Editor’s Note: It may well be that the most basic and pivotal truth revealed (or re-revealed) in these Latter Days is the nature of God as our literal (not metaphorical) Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. It is a beautiful truth to consider and to ponder, and it is the foundation for many of the other unique and distinctive teachings of the restoration. This is article 2 of 12 in this series and you can read the first article here. For further discussion on each article, listen to the Eyres on the Road podcast, available on any podcast app.
One of our daughters, with impeccable timing just as I was working on this second article, asked me why I felt this series was needed. Why write, she said, about something about which we know so little?
My first response played off of her question. I want to try, I said, to separate what we do know from what we don’t know, and maybe shift people’s focus from the latter to the former.
But as I thought further about her question, and realized that it would be the question of many, I felt like it deserved a more thorough and rigorous answer. I ended up telling her something like the following:
There are three potential benefits in thinking more about our Parental God and pondering what we do know about our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Said another way, there are three reasons for taking the time and making the effort to study and ponder this greatest of all topics—the topic of God:
ONE: To expand our faith in and our doctrinal knowledge of Our Heavenly Parents—thus following the scriptural admonition “This is life eternal that they might know thee the only True God” and discovering the freedom that this knowledge can give. (“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” Jn. 17:3)
TWO: To strengthen our character by striving to understand and emulate Their character. Knowing all we can about Them can help us to adopt Their paradigm of universal love and to emulate their priorities and perspectives. (“Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in Heaven is Perfect.” Matt. 5:48)
THREE: To provide us a model and an ideal for our most important relationships; to know and strive to understand the type of Oneness our Heavenly Parents enjoy and to discover insights into how They parent all of us, Their children; and to understand that we are, spiritually and literally, part of Their family. (“As God is man may become.” JS, King Follett Discourse)
Think about those three reasons for a moment—1. to better know God, 2. to improve our individual character, and 3. to strengthen and refine our relationships. The first is the essence of all true religion, the second is self-improvement or self-help at its maximum, and the third is the key to our own relationship-happiness and that of those we love.
These are Three worthy goals, Three reliable reasons, Three solid answers to the question “why”.
Let’s look deeper at each of them.
I. Expanded Faith in and understanding of God
The Doctrine of a Parental God is distinctive to our Church. That we are children of Heavenly Parents is an exclusive teaching of the Restoration. Other Christian churches’ references to a heavenly father are metaphorical. As Wikipedia puts it: “In much of modern Christianity, God is addressed as the Father, in part because of his active interest in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children.”
When you juxtapose our belief with Catholicism, it illustrates the point: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 239 states that “God is neither man nor woman: he is God.” Whereas we would say “God is both man and woman: They are God.”
When “Heavenly Parents” or “Mother in Heaven” is googled, all of the references that come up are from Latter-day Saint sources. This is our unique doctrine—God’s revelation of Themselves given to us in the Restoration. It is stated clearly and boldly time and again, including in our Family Proclamation and in our Young Women’s Theme.
Even so, some might say that we don’t know enough about our Heavenly Parents to ponder Them productively. But our Gospel Topic Essay on Mother in Heaven begs to differ, stating that “…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. Latter-day Saints believe that this pattern is reflected in Paul’s statement that ‘neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, ‘Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.’”
And later in the same essay, “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.”
Also, in Gospel Topics under “Heavenly Parents,” we read: “Because of our divine parentage, we each have divine potential. This divine origin defines our true identity. In our premortal life we learned the plan of salvation, which provides the way to inherit eternal life, the life of our heavenly parents. The purpose of our existence, including mortal life, is to prepare us to receive this glorious gift.”
Believing in a truly Parental God—in two Oneness-united Heavenly Parents—is not only perhaps the most important form of faith we could have, it is also the key, the stem on which grow most of the other flowering doctrines that make up our testimonies of the Gospel and the Restoration.
The “nature of God” is sometimes included in lists of the doctrines of the restoration. But it is far more than one item on the list. The Parental God is the foundation of the list, the core of the restoration, the mighty trunk from which all of the restoration’s doctrines branch.
