Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bound on Earth, Bound in Heaven

I was reading a blog post a short while ago, and thought a very interesting question was raised: the difference between marriage and sealing. I thought I'd do a bit of study on the topic. This is by no means complete, and I welcome any thoughts on the subject.

In the scriptures, I noted two kinds of binding: binding in captivity and binding for eternity, otherwise known as sealing. Although the first is undeniably restrictive, the second type of binding possesses the ironic twist in meaning that is found so often in scripture and doctrine, namely, that binding can actually lead to freedom, such as when men are bound to uphold laws. This type of binding, even the Lord God is subject to. In a way, this is not an intuitive concept for mankind, mortal and limited as we are. In another way, it is almost instinctual. Even a small child learns that when they obey the rules parents set, they are given more freedom. It is additionally obvious that in order to create a society, a people must be able to set boundaries on themselves. Otherwise, there is anarchy and no promise of protection.

Sealing is a type of binding. The interesting thing is, although the term in modern days is used almost solely in relation to spousal sealing, and, as a corollary, child-to-parent sealing, the term was not originally so restrictive. The Bible speaks often of sealing as we would speak of a government seal, a way to confirm the authenticity of a bargain. The Doctrine & Covenants uses the term "record" as a synonym of "seal".

To bridge this seeming gap between sealing/recording and sealing/marriage, the most common instances where I found the concepts of "seal" and "marriage" together is in the phrase "sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise". Often, when the Lord first explained the covenant of eternal marriage, this phrase comes into play. Essentially, he says if a marriage is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise through one given authority by Christ, that marriage is not valid in the eternities. This sealing of the Holy Spirit is not limited to marriage, however. In fact, the term is more often used in terms of being sealed to salvation. Therefore, all marriages must be sealed, but not all sealing by the Holy Spirit is marriage (or, by association, generational). If you substitute the word "record" in addition to "confirmed" or "authorized", the sealing ordinance becomes a little clearer. The ordinance, much like the ordinance of baptism, is not a guarantee of that sealing, it is a covenant that if you do all involved in that ordinance, you will be sealed to salvation.

So, why is sealing necessary to be saved? Of course, I don't know, though I have some thoughts. In order to explore them, I have to delve back a little further than our current sealing ceremony.

When God covenanted with Abraham, He promised him that He would keep the covenant with all of Abraham's children through Isaac. This covenant, or birthright, followed through Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim. We learn in several places that the covenant is to bless the people of the earth, but how will they be blessed? A small clue shows us that at least part of that blessing is to share the Gospel, to "push the people together" as it were. The Abrahamic Covenant includes the promise that the Gospel will be brought to the children of Adam through the children of Abraham (and that the children who are brought to the Gospel will become the children of Abraham, sharing in that blessing and responsibility). When you are being "sealed" or "recorded" or "confirmed" in baptism, you are being recorded as part of that covenant.

To push understanding of the sealing a little further, God also made a covenant with Adam that the consequences of his transgression would be swallowed up in a perfect sacrifice. Because there was no way for Adam to take back his transgression (or for us to repair our own transgressions and sins), there needed to be a volunteer to live a perfect life, to feel the sins, sorrows and mistakes of all mankind, and then to die according to the curse of mortality given to Adam, only to break that curse and return to life. He suffered so He could mitigate pain. He died to redeem us from the curse of Adam, to assert His supremacy over that law. This met the law of justice in a way which allowed Him to extend mercy.

The sealing ordinance which occurs between a man and woman is a likeness of the covenants which were made after the Transgression and after the Fall. Essentially, we are accepting the same responsibility for the Fall of Adam, and also accepting the same dependence on a Savior. We take those covenants together, as Adam and Eve did, and thus pass them on to our children, who then may take them if they wish. This binds us into the family of Adam by choice, as well as by birth, and gives us the strength of a conscious exercise of our Agency.

When one member of a couple breaks those bonds, it neither invalidates the covenant the other member made, nor the legacy which is passed on to the children. One person's choice only cuts themselves out of the family of Adam, it cannot cut out another. When we choose to make those covenants, we are allowing the Savior to seal us his, contingent upon our obedience to His law, much like we are protected by the same government and law we promise to keep.


