Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Chapter 15: Eternal Marriage (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on August 8, 2014

The lesson can be found online here.

From the life

Question: What is the purpose of marriage?

This section mentions the 3 wives that Joseph Fielding Smith was married and sealed to. I find the implicit commentary on parenting—motherhood in particular—quite fascinating. The manual states,

Joseph found comfort in the assurance that Louie had departed “for a better world” . . . . But despite the consolation and hope he found in the gospel, he missed Louie terribly. He also worried about his daughters without a mother at home.

To understand marriage in a Gospel context, the parenting role seems crucial. Although I don’t pretend to have adequate answers to questions regarding some of more controversial stances the Church has taken with respect to marriage (i.e., homosexuality and polygamy), I do think that the Church maintained consistency in prioritizing concern for the children.

However, this idea of children being the overarching telos of marriage seems to be undermined when Pres. Smith marries Jessie Evans and has no children with her. I esp. like the line in the manual stating that Pres. Smith “had no qualms about being an apostle with an apron on.” At any rate, this last marriage seems to have been motivated less by a concern for children but what seems to be, at least in a sense, a more “selfish” concern:

Once again, Joseph was lonely
but comforted by the assurance of eternal marriage. And once again, he met someone with whom he could share his life.

The closing paragraphs of this section do, nevertheless, point to a way that Pres. Smith’s unselfish devotion toward his wife served as an beneficial example to others. So, in the end, I’m not sure if it’s better to think about the purpose(s) of marriage as being primarily for the benefit of the couple itself or the benefit of the larger community (and the children in particular). Nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that one important purpose of marriage is to provide a context for learning to how to serve others.

1. The crowning ordinance

Question: Why does Pres. Smith call marriage “the crowning ordnance of the Gospel”?

Although this might seem like a softball question, I think it’s actually quite difficult to highly satisfying answer. That said, I’d be inclined to think about this in terms of committing ourselves, via covenant, to a relationship that we deem sacred, and that we are willing to give our all to—a relationship that gives our lives purpose, direction, and meaning. Of course, this does not mean we will or even should remain married in all circumstances, but even when divorce is the outcome, the above claims remain valid.

2. Marriage endures forever

I like this quote from the manual:

It is very apparent to all of us who read the newspapers, who listen to the news accounts on the radio and who watch what comes over television that all too many do not hold marriage and the family unit in that respect which the Lord intends.

Marriage is a sacred covenant, yet in many instances it is made the butt of coarse jokes, a jest, a passing fancy, by the vulgar and the unclean, and, too, by many who think themselves refined but who do not regard the sacredness of this great principle.

Your mileage may vary, but I’ve witnessed various kinds of casual attitudes toward marriage. And I believe that misogyny, in its various forms, is also implicated in this quote from Pres. Smith. Casual and disrespectful attitudes that include sexual innuendo seem to me to be especially odious to the Lord. Reflecting on these past encounters, there are several instances that I wish I had been more bold in calling out disrespectful attitudes.

Question: What can we do to help combat sexism, disrespectful attitudes toward sexuality, and other ideas and attitudes that undermine the sacredness of marriage, sex, and other forms of respectful, intimate relationships?

3. Faithfulness . . . brings happiness

What are the blessings of being faithful (in marriage, or otherwise)?

Pres. Smith says,

Nothing will prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God as readily as faithfulness to the marriage covenant.

I’m inclined to read this quote in a somewhat . . . well, . . . dark . . . manner, I suppose. That is, “prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God” strikes me as a euphemism for an ordeal that will be really stinking hard! Now, I am actually extremely lucky to be married to a very wonderful, very patient, and very loving person. So I know my marriage can’t compare in terms of hardships or difficulties with most marriages. And, honestly, most of the time my marriage is pretty easy. However: (1) there have been some really crucial junctures, as I think occur in most marriages (and relationship in general), that were very difficult, and remaining faithful to the covenants I had made previously (usually, I’ve made my share of mistakes too) has had really, really significant consequences; (2) raising kids has proven to be a significantly more difficult challenge than I could’ve imagined. Also, statistically speaking, most marriages do not end in happily ever after (at least in general; I don’t have stats handy, though I think I remember seeing some fairly reliable stats that say that active Mormons married in the temple fare somewhat better than average, but the stats are sobering even for that subgroup).

Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the benefits of struggling to keep the covenants we make, and most especially the marriage covenant. I’ve been very humbled by the patience and undeserved love that my wife has shown me. I think that fault-finding is actually the biggest cause of marital problems (though I have nothing to back up this hunch), and I count myself extremely blessed to have a wife who is very forgiving and patient with me—and, somewhat ironically, this has been an extremely powerful motivator for me to really want, deep down, and in a sustained and so-bad-that-it-hurts way, to be a better husband and father.

4. Marriage . . . whether in this life or the next

Pres. Smith says, “The gospel is a vicarious work.” I think that’s a profound thought—sometimes in our increasingly individualistic world, we forget that our salvation is a communal affair. We depend on others for our salvation, and others depend on us.

Question: How does our salvation (and happiness) depend on others?

Although this question is broader than just marriage, the overlap is significant. We learn in marriage, more than anywhere else, about our dependence on others, and others’ dependence on us.

5. Children and youth

Question: How can we help our children and youth prepare for eternal marriage?

Learning what it means to be committed to something, to do things when you might not naturally feel like it, is an important lesson. In this sense, being faithful as a disciple of Christ, as a son or daughter, as a friend, etc.—all of these things are good practice for marriage. Pres. Smith says:

When the young man and the young woman are thoroughly grounded in the divine mission of our Lord and believe the gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the chances are all in favor of a happy union that will endure forever.

6. Faithfulness causes marriage to grow sweeter

Pres. Smith says,

If a man and his wife were earnestly and faithfully observing all the ordinances and principles of the gospel . . . [n]ot only would the husband love the wife and the wife the husband, but children born to them would live in an atmosphere of love and harmony.

This causes me to reflect on the many examples I have seen in my life of exemplary faithfulness, in marriage and in the Gospel. These real life, breathing examples, have had a more profound positive effect on my life than anything else I can think of—otherwise, I’m not sure that the Gospel would have had that much existential resonance or meaning in my life. For these examplary individuals and couples, I am truly grateful.

14 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 15: Eternal Marriage (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)”

  1. Steve Warren said

    In discussing eternal marriage, we sometimes assume that gods procreate and that, therefore, gods must be married. While there may be good reasons for marriage in the hereafter, there is simply nothing in scripture to indicate that spirit children are generated through any other process than creation, which requires only a single deity. Consider, for example, the fact that the premortal Christ, a spirit, created the physical bodies of Adam and Eve.

    • BrianJ said

      “there is simply nothing in scripture to indicate that spirit children are generated through any other process than creation, which requires only a single deity.”

      Or no deity whatsoever:

      “Where did [the immortal spirit] come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better.

      “I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits….

      “As the Lord liveth, if [the spirit of man] had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all.”

      ~ Joseph Smith, Jr., Apr. 7, 1844, Nauvoo, IL; aka “King Follett Discourse”; see also: Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 17

  2. IDIAT said

    Seems like our temple experience is that God said “Let us go down….” Implying that particular task was not delegated. At any rate, everything was created spiritually first. I tend to think our spirits may be the result of celestial relations but it could be that we’re organized. It’s just that given this earth life is a pattern for the next, and almost all forms of higher organisms reproduce through male and female joining, it seems like that sort of joining would continue in the next life. The sealing ceremony does say husband and wife for time and all eternity. There wouldn’t be much sense in requiring celestial marriage in the only kingdom where progression continues unless two – male and female- are required.

    • Steve Warren said

      Yes, in this fallen, natural earth state, higher organisms possess bodies and sire offspring with physical bodies. Similarly, God the Father possesses an exalted physical body, which means that if procreation had been involved, natural law would dictate that we would have been born with physical bodies, not as his spirit children. This also is true for Christ, a spirit god who created (not procreated) the physical bodies of Adam and Eve. There simply is no scriptural evidence that immortal beings engage in procreation; we have only uncanonized speculation.