Once one has a testimony that God is a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother—the true and eternal Parents of our spirits who love us all equally and unequivocally—all other restored doctrines become natural, and almost obvious. Indeed, if God is truly and fully Parental in this complete way, then of course there must also be:
- A Pre-Mortal Life,
- A divine plan of happiness whereby our Heavenly Parents guide us home,
- True “siblinghood” of all people everywhere,
- A preeminent priority on Family, and assurance that we are all part of Their family,
- Priesthood that allows us to operate within Their power,
- An unconditional love manifest in our Brother’s Atonement that allows us to Return,
- A need for Temples to connect and redeem all of humanity,
- An absolute requirement for tolerance and a prohibition of prejudice,
- The fairness and importance of a Spirit World following this life,
- The necessity of agency and opposition and choices in this world,
- The interplay and connectedness of Justice and Mercy,
- A manifestation of the highest and most personal and unconditional love,
- This magnificent earth as a loving gift and an orbiting school for Their children,
- A recognition of family as the basic unit of society, and of eternity…
And the list goes on. Each of these “thens” that follow the “if” of a Parental God is a major enhancement of faith and a strong and necessary pillar of the Restoration.
II. Improved Character and Perspective
Once we fully believe in our Parental God and in the truths that stem from that belief, internal changes have to come—big changes that impact every facet of our lives.
The first article in this series mentioned the destructive danger of taking for granted (and not fully appreciating or implementing) the beautiful truth of our One Parental God comprised of our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother. As we more fully embrace and explore this core doctrine of the Restoration it can create significant shifts within our individual souls. We can realize this eternal, progressive growth both in how we feel our faith and in how we live our life.
In this second article we first explored how a deep and conscious belief in Heavenly Parents can enhance and expand our faith; and now we look at the many ways that belief can alter and improve the way we live our lives.
The title of this series claims that belief in a Parental God changes everything. “Everything” is an expansive word, but I want to intentionally throw it at you, and ask you to briefly ponder what does, or would, or could change as one believes and focuses on the truth of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother who are the literal parents of our spirits. Take a moment to ponder each change on the list below—consider how different each listed activity or perception or priority would be with and without a belief in a truly Parental God. And use the list to give thanks for each thing listed—thanking that very God that we are thinking of and loving.
The list is long, but it is double spaced so that in each space you can try to imagine for a moment how different each aspect would be with and without faith and knowledge of the intimate relationship and reality of our Heavenly Parents. Also, on each item, ask yourself if the change is being fully realized in your life:
What belief in a Parental God Changes:
It changes how we pray and who we pray to.
It changes our notion of where we began.
It changes our priorities and our understanding of what really matters.
It changes our purpose.
It changes our perception of family and extended family.
It changes our relationship with everyone we know, and with those we don’t.
It changes our goals and objectives.
It changes our perception of past, present and future.
It changes our view of freedom and independence (and dependence and interdependence).
It changes our view of Mohammed, or Buddha, and of other Faith Traditions.
It changes our idea of judgement and our definitions of justice and mercy.
It changes and literalizes our grasp of the brotherhood and sisterhood of all mankind.
It changes our Patriarchal Priesthood to a Familial Priesthood.
It changes our tolerance, our forgiveness, and the scope of our love.
It changes our self-respect.
It changes our understanding of adversity and of failure.
It changes how we worship.
It changes how we meditate.
It changes our sense of inclusion and exclusion.
It changes how we look at our babies, and our parents.
It changes how we view time, and deadlines, and schedules.
It changes our view of science and of the universe.
It changes our capacity for beauty and for awe.
It changes how we understand repentance and growth.
It changes our fear of and our understanding of death.
It changes the ways through which we know things.
It changes our perception of the eternal permanence of relationships.
We will pay a visit to each of these changes in the articles that follow, but right now, just by your own imaginative reading, you may have begun to realize (real eyes) how comprehensive and transformative the Parental God paradigm shift can be. And you may have felt “pricked” to make the changes more effectual in your own life.
