Sharing reasons to exist

Ronan recently speculated (apparently after some discussion with Brad) that sealing ordinances encourage ‘the dead to stay together at a time when, with the immensity of eternity before us, we may feel drawn to leave our earthly relationships behind’.  In ‘Everything is Illuminated’, at the conclusion of Alex & Jonathan’s ‘very rigid search’, Alex writes to Jonathan and explains that through their journey ‘we have shared something to exist for’ [1].  I want to explore a little more fully, in my own way, the ideas underlying this perspective.

Sealing rituals do not serve solely as symbols for our relationships rather they enact or memorialise the reciprocally constitutive nature of identity.  Accepting a relational vision of apotheosis (i.e. Temple sealings) suggests that our potential divinity is inextricable from those to whom we are sealed.  I am who I am because of those I have been sealed to; or, more accurately, I am sealed to those who have constituted who I am.  And those sealings have been ritualised both in the temple and through baptism.  We cannot, like Latour would suggest [2], re-assemble our associations without re-assembling ourselves.  If we left these relationships behind in order to roam eternity surely we might be less-than the person we were, or, at the very least, we would be different from that other (prior) person.  This is not to suggest that we cannot leave nor that the act of leaving might not be beneficial (Christ’s condescension might suggest otherwise) but we cannot escape that through leaving we are inevitablely different.

In addition Alex’s comment suggests that the desire to continue to exist is in part derived from these shared experiences.  As someone who is intimidated by the boundlessness of the eternities [3] and who can (perhaps) envisage a time when I might choose to cease to exist [4], Alex’s words resonate with me deeply.  That our continued existence ensures the eternal nature of our (sealed) shared experiences provides one potential reason why I would choose to live forever [5].


  1. Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated.
  2. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social.
  3. Eugene England, Enduring in Dialogues with Myself.
  4. Julian Barnes, The Dream in The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters
  5. Steven Peck, Crawling out of the Primordial Soup in Dialogue. The idea in Steve’s essay which I draw upon here refers to his view that divine truth and knowledge are preserved through interaction between agents, from consciousness to consciousness.


  1. I agree, but how would you work Mormon 9:27 into this?

  2. Ronan recently speculated (apparently after some discussion with Brad) that sealing ordinances encourage ‘the dead to stay together at a time when, with the immensity of eternity before us, we may feel drawn to leave our earthly relationships behind’.

    Was this a post? Link?

  3. Guy, it was a comment below a post he wrote. I have put the link in now.

    John C., I have previously speculated (on a different blog) that agency is inter-dependent. Certainly we are accountable before God for our actions, but there is also a strong sense in which those actions of which I am capable have been heavily influenced by others (relationships) andor factors beyond my control (genetics). This is one of the primary lessons I get from the garden of eden narrative. In this sense I suspect that agency is an embedded experience and that the nature of that embeddedness determines in large measure the choices of which we are capable.

  4. Sure, but you seem to arguing for exaltation as a primarily communal experience, whereas that verse expresses an understanding of salvation as a solitary endeavor (or, rather, a dialogue between you and God). I think that you are right to not see the two as mutually exclusive, but I think that framing relationships as being constrictive of agency (which is true) sort of misses the point of them. Unless I’m missing the whole point of the post (another possibility).

  5. Aaron, I quite like this. One lesson from biology is that over the course of the evolution of life on Earth, things have moved from isolated agents to complex organisms. From bacteria, to communities of cells (our cells contain organelles that come from ancient associations with bacteria, the mitochondria, which makes energy for the cell, is derived from a bacteria with its own DNA). Then animals with complex organizations of cells, move to become organisms forming groups, then on to social organizations, which in tern have produced the animals with the highest states of consciousness (apes, dolphins, elephants, humans). At each level (cells, organs, individual bodies, social structures), complexity increases. The interesting thing about this is that both the individual constituants of these higher associations are ‘blessed’ (or benefitted if you prefer the biological vernacular) as well as something more complex and with greater awareness emerging. I think there is something compelling and right about the idea that the links we form with others, the associations we make, create something higher, something ‘bigger’ on an even grander scale. Something important in the eternities from the links we form creating greater freedom and consciousness.

