What does it mean to an individual to be sealed? We always refer to the blessing of sealings to be the opportunity to be a family forever and it is often related to being “linked” together. That’s not what I’m questioning. To clarify, I was born in the covenant and my parents’ sealing was canceled years ago. The previous edition of the General Handbook of Instruction explained that children in my situation are still sealed. What does that mean to be “sealed”. It isn’t a glue.
Thank you for your question, David.
A lot of people tend to wonder what sealing is really about. We have the general definition that it means we’re an eternal family. But when we see situations like yours where your earthly family has been broken, what does an eternal family mean for you? That’s a very good question. And while I don’t have a complete answer (it hasn’t been fully revealed to us) I hope to give you some comfort in your situation.
Let me start with the etymology of the word “seal”.
Originally, it did not mean the “welding” that we think of when we repair a crack or tightly close the lid of a container. It originally referred to a stamp or insignia. That seal meant that it was official. It was the sign that it had the full backing of the owner of the seal.
Later, it was used as the wax seal on envelopes and letters. It was so used to ensure that the addressee would be the first person to read it. This was the beginning of how sealing came to mean stuck, or as you put it “glued.”
Later still, merchants found another use for it. Bags of goods had the company logo (or seal) on the products. This guaranteed quality. But many wondered how a logo could guarantee quality when the bag was opened, and anyone could have tampered with it. So, they began closing the bags with the seal. Those sealed metal cans and sealed plastic bags were completely sealed shut. And thus they were protected from tampering.
When we speak of sealing in the priesthood sense, it means that we are marked as the Savior’s children. It means that we are officially His. We are also sent through quality control measures (in the form of teachings, promptings, calls to service, and trials throughout our lives). We are also protected in a manner that we may not fully recognize.
So in this manner, we are sealed to the Savior and spiritually become his children as is required by reason of the Atonement of Christ.
The Welding Link Back to Adam
We know that the nature of relationships with family members is different than with close friends. We may say that a friend is so close that we consider them family. But there is still something missing when we consider all the ramifications of how societies are set up — especially legal ramifications.
Apart from severe methods (like divorce) families are just always there. Even with divorce and severe estrangement, there are so many real-life stories of the long lost prodigal who comes to claim his portion of an inheritance. And very often, he can be successful in doing so. There is something that is hard-wired into our human psyche that recognizes a connection there whether we like it or not.
And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. (D&C 130:2)
This “sociality” refers to this “connection” we feel for family members. But in eternity, it will be coupled with eternal glory. Without sealing by the Holy Spirit of Promise, those connections will no longer matter after this life.
For those in similar situations like yours, here’s a fact you need to know: children can be sealed to only two parents. So if you were born to your parents after they were sealed in the temple (born in the covenant) or were sealed to them in the temple yourself, you are still sealed to them—both of them—even after a divorce. This is true even if your parents’ temple sealing to each other is canceled. (Church website)
And we know that there is something special about eternal families that it is required for exaltation.
In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter. (Salvation and Exaltation; Russel M. Nelson; April 2008 General Conference)
While we can be saved from physical and spiritual death by our own relationship with the Savior, exaltation is a different matter. Exaltation requires us to be whole and complete. And to be whole and complete, we need our extended families to be eternal.
Joseph Smith commented on Malachi’s prophecy:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. — Mal 4:5-6
I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. D&C 128:18 (emphasis mine)
The bolded portion is often quoted. And we know that the underlined portion is a necessary corollary. What we don’t know is why (notice the italicized phrase). Since it has not been revealed, we can only try to understand the nature of sealing better. Strong family bonds are important in this life. These same bonds (in the form of sealing) are important in eternity.
What the handbook may not cover is the question of “What happens to these welds if there is a weak/missing link?” The power of sealing is such that it provides the link whether the individual is true to the covenants or not. So, the person may be missing in eternity due to failure to keep one’s covenants or other reasons. But the link provided by the ordinances for people within that network still remains.
We can visualize by saying that each individual is a car that is connected to another car by a cable. If someone fails their covenants, their car turns into another length of cable, connecting the neighboring lengths of cable.
** I need to insert here that this is not a doctrinal description. It is merely the best way to visualize it based on what we know.**
We may think that we are all individual. And we “work out our salvation” by our individual relationship with the Lord. But the Proclamation to the World tells us that what we think is a mortal construct (the family) is really an eternal principle. And while we tend to place less and less value on the family unit with each passing generation, the eternal principle will not change. The Lord does not change.
While we don’t have the whole picture just yet, we are told that such mysteries “shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.”
And when it is revealed, we will finally understand the why and how behind the promise of how important the power of sealing truly is.