      By the way, the temple version of creation is one of five different versions available for Latter-day Saints to believe–the other four are from the scriptures.

    • BrianJ said

      “It’s just that given this earth life is a pattern for the next, it seems like that sort of joining would continue in the next life.”

      That’s not a convincing argument. It’s too easy to apply the same logic to other earthly endeavors that we would readily reject as being eternal in some way: i.e., we spend a lot of time on this earth eating, sleeping, defecating, dealing with illness and injury, etc. Are these physical endeavors also a pattern for the next life?

      I argue that:

      1) God did not create our spirits and we will not be creating spirits either (see my reply to the first comment)

      2) Sex in marriage is 99.9% of the time completely unrelated to procreation. It’s main purpose is to form and strengthen the pair bond between spouses—which certainly helps to create a good environment in which to raise any children conceived during that sex.

      • IDIAT said

        So glad you clarified the fact that we are not spirit children of a Heavenly Father.
        Gospel Principles Chapter 2: Our Heavenly Family

        We Are Children of Our Heavenly Father

        •What do scriptures and latter-day prophets teach us about our relationship to God?

        God is not only our Ruler and Creator; He is also our Heavenly Father. All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God. “Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 335).

        Every person who was ever born on earth is our spirit brother or sister. Because we are the spirit children of God, we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can become like our Heavenly Father and receive a fulness of joy.

      • Steve Warren said

        I think Brian J’s comments are accurate. I believe we have existed forever in some form and are, therefore, as old as (or co-eternal) with God. Whether we call our original state spirits or intelligences or free-roaming semi-conscious vapors, we existed before the Father made us his spirit children. As I mentioned earlier, there is no scriptural evidence that procreation was involved in our becoming spirit children or that a heavenly mother was involved. Thoughts about a heavenly mother may be in harmony with many of our teachings, but they remain uncanonized speculation.

      • BrianJ said

        IDIAT, I don’t see the need for or value of sarcasm here.

        Apparently, you feel that the Gospel Principles manual and Joseph F. Smith contradict Joseph Smith, Jr. Before I address that, I want to first correct something you wrote about my comment: “we are not spirit children of a Heavenly Father.” That’s not what I wrote. What I wrote is that, “God did not create our spirits.” You may see those as synonymous, but they are not. In that light, I see no contradiction between Joseph Smith, Jr. and his nephew.

        Surely the apparent disagreement rests on the meaning of the word, “literally,” as when the manual states that we “are literally the sons and daughters of God.” Or on what Joseph F. Smith envisioned when he said that we were “begotten and born.”

        How can we make sense of what Joseph Smith, Jr. said—“God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all” (or Abr. 3:18 or D&C 93:29)—in light of these later statements? The best interpretation that I can see is that Joseph F. Smith wished to make some distinction between eternal spirits that had been called into Heavenly Father’s presence versus those that had not—that this “calling” constituted being “begotten and born.” As for “literal,” well, what does that word mean anymore? My friends adopted four children who are now literally their sons and daughters, though not literally their biological sons and daughters.

        That’s how I make sense of Joseph F. Smith’s statement. How do you make sense of Joseph Smith, Jr.’s statements?

        “Because we are the spirit children of God, we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities.”

        I agree that our relationship to God enables divine potential, but I think it’s only part of what makes it possible for us to develop his divine qualities. The other important piece has to do with our nature: we are the same species as God; i.e., eternal beings, or gnolaum. He is more intelligent than we, but he is not something other. This is, I believe, what Joseph Smith, Jr. had in mind when he said, “God himself could not create himself.”

      • IDIAT said

        I don’t think there is a contradiction.
        Chapter 47: Exaltation

        Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation.

        I don’t know how God is the father of our spirits. I am content to know that He is. “Begotten and born” is pretty straightforward. Exact knowledge at this point not relevant for our eternal salvation, nor is stressing over whether we are organized versus some other method.