  6. I agree with you, Aaron. John C, I argue in my treatment of adoption theology that one “works out salvation” by integration into a community or network. I think you’re allowing the Protestant worldview to which many of us have accommodated over the last several decades to drive your interpretation of this verse.[1] If you’re approaching this concept from a Smithian perspective, it’s all about the connections, but there is an exercise of will that incorporates one into the Chain of Belonging. That act of incorporation into the Chain of Belonging is salvation/exaltation. I nod toward this idea in my testimony on the Mormon Scholars website. I’m heartened to see so many bright minds/souls working on a peculiarly LDS response to the questions of salvation that draw on the very rich Smithian legacy.

    [1] As always, I do not mean to disrespect Protestants here, though I do disagree with their traditional theology on this point. I am aware that many Protestants embrace an image of the community of the blessed that in many respects could support a similar theology, and I value that image. I treasure how explicit, literal, and sacramental the LDS version of that vision is.

  7. I did not intend to convey the idea that relationships only limit our agency I believe they also make some forms of action possible as well. Like Steve said, those relationships can bring greater freedom but in turn they can also bring less. God’s intervention in the world is to invite us into that dialogue (a dialogue which requires our fear and trembling) in order to reconfigure our associations with everyone else. I believe he speaks to us in an effort to turn us to each other. But maybe I am missing your point.

  8. Two questions:
    1. If our shared experience at least reinforces that we exist, then why would we prone to wander away from earthly relationships in the eternities?
    2. Why does it matter that we are encouraged to stay together for this purpose? And isn’t it possible that once the veil is removed and we remember pre-earth life that our relationships there could be just as important?

  9. So, you believe that we should take “of one heart, of one mind” more literally than we currently do?

  10. Let’s say half of humans (pick your own #), die before the age of two. Where are the earthly relationships? What if your mother died at your birth?

  11. Bob: A real struggle in Mormonism in the 19th century in terms of theology. How do you make sense of such things? That was a question they partially met with a backward look.

  12. I attended a fascinating presentation at a regional conference of the American Academy of Religion arguing that the substance of God is relationships (God is love?)–that relationships are God. The presenter did not believe in an anthropomorphic or embodied God, but maintained that God is not only “in” the connection I have with another human being or even thing, but that the connection, or all such connections in the universe constitute God. Those more expert than I can probably tell me what the formal name of this philosophical or theological view is, but I think it is quite interesting, and there is considerable truth to it.

  13. Bob, I have never lost a child, but the little I have seen of those who have suggests that those parents feel that the child has left an indellible impression upon their lives and that they yearn to be with that person again. Is the nature of that yearning different? Yes, but I suggest that it is still present. I cannot comment upon what the experience means to those children who have died.

    John C., is that question directed toward me? If so, I am not sure what you mean by taking ‘one heart, one mind’ more literally and so I would not know whether I agree with it or not.

    mmiles, your first question might need to be directed toward Ronan or Brad as I believe we won’t desire to roam into eternity. Additionally I suspect that the nature of relationships we are capable of here (because of our bodies) is different to those that were possible in the pre-mortal life. This suggests that our embodiment overlays our pre-mortal experience and supplements and enhances them. The removal of the veil will therefore multiply the richness of the cumulative connections that we have created through both periods of our lives. That experience, I would suggest, will be a joyous one.

  14. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    What will I do without my BCC associations who are not sealed to me?

    Am I correct in understanding that “we have shared something to exist for” is another way of expressing the perspective and sentiment of “families can be together forever?” In other words, is it the perspective that our experiences here with others whom are close and sealed to us (presumptively, family) will be a motive to confidently move into eternity? I think that’s _the_ major message of Mormonism, isn’t it?

    That said, the last line has been and will continue to be the most provocative for me. The “one potential reason” stuck out. Perhaps because associating with those I’m sealed to for the eternities is not a consummate or completely motivating definition of exaltation for me. It’s a doctrine premised on the assumption that we love and want to be close and associated with those we are sealed to, which may not reflect a perspective of an exalted state. For example, I’m not sealed (directly, at least) to a number of my good friends whom I’ve shared significant experiences with (LDS and non-LDS). For me, a reason to exist into the eternities would include an association with them. Anything less would not meet that understanding for me. So can one be motivated to exist eternally knowing that many of his/her fulfilling associations and “shared experiences” will not be sealed to him/her in the after life (according to our doctrine) while those that he/she is sealed to (extended family whom one doesn’t even know, or close family who one may not want to associate with) will be an “available” association? Although I love them and they are “one potential reason” to exist now and forever, the concept of “eternity” must mean more than associating with people I’m sealed to . . . at least I hope so. Otherwise it would be like Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner all day everyday forever.

