We understand that anyone who inherits a kingdom other than the Celestial Kingdom will not be privileged to have an eternal companion and those eternal relationships, yet we seal everyone in the temple. I always thought that this was the sweetest of the ordinances, but I wonder if most of it is just for naught. I always envisioned my relatives rejoicing that they are once again together, but if they didn’t live worthy in this life (D&C 76:74), the sealing won’t count right?
Thank you for your question. I’m certain you’re not the first to have these thoughts. Indeed, many may look at the daunting task of all that family history research and temple work to be done for countless numbers of our ancestors and wonder how it will ever be complete, and how we might tackle the task more efficiently. I have begun to learn of late, however, that the Lord makes time for all his work to be accomplished, and that efficiency is less important than ensuring that each individual is ministered to in such ways as to ensure the best possible outcome for that individual.
In that light, I think we need to establish a few facts and address two issues: first, what we know and don’t know about life in the three degrees of glory; and second, why we do temple work for all who have passed on without that work.
What We Know and Don’t Know about The Three Degrees of Glory
We know from D&C 131 that a person may only attain the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom if they are sealed in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. We know from D&C 128:18 (for example) that we cannot be made perfect without our dead. We also know about sealing children to their parents (and children being born in the covenant). We know from D&C 76:86-87 that those of a higher glory will somehow minister to those of a lesser glory (something we might ponder in relation to recent changes in how we minister to one another in this life). From this we can assume that not all contact between Celestial and other beings is cut off.
Beyond these things, we really don’t know what our immortal lives will look like. We know that marriages will only exist the highest glory. We know that after the resurrection, one cannot progress from a lower glory to a higher glory (see heresy five in “The Seven Deadly Heresies” by Bruce R. McConkie). But we don’t know what effect the “welding link” may have upon those (living or dead) who have not yet accepted the gospel. I have not heard any explicit teachings about the nature of relationships between those in differing glories. (I acknowledge that the “welding link” may well have no effect whatsoever across kingdoms – it may exist only in the Celestial glory – but I don’t think we know that. Therefore, I don’t think we should act as if it were pointless to perform sealings on the assumption that it will have absolutely no effect on or benefit for the person for whom we are doing the work (more on that later).)
Next, we have a clue in Alma 5:18 (emphasis mine):
Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?
If one will have a full remembrance of their past behavior as it relates to sin (or righteousness), then we have no reason to assume they will not also remember the people they knew and relationships they formed in mortality. Given these things, I see no reason to believe in a complete severance of all memory or interaction with those of differing glories. Certainly, it is logical to assume that the bulk of one’s time will be spent with those who share the same glory. Certainly we know that those who do not obtain the highest glory will not enjoy the blessings thereof. But we should be careful not to make up additional knowledge just because we don’t like being unaware of the details.
Why We Do Temple Work for All
Now let’s look at some reasons for why we do temple work for the dead without regard for the type of life they lived in mortality.
- The Lord himself sent representatives to teach to those in Spirit Prison (see D&C 138:28-30). In 3 Nephi 18:25 we read: “And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me…” I believe this is the example the Lord would have us follow – to always invite and never to send away – to act with hope for the best.
- It’s dangerous to assume we know whether someone can sufficiently repent to receive Celestial glory (or a greater glory than we assume their actions warrant). Take, for example, the story of the people of Ammon (the Anti-Nephi-Lehies) in the Book of Mormon – their own description of their sins includes “many murders”, and yet the story tells us that they were forgiven and their guilt taken away (see Alma 25:9-12). If they can be forgiven, shall we question whether anyone else might be forgiven?
- The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 suggests that one who is faithful may have a saving influence on a spouse who is not believing: “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” If this can happen between husband and wife in mortality, who is to say that it cannot happen between any kindred whether in life or in the spirit world? Do we know how the sealing link might play into this? For all we know, our persistent efforts might inspire an otherwise unbelieving soul to increase their efforts and thereby improve their lot in eternity. (“Faithful Parents and Wayward Children” by Elder Bednar may be of interest here.)
- In a well-known Ensign article from August 1999, Elder Oaks goes into detail about what kinds of judging we are to do and not do. I highly recommend reviewing the entire article. This part in particular is important for this question:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; … He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, … ‘not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,’ those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 218).
Thus, we must refrain from making final judgments on people because we lack the knowledge and the wisdom to do so. We would even apply the wrong standards. The world’s way is to judge competitively between winners and losers. The Lord’s way of final judgment will be to apply His perfect knowledge of the law a person has received and to judge on the basis of that person’s circumstances, motives, and actions throughout his or her entire life (see Luke 12:47–48; John 15:22; 2 Ne. 9:25).
This last reason is the single best reason to do proxy work without regard for the type of life a person lived. While the Lord has told us (in the verse you cite) that the terrestrial kingdom will include those “Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it”, we are simply not qualified to figure out who that is. We don’t know what opportunity anyone had to receive, whether it was sufficient, or how much they did or did not receive. We don’t know how much of a person’s action is due to the “traditions of their fathers”. This judgement is for the Lord.
In the meantime, the Lord has commanded us through his prophets to carry on the work of seeking after our dead and performing vicarious ordinances on their behalf. Proxy work is an invitation. Shall we withhold the invitation because they might choose not to accept it? At its best, this work is an expression of loving desire — that the person whose work is being done is loved, wanted, and invited to come join with the righteous. At its worst it’s a mechanical delivery of the invitation, but it’s still an invitation. To refuse to extend the invitation at all is to say, “you’re not worth the effort.” Do we really want to be the one to say that? What would that say about our own hearts, our own unity with God, or our understanding of the pure love of Christ?
I pray that we will all set aside judgements of our fellow men, including those we may have known in mortality, and with love in our hearts extend to them the invitation to come and join with the righteous.