Quirky Questions in Mormon Theology: Can there be an odd number of people in Heaven?

January 31, 2013 | 19 comments
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Well, if they’re Mormons, there will definitely be a number of odd people in Heaven! ::rimshot::

So, let’s see. There’s a popular LDS belief that only married couples get to Heaven. But is that really church doctrine? And could there be an odd number of people in Heaven?

Sort of. Maybe. Ish.

D&C 131 reads:

1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

Does this mean, only paired, married couples in Heaven? Maybe. But it’s complicated. Let’s run through some ways in which an odd number of people could get to Heaven:

1. The possibility of a gender-specific rule.

The D&C only says that men who aren’t sealed don’t-go to the highest degree. So maybe women who aren’t-sealed are eligible for the highest degree just fine.

Of course, this might be an area where the male pronoun is meant to include both. But it might not. If church members believe that men and women have different sets of rules in lots of areas, why not here?

2. The possibility of celestial polygamy and/or polyandry.

Yeah. We’ll just mention this one and move on.

3. The possibility of part-Heavenly pairings. Take a look back at section 131. A person needs to be sealed, to get to the highest degree. But that doesn’t necessarily imply that their partner will be going to the highest degree with them, does it? Suppose we have a couple, Amalickiah and Eliza, one of whom is righteous and the other of whom is not. They’ve been sealed. I think the sealing means that Eliza can progress to the highest degree, even if Amalickiah cannot. At least, that’s what the D&C would seem to indicate. No?

Of course, all of this illustrates that when it comes to Mormon doctrine on sealing, there are a whole lot of uncertainties. We don’t really _know_ much about how Heaven will work. But I do think that we can’t say that church doctrine definitely rules against the possibility of a number of odd people — err, an odd number of people — going to Heaven.

19 Responses to Quirky Questions in Mormon Theology: Can there be an odd number of people in Heaven?

  1. Dustin on January 31, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Related: How many angles can dance on the head of a pin?

  2. Adam G. on January 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    4. God’s creation of men and women is infinite. See Hilbert’s Hotel. For every man there can be exactly one woman. Or a thousand. Or vice versa. However you want. When you’re dealing with infinities, matching problems aren’t problems.

  3. Mark B. on January 31, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Re #1. Do you suppose that more Angles than Saxons can dance on that pinhead?

  4. MC on January 31, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I’m not sure how many angles can dance on the head of a pin; I just know that they’ll add up to 360 degrees.

  5. whizzbang on January 31, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I am single Mormon guy who lives, and can’t move away from where I live, in a city with no single women my age or close to my age. My options are date a non Mormon, stay single or hope that by some off chance some women moves here. I would get married in a heartbeat but there is just no one around and I don’t want to be told sorry you can’t get into the Heaven club because you’re single, as if being single or married was the deciding factor for getting into heaven.

  6. IDIAT on January 31, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    If we didn’t have other sources of modern revelation explaining this and other matters dealing with such things, I could account for the confusion. But, since we do, then we don’t. Have any uncertainties, that is. Probably won’t be any odd people, just peculiar.

  7. dave on January 31, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    sorry idiat, but we have an incredible amount of uncertainties. kaimi’s number 2 was dismissed with a wave of the magic wand, but is in large part the crux of the matter. in addition, the whole “don’t worry sisters who do not have opportunity to marry, all blessings will be available to you” is wrapped up in kaimi’s number one as well…

    additionally, i’m working under the premise that kaimi means what we commonly refer to as “exaltation”, ie that highest level of heaven when he actually says “heaven”…if he means “celestial kingdom” or even “terrestrial and celestial together” (and a case could then be made to include telestial as well, that further muddies the waters.

  8. Seth R. on January 31, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I don’t see what is wrong with the idea of Celestial polygamy whatsoever (and I mean “polygamy” as encompassing both polygyny and polyandry). Neither does my wife.

    No one asks me to pick which of my kids I love the most. Why are the rules suddenly different when it comes to marriage in heaven.

    And you don’t get to respond to this with mortal problems that will presumably no longer apply in the Celestial Kingdom.

  9. Seth R. on January 31, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    I also think that people need to consider that the concept of Zion – you know, all that stuff about being of “one heart and one mind” and all that – is far more encompassing and radical than we are comfortable with now. Certainly Joseph Smith seemed to think so – as his theological experimentation suggests.

    I remember debating once on an Evangelical blog about the common Evangelical criticism of “Celestial sex” by retorting that Evangelicals believe all the saved are made one with God anyway – which by implication means they are being made one with each other in “one big heavenly orgy” – indicating a far more “promiscuous” heaven than anything the Mormons cooked up.

    One of my Evangelical friends retorted that oneness with God in Evangelical heaven didn’t involve sex.

    I responded – “sexual orgy, spiritual/emotional orgy – what’s the difference?”

    OK, cute… but now I kind of wonder if our Evangelical friends aren’t onto something. What does oneness with God really entail? Can you be one with God without being one with all the other people up there? And isn’t sex merely a physical metaphor for the deep emotional oneness that characterizes the Godhead? How much are we being asked to accept in heaven anyway?

    I think Joseph Smith was seeing the implications of it in the period before his death. I think the rest of the church has simply wussed-out in taking his project to its logical theological conclusion.

    Hate to break it to you, but having more than one husband or wife in heaven is probably the least of your panicked mortal worries.