  15. Last Lemming says:

    you seem to arguing for exaltation as a primarily communal experience, whereas that verse expresses an understanding of salvation as a solitary endeavor

    Which is entirely consistent with Elder Nelson’s teaching in both 2008 conferences (the following is from the October conference).

    “While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family [i.e., those to whom you have been sealed] matter.”

  16. Mommie Dearest says:

    I think there are a bunch of us, whose earthly relationships fall so far short of the ideal implied that we have serious questions about this arrangement, that have never been (adequately) addressed. Yet.

  17. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    16 – ‘xactly. Who am I, but I’ve notice it goes for everyone. So the concept of “exaltation” forever is dynamic based on our earthly relationships. There are many associations that I necessarily require in my perception of an “exalted forever” state that will probably never be seal to me in this live (or maybe ever). And there are those that I would not be super excited about including in that same conceptual perspective who are sealed to me (I think, indirectly somehow, who knows). But the OP is not saying that sealed-associations are _the_ reason to desire to exist forever. And that is why long ago I stopped suggesting this as the ultimate goal of eternal existence to those who ask about my perception of the after life. It’s just one reason, agreed. But I think in LDS dialogue it is sometimes proffered as _the_ reason–which I am not sure is entirely reflective or each individual’s perception of exaltation.

  18. StillConfused says:

    As time goes on, I am becoming more “anti” to the concept pf sealings and eternal families etc. The nicest and best people I know aren’t mormon and so won’t be in the sealed heaven. Some of the rudest people I know are sealed to people. … especially people related to me. The more I observe these dynamics, the more I don’t believe that God would set something up like that.

  19. I would suggest that sealing rituals remind us of our interdependence, which coexists with our independence.

    So the coexistence of both is important. Our agency should take both into account. In the case of independent agency, we are held accountable for values and judgments that consider our internal, eternal, self (eg. humility, ego, anger,…).

    In contrast, our agency related to interdependence considers our values and judgments that relate to the various interests outside ourselves (eg. community).

    Both coexist here, as well as in the immaterial world (eg. God/Christ/Holy Ghost)

  20. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    18 – If heaven is a “perfect” existence (however each person conceptualizes that to be) then it must mean that our concerns between the ideal and our own experience are somehow reconciled in favor of perfection. I think religion does itself a disservice in purporting or setting expectations that it can answer how these reconciliations can occur, because religion can’t provide individualized details. Religion must offer _general_ faith-based principles; not details for individuals. But the fact that we don’t understand or comprehend how all of our individual, specific concerns will work out should not be be a knock on religion itself. It’s just, we expect too much from religion in terms of understanding the exact nature of existence of the after life. It’s unsatisfying, sure. But I think part of a faith-based existence is arriving at a place of security and peace with the reality that most of us will be unable to know the details of our own afterlife and that religion can’t give them to us either. Reconciliations between the ideal (exaltation = sealed-associations only) and with how I feel and conceptualize a perfect eternity (exaltation = includes unsealed associations I have) will be made; but I’m OK not knowing how God handles that reconciliation, exactly.

    I asked a co-worker of mine at lunch, who is Christian, the following question: “Will your concept of heaven be complete if your close friends who do not believe in Christ are not there with you?” His said, “I think God loves us. And I know that heaven will be joy and happiness. So that must mean that I probably will not be aware of the pain or sadness associated with longing for someone’s absence.”

  21. Aaron, I love this. I think it really connects with the concept of an atonement having as much to do with making us at one with each other as it does with making us at one with God.

  22. Observer, if everyone is sealed to someone, then we are all sealed to each other, as in each sealing we are sealed to God.

  23. Thomas Parkin says:

    #18 many of the first will be last and last will be first

    I think you always risk hogwash when you start talking about communal experience. We will enjoy the same sociality we enjoy here, etc. We are not ants, we aren’t even geese. The path of increasing intelligence is also the path of individuation. The downside is that “community” must increasingly be chosen; is, actually, increasingly difficult; to the point at which, without love, it is impossible.

