, on our own, candidates for exaltation. And if the ‘we’ is the only perfectible entity—does it not follow that the Heavenly Parents we will live there with are the ultimate example of that We?”
Several of our adult children address their prayers to “Dear God in Heaven” which follows the instruction to pray to the Father, but which also allows the thought of both Divine Parents listening.
What we Know About Good Parents
They want the best for their children—theywant what they have to go to and belong to their children, and they would probably give their lives for them.
What we Know about Wise Parents
They want to see their children become independent—they want them to learn the lessons they have learned and discover the joys they have known.
What we Seek to Know about our Heavenly Parents
That they, as the only perfectly good and perfectly wise parents, want these same things for us all.
Parents possess a kind of love that is unknown elsewhere. It is the most sacrificing, unconditional, and unending kind of love. To understand God, we must seek to understand this kind of love, and to understand this kind of love, we must seek to understand God.
One more bit of feedback from a friend who read this article:
“It seems that in a discussion of Heavenly Parents, Christ the ultimate product and symbol of that divine Oneness should be an integral part of this picture. In Christ we see the culmination of the perfect They. We also discover some of the most profound divine emotion in scripture with the Son pleading to Eloi followed by the rending of the veil and then the earth itself at a Heavenly parent’s anguish (here Mother Nature becomes much more than mere personification & how much more relatable She feels). In Christ we also find the true power of healing and reconciliation, of bringing together both Father and Mother and Priesthood and every other gnawing slight, hurt or question into something that can be made right. Whether Christ becomes a separate entry in this series or part of this particular piece, I think it’s essential to the discussion and to finding our way to a deeper and more unified understanding of The Parental God.”
I reassured this friend that an upcoming article in this series focuses entirely on the Savior and on how He is the key (as He is for everything) in our attempt to unlock the deepest meaning of The Parental God.
Thank you for reading this fourth article, and please feel free to share your inputs and thoughts and questions directly with me by going to https://valuesparenting.com/contact-eyres/. You can also hear further discussion of this article on our Podcast “Eyres on the Road” which is available on your favorite podcast app or at https://byuradio.org/eyresontheroad.
And please come back next week for article 5.
Richard Eyre is the New York #1 Bestselling Author of more than 50 books, a dozen of which are on parenting and marriage. He believes that the ultimate parenting and marriage example is God.