I am not a Mormon but have been intrigued by LDS history, theology. My question is: can a devout, single, never married Mormon reach the highest level of heaven? Reach any level of heaven?
As I’m sure you know, in the celestial kingdom, which is the highest of the three kingdoms of glory in the eternities, there are three different degrees of glory. A statement concerning those degrees of glory pertinent to your question is found in Doctrine & Covenants 131:1-4—
In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
A second scripture that addresses the subject is found in Doctrine & Covenants 132:14-17—
For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed. Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.
From these scriptures you may infer that all the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ that determine the position and status of our Father’s children must be entered into during the mortal phase of their existence. Wherever a person finds himself at the end of his mortal life with respect to his faith in the Savior and to his obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, will determine his status in the eternities forever. Mortality, where we are faced with the temptations of the adversary and are required to live by the principle of faith, is the proving ground for eternity. Our Father in Heaven would have all of His children return to His sacred presence, to live in joy and peace forever more. But He will not violate man’s agency to follow whom he will.
The highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom is called exaltation. This glory is reserved for those who qualify themselves by their obedience to inherit all that the Father has. Again, from the Doctrine & Covenants we read—
He that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood. Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved. But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come (D&C 84:36-41).
So we have the potential of inheriting, with the Father, his kingdom. What does it mean to inherit all that the Father has? Those are they who govern with him his eternal realms. This concept was elucidated by Elder Delbert L. Stapley, of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the general conference of the Mormon Church in April 1961, He said—
“The Father has promised his sons who receive the Holy Priesthood and faithfully abide by the conditions of its oath and covenant that they are to share in all that which the Father hath. The Father possesses kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers, dominions, and exaltations. These the faithful will receive of him as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. This promise-and the Lord will not fail-is a challenging encouragement for all to do his will. It is natural for a father to share his estate with his children. Our Heavenly Father is no exception. He does so with a binding covenant with his faithful sons. Listen to the words of this promise: Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved“(D&C 84:40).
So you can see from the above that no member of the Mormon Church, regardless of his devotion, may achieve the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom unless he marry a wife for time and eternity by the authority of the holy priesthood, and abides by all the covenants of that sacred union for the duration of his mortal life. Those who do fulfill those conditions, however, achieve the status of godhood. As it is recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-21—
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them–….they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.