    Where I think the merit is is in this: God doesn’t thrust people apart or force them to remain together. If we remain together it will be because we will have formed a bond that we will never choose to break. The sealing power is ultimately love. In lesser kingdoms no bonds, obligations, contracts, etc. are in force. People may love one another in any state of existence, to whatever degree they are capable, and choose to remain together. Forever, as far as I know. But Eternity is a long time and there must be a lot in it, and how much tears us apart in this little world? The idea that death itself seems like a great opportunity to split seems spot on, to me.

  24. daveonline says:

    Two comments.
    1. Per # 20 “So that must mean that I probably will not be aware of the pain or sadness associated with longing for someone’s absence.”
    In addition to Enoch’s viewing of God weeping, Section 76:26 states, “And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning.” In the context of this blog I think this means that Lucifer is still “sealed” in the hearts of those who knew him. Perdition, meaning that which is irretrievably (sic?) lost implies a great paradox here since heavan includes great sorrow for those we yearn to be with, but cannot reach. Yet, our own covenants maintain our connection with them, even if they choose to not remain “bonded” (as stated in #23) and section 76.
    2. Per #18, some 30 years ago McConkie gave a talk at BYU. He spoke of sealing requiring both a physical and spiritual ordinance. He stated that many of us can see in our own lives couples who are and act spiritually sealed and that all they are lacking is the physical ordinance which can be fairly easily accomplished either in this life or the next. Meanwhile for many of us in the audience who had recieved the physical ordinance, the state of being and the condition of the heart necessary to obtain the spiritual sealing as a couple remained the far more daunting task.

    My participation in the temple also defines for me and strengthens/seals my relationship with spirits long since deceased. In the end, through love and physical ordinances, I think we can become sealed, not just to a nuclear family, but to all of God’s children. Thus I conclude from this post that when I act on my desire to see and care for the 1 out of 99 I am creating the conditions for “sealing” to occur, the physcial ordinance of which may be both a later temple connection, but also seems to be sealed through the physical act and choice I make in this world to “seal” my time and attention to them in a temporal manner.

  25. Aaron, I like this concept, it resonates with me. I believe the effects of the Atonement draw us to one another, I think that the result of the Atonement is to work witin us a desire to love and be loved, to build a community.

    The connections through Temple Sealings is interesting, does a Sealing by proxy create a strong enough bond emotionally between the individuals?, what about abandoned children? What about the “loner” who wants no one around and lives a solitary life?

    I’m starting to give more weight to a form of reincarnation, not for this subject solely but because of the evolution of Society, and absence of love throughout so many periods of time.

  26. Also I think the message from The Brethren to put aside the artificial forms of communication and interact face to face, may be as important a message as ever delivered. If we are to reach our full potential we must develope solid binding friendships.

  27. I am more am more not really understanding the same sociality that exists here…

    I’m thinking of little babies born to “parents” who neglect them to the point which they develop radical attachment disorder..or orphans in countries like Haiti or Rwanda…how can they develop the sociality that they would take with them? What about those with mental disabilities or mental diseases which greatly affect their relationships?

    I don’t know how that works..

    I also dont’ understand the nature of the partial judgement that puts us in spirit prison or paradise…waiting for the final judgment…is that a situation which requires the help of community spoken of in the OP?

    I like the reminder to devlop face to face friendships…they have a level of realtiy and opposition that forces us to choose to be humble, loving and vulnerable…in a way virtual reality does not demand.

  28. #18 – StillConfused, fwiw, that’s not Mormon theology. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of Mormon theology and much closer to Protestant theology.

    It might be the view of too many members who just won’t accept the fact that grace (“the Atonement”) is FAR more expansive in Mormonism than it is in Protestantism, but it’s not Mormon theology.

  29. I read the OP as ” Why do we have extented sealings”, more than why do we exist(?). Mormonism tells me I exist (on earth) to gain a body and learn things. I guess having relationships is part of that. OK.
    The have never understood the need for extentive sealings to pleople I don’t know. Is it to create some hugh Family Tree? Didn’t we already have that? Dosen’t DNA do it better? Why would were need a Family Tree of how we were related on earth, in the hereafter.

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