The changes just listed are only the beginning. As we strive to ever more deeply ponder and feel the connections to our Heavenly Parents, might this great truth and eternal reality also begin to…
Change our sense of well-being and increase our capacity for joy?
Change our inner conscience and relieve our guilt?
Change our view of loyalty and fidelity?
Change and lower the levels and duration (and frequency) of our depression and our anxiety?
Change our capacity to see and to observe and to notice?
Change and tamp down our levels of fear and of frustration?
Change our bodies and our health, our resilience and endurance?
Change how we sleep and how we wake?
Change and enhance our will to live, and to survive, and to strive?
Change how we view working and planning, and how we value watching and praying?
Change and bolster our degree of calmness and peace?
Change how we view and practice politics, and management, and competition?
Change where and how we want to spend our time?
Change our ability to forgive and to forget?
Change our marriages?
Change our parenting?
Change our faith?
Change our hope?
Change our love?
Change our joy?
Perhaps the most undergirding and overarching blessing of the paradigm of a Parental God is that it allows us to rely on God-help rather than self-help. Next time you walk into a bookstore, notice that, next to Fiction, the largest section is “Self Help.” There is no end to authors and speakers and coaches and philosophers offering us ways to help ourselves to be richer, stronger, smarter, and most important happier than we are.
But there is one basic problem with all self-help, and it exists symbolically in the very literal and physical impossibility of lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps. Just as we can’t actually lift ourselves, so we can’t meaningfully or dramatically change ourselves without some kind of higher help—and that help begins with the conscious perception and perspective of ourselves as spiritual children of a Parental God.
The essential difference between self-help and God-Help is that the first relies confidently on the positive mental attitude of “I can do it” while the second relies meekly on the humble mental attitude of “I can’t do it, except with divine help.”
There is nothing wrong with self-help and certain strong kinds of self-reliance so long as they are not perceived as the ultimate goal or the most reliable method. But we need to acknowledge that even after our best efforts to “work and plan,” we will also always need to apply our best faith to “watch and pray.”
III. Enhanced Relationships
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 do know—and as we do, we find that there is actually quite a lot that we know—and that every bit of it is instructive and motivational for our own lives and relationships.
- We know that They are One in the deepest, most profound, and most loving sense of that word.
- We know that Their equality is synergistic, not competitive. Their Oneness is similar (but far greater) to some (rare) Oneness Relationships we see in certain earthly marriages that don’t keep score or demand sameness—that find a teamwork and a mutual regard and synergy. On a divine scale, that makes Their collective Oneness, power, and effectiveness vastly greater than the sum of Their parts
- We know at least certain principles of how They parent Their children. 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.
- We know that They are always there for us, always available, always responsive to our needs if not our requests.
- We know that They love us individually and uniquely, and unconditionally.
- We know that They give us covenants and ordinances to mark the covenant path they want us to follow.
- We know that They give us laws and commandments (which were and are actually “Loving council from wise parents.”)
- We know that They (and our Eldest Brother) were and are willing to prioritize us and to sacrifice for us.
- We know that Their goal for us is Joy.
- We know that They are pleased when we love Them and when we love each other.
- We know that they are united and that Their goal is to bring about our immortality and eternal life.
Every one of these divine relationship qualities can be applied in embryo to and in 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.
Knowing all we can about our Parental God is the highest and worthiest of goals, and the faith and strength that comes from that knowledge will influence and have positive impact on every aspect of our lives.
We can study what we know about our Heavenly Parents (and, hopefully, this series will help with this) but the most important and intimate knowing will happen in our individual hearts as we ponder and as we pray.
Thanks for joining on this second article, and feel free to share your inputs and thoughts and questions by going to https://valuesparenting.com/contact-eyres/. You can also hear further discussion on 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 3 which is a poetic attempt to frame the wonderful story of our place in the eternal family of our Heavenly Parents. (Poetic because poetry is better than prose at just hinting at things we each have to discover for ourselves.)
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.