  1. SilverRain: Thanks for this. You obviously have given this much thought and effort.

    With some ordinances, such as baptism and the sacrament, the symbolism of Christ and the Atonement is very obvious. But with the sealing ordinance, at least for me, the symbolism and meaning of the covenant is much less apparent. I appreciate your thoughts and will have to give them more thought myself.

    I have lots of questions still about the sealing ordinance. It seems to me though that learning about temple ordinances is something that takes more time, persistence, and diligence than learning other types of things, and I suppose it is that way by design.

  2. Yes, well, I tried to explain some things about sealing without delving into the actual words used during the ordinances of initiatory, endowment and sealing. It's tricky. However, though my thoughts may not be the full truth, I think that when the ordinances of the temple are attended to with the thought of becoming part of the family and covenant of Adam in mind, they begin to make much more sense and to take their places in relation to each other, rather than being disconnected islands of covenant.

    At least, when these thoughts occurred to me, everything reached a level of simplicity and poetry that I had not previously perceived. The good thing is that everything wrapped up in the meaning of the ordinances is all in the scriptures, so it's immediately open to all who care to listen.

  3. Jim,

    The symbolism of the sealing ceremony isn't too hard to find. When a couple clasps hands across the altar it should be clear that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is being referenced.


    Distinctions were made in conference this week between salvation and exaltation. I thought it was noteworthy that it was pointed out that salvation is an individual matter but exaltation is a family matter. I think this impacts some of your statements that someone can fail to live up to their covenants without having an effect on their spouse. That said, I'm not sure how to resolve the matter.

  4. I can see how it gets hard to parse the difference between individual and family when discussing sealing, aRJ. Although one person's choices certainly affect other family members, however, it only destroys their own salvation/exaltation. My choices cannot keep my husband from attaining exaltation, that's pretty clear. We believe that men suffer punishment for their own sins, not another's.

    If a spouse lives up to the covenants they make, they will be given the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of those covenants. If a spouse does not, however, they will only be subject to the laws which they were willing to keep.

    Exaltation is certainly a family matter in that exaltation occurs within the family of Adam and when sealed to at least one spouse. A person cuts themselves out of the family when they break their covenants. If they do so, they will be making way for another to take their place in their family. As much as I love my husband and daughter, I love God more. It is with sorrow that I would watch them choose to walk away from me and from God if I were in the position of being exalted without them. It would be heartbreaking, but it would be more heartbreaking to be separated from God.

    Matthew 10:37 "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Yet for those who overcome "shall inherit all things; and I will be [their] God, and [they] shall be my son[s and daughters]" and they, the servants, will be "ruler[s] over all that he hath".

    A more glorious and beautiful promise I can't imagine. It makes humbling oneself and learning to get along with a few extra people well worth it, hm?

  5. I think the situation might be more complicated than what you state. I've seen plenty of cases of divorce in which one spouse has lived the commandments but shares in the blame if for no other reason than that they never should have married that person. If you get married simply because you want to participate in that covenant without giving proper consideration to whether you've found a partner with whom you can fulfill that covenant then I don't see how the Holy Spirit of Promise can be present. In such cases one or even both spouses could be living gospel standards but divorce becomes necessary not because of sin but because of the fact that the marriage was a enormous mistake to begin with. Does the promise of exaltation remain in such cases? Isn't part of the process learning to endure to the end with your spouse? Can one derive the full benefits of sealing without that process?

    I agree that in many if not most cases what you say is correct, but I do think that the picture is more complicated than what you describe and that the attitude you describe might even be to blame (in a very small way) for the over eagerness that some in LDS culture have in getting married.

  6. Well, it may be a mistake to marry a particular person, that goes without saying, but I think you do the Atonement a disservice if you think it doesn't cover even that mistake. There is only one thing we can do that Christ's Atonement will not heal, and that is sin comparable to losing your first estate.

    I also believe that if you try your best to include the Spirit in a decision, even if it ends in divorce, it was not a mistake. I think the mind of God can encompass such a thing as an unhappy but righteous ending.

  7. silverrain,

    It is just a small step beyond what you're saying to say that any baptism is valid in the hereafter because you'd be doing the atonement a disservice if you didn't let it count.

    I'm happy to say that things will be worked out in the afterlife. I am not entirely comfortable with blanket statements about the validity of sealing ordinances that end in divorce.


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