      • BrianJ said

        IDIAT, if you’re “content” in your current state of belief and you see no value in pressing for further knowledge, then why are you debating or even discussing the issues? Perhaps I’m sorely misreading you.

        This isn’t primarily a question of whether we were “organized versus some other method.” It is fundamentally a question of whether or not there was ever a time in which we did not exist as autonomous individuals. (On a related note: Joseph used the terms “intelligences” and “spirits” interchangeably.)

        Since you believe that “‘begotten and born’ is pretty straightforward,” then could you please elaborate on how your straightforward interpretation of that phrase agrees with Joseph Smith, Jr.’s statements?

  3. BrianJ said

    Robert, these are interesting thoughts. I especially appreciate your comments on the commitment aspect of marriage. While unity is central to the Gospel—e.g., the definition of Zion—no unity rivals or even matches that shared by husband and wife. I think you’re right that the most important aspect of marriage is its high demand for commitment.

  4. IDIAT said

    Encyclopedia of Mormonism (obviously not binding, though cited and overseen by BYU) – Spirit Body – Latter-day Saints believe that each person was born in premortal life as a spirit son or daughter of God. The spirit joins with a physical body in the process of birth on the earth. I understand Joseph’s point about never having a beginning. Perhaps being “born in premortal life” means we were “organized.” Either way, we don’t have definitive doctrine besides the kinds of quotes I’ve been giving you that take a consistent stance. I’m not going argue or debate something for which, beyond a proof texted quote from JS, there is no clear position. And by the way – in my version of “The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, there is a footnote 5 with respect to one of the prophet’s statements on the immortality of the spirit that reads as follows:
    5. In saying the spirit of man is not created the Prophet without any doubt had in mind the intelligence as explained in the Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 93:29: “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” From this we gather that the intelligence in man was not created, but the Prophet taught very clearly that man is in very deed the offspring of God, and that the spirits of men were born in the spirit world the children of God.

    If you want to claim our spirits have always existed, fine. Good luck with that.

    • BrianJ said

      Thank you for explaining how you make sense of Joseph Smith’s discourse.

      When drawing upon the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, you should also consider its entry on “Intelligences,” which discusses some of the disagreements we have.

      You haven’t shown how I proof-texted Joseph’s words. If you’re looking for a proof-text, however, the footnote you cite looks like a good candidate: it takes Joseph’s word (specifically, “spirit”) and promptly redefines it as though Joseph didn’t have access to the term “intelligence”, even though in the very quote Joseph is obviously acquainted with both terms (and presumably used them carefully).

      You cite the quote “Latter-day Saints believe that each person was born in premortal life as a spirit son or daughter of God” as though you think I disagree. I thought I had made it clear that I believe this statement to be true. If not, then here it is: I believe that we are spirit children of God. What I don’t believe is that “spirit birth,” whatever it is, is analogous to “physical birth.” Specifically, we believe that the spirit joins with a physical body to enable life on this earth. Many have concluded that “spirit birth” must entail some similar process of putting something (e.g., intelligence) inside something else (e.g., a spirit body)—all the way to envisioning some sort of celestial pregnancy taking place. Not only do I find no support for that view in scripture, I find that it also contradicts what I think is the most straightforward reading of the King Follett discourse. Spirit birth happened, but it wasn’t the beginning of our existence.

      (Incidentally, for three decades I believed in the so-called tripartite view: Intelligence inside spirit inside physical body. Upon being confronted with Joseph’s teachings, as well as the history of this debate including leaders such as BH Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith, I gave up that belief because the only way I felt that I could keep it was to proof-text Joseph’s discourse and the Book of Abraham.)

      “If you want to claim our spirits have always existed, fine. Good luck with that.”

      I do claim that and I have had exceptionally good luck with it.

      Since you reject the idea that our spirits have always existed, do you likewise reject the idea that we have always existed as autonomous individuals (i.e., beings capable of exercising agency)?

  5. IDIAT said

    Oops. Error in my cite. TOTPJS, (1976) pg. “The Spirit of Man” footnote 5. See also pg. 352 “The Immortal Spirit” footnote 7. I think the footnotes sum it up better than I can.

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