  10. jader3rd on February 1, 2013 at 1:37 am

    I know that no one wants to think about #3, but it’s my belief that as long as you live up to your covenants, that God will reward you with the just reward. If you lived up to your side of fulfilling spousal covenants, you will have a worthy, matching spouse in the Celestial Kingdom. It might not be the exact individual that you were sealed to during mortality, but should you achieve perfection you deserve to have a perfect spouse.
    I know that that thought really bursts the bubble of every LDS hopeless romantic, but it’s the conclusion that I’ve come to to deal with #3.
    I’ve even half wondered if when we all make it to the other side that God will say “I don’t believe it; but y’all screwed up and no one married the correct person. Here, let me pair everyone off with their perfect spouse”. I don’t think it’s true, but I’ve mulled over the possibility of people complaining should God say that He’s going to match them with their perfect companion.

  11. Seth R. on February 1, 2013 at 2:42 am

    jader – if you believe the point of heaven is to get matched up with the theoretically “perfect person” doesn’t that kind of destroy the idea that we should try to match up with less than ideal people at all? If you take this idea to its logical conclusion – God shouldn’t bother with any of us – since none of us are an ideal match with him as children.

    I find the entire idea of the “ideal someone” to be rather un-Christian personally.

  12. jader3rd on February 1, 2013 at 10:15 am

    @Seth, I don’t think that the purpose of heaven is to get matched up with the perfect person, but even if it was that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our best to grow and gain experience (including marriage) while here on the earth. I believe that’s what Paul was communicating to the Thessalonians; just because Christ is coming again soon, doesn’t mean that you can give up on active living, you’re still here on the earth for a reason.
    If everyone who achieves the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom could be described as “perfect”, then (theoretically) anyone could be happily married to anyone else of the opposite gender in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.
    I don’t think that God will break up a sealing that happened between two people who lived up to their covenants. I only said that I’ve mused about the idea.

  13. IDIAT on February 1, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    “I don’t think that God will break up a sealing that happened between two people who lived up to their covenants. ” That, to me, is the key. In fact, He can’t. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much point in performing sealings. Presuming the parties keep their covenants, it would be sealed by the Holy Spirit and in full force. God also won’t break up a sealing that’s been done vicariously and is subsequently accepted by the parties, again assuming the parties keep their covenants. (Handbook 2, 2.1.2) I’m with Seth R. – all this worry about who goes with who becomes a non-issue. And because I believe we’ll have the same sociality in the spirit world that we do here, I think there will be more opportunities to build relationships. I wonder: can a person “keep their covenants” and, at the end of the day, choose not to be sealed to their spouse? It seems like once you’ve said “yes” in the sealing ceremony, then as a matter of fact, any decision to “opt out” would not be keeping your covenants.

  14. IDIAT on February 1, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Seth R. #8 – the one small quibble is that we aren’t asked to become “one flesh” with our children. The polyamorous take your position, that we can “love” more than one person, similar to the way we “love” our children. However, I think the “love” that exists between a husband and wife is far different that the love that exists between parents and children. Of course, ultimately our children are in reality our brothers and sisters, so that puts a different spin on things. Still, being sealed to a spouse, with all the promises and blessings promised in that ordinance, is different than the promises and blessings promised when children are sealed to parents.

  15. IDIAT on February 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    This is probably going even further afield, but it exemplifies a few things. Take a sealed couple in their 80’s. H thinks W is a crabby nag, and W thinks H is an obnoxious fart, and they treat each other accordingly. They won’t seek a divorce from one another because of the kids, culture, societal pressure, whatever other reason you can think of. Each secretly thinks: When I pass beyond the veil, I hope I’m not stuck with him/her. My point is: are they really honoring their sealing covenant? I don’t know. I don’t think so. All is not lost, as I believe once they hit the spirit world their attitudes and feelings might change. (FWIW, I’ve heard of varying situations where couples are just treading water, waiting for their marriages to end by death of spouse.) I think too many of us treat our sealings as some perfunctory performance. We take it for granted, probably the same way we often take the sacrament for granted. I don’t think there’s too much worry of being stuck with someone for eternity. My guess is that fear/loathing/whatever of your spouse will be sufficient to negate the sealing unless one gets an attitude adjustment in the spirit world. And of course, your spouse’s unrighteousness will not prevent you from going to the CK. Another reason why I say there will be a whole lot of relationship building in the spirit world.

  16. Seth R. on February 2, 2013 at 1:58 am

    The problem is IDIAT, I think we do see real-life evidence that the human heart can contain more than one spouse. Every time a widow or widower remarries and has a happy go of it we see a new case-in-point why marriage is not necessarily exclusive to one individual in heaven, nor need it be.

  17. IDIAT on February 2, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Seth R. – #16 – Hence by witty ditty: Why are we serial monogamists in mortality but plural polyamorists in perpetuity?

  18. Jonovitch on February 4, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    The opening post conflates “heaven” and “celestial kingdom.” This is a popular notion in Mormondom, but it’s not accurate doctrine (rather folk doctrine) according to our own scriptures.

    The reality is, almost everyone born on earth will “go to heaven.” Each of the three “degrees of glory” are kingdoms of heaven. Yes, aiming for anything lower than the celestial level is a sub-optimal goal (and that whole tangential argument), but the official doctrine is clear that whoever makes it to the terrestrial or even telestial kingdom will still inherit a kingdom of glory, or in other words “go to heaven” (according to the common understanding of that phrase).

    Some people (including some Mormons) have a problem accepting this teaching, given the evil things some people do. I don’t get it entirely myself, but I accept it and choose to see it is an evidence of God’s unfathomable and incomprehensible patience, love, and mercy for all his creations, not just a precious few.

    In short, heaven is bigger than the celestial kingdom. We might want to not act so surprised when we see our neighbors there, too.

  19. Adam Greenwood on February 5, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    It’s not really folk doctrine, its folk syntax, since what people mean by ‘heaven’ is quite clear from context.