How could God be just if children born in the covenant were to inherit the celestial kingdom in spite of their worthiness?
An Orson Whitney quote on this subject gives some astonishment and a feeling that some may think that it is not sound LDS doctrine, i.e., too good to be true. We recognize that one must not commit sin against the Holy Ghost, regardless of anything else. Moreover, We know of the descriptions of suffering and payment to be made–certainly not pleasant (but necessary) to endure. In other articles, however, we’ve read about people forfeiting their exaltation through sin and breaking of covenants.
How does this relate to and reconcile with being born in the covenant?
Just for completeness, let me add one other source of the statement in question by Orson F. Whitney—
“I have here an interesting statement by Elder Orson F. Whitney: “The Prophet Joseph Smith declared-and he never taught more comforting doctrine-that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God” (Conference Report, April 1929). If any of you have a child or loved one in that condition, do not give up. Pray for them and love them and reach out to them and help them. (Jordan Utah South Regional Conference, March 2, 1997.) (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p.54)
Now let’s explore that doctrine a bit to see if we can demonstrate its rationality. In the first place, some given premises—
1) God is just
Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just (Mosiah 29:12).
2) God is merciful and kind
thou [God] art merciful and kind forever (Moses 7:30).
3) God’s word is always fulfilled, without an question or exception
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38).
The eternal marriage covenant in the holy temple is a conditional covenant. It’s fulfilment depends on the faithfulness of the participants. If either of the participants violates any of the conditions of that sacred covenant, it is no longer valid, and the marriage of such people terminates at the death of the first partner to die, exactly the same as all the marriages that are performed by any other authority in the world.
The sealing of children to parents, on the other hand, has no extenuating conditions associated with it. Those sealings, pronounced by the authority and power of the holy priesthood, articulate the very words of God. They are therefore always fulfilled. How then would the above premises relate to such an inevitable condition that is deemed to apply in spite of the worthiness of the recipient?
How is justice obtained in such a condition? From Orson F. Whitney’s statement—
“They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path…”
Such recreant children, depending on the degree of their disobedience, may not even come forth in the first resurrection, and would be remanded to the custody of Satan for the thousand year period until the second resurrection at the end of the millennium. They would have paid the full price for all their wickedness, just as if there had been no divine redemption. Justice will have been served, and they would have learned obedience by the things that they would have suffered. The price to justice having been fully paid, the promise made to them in the holy temple would remain in force and they would be restored to their parent’s custody in the celestial kingdom of God. However, in the celestial kingdom there are three glories or degrees—
In the celestial glory there are three glories or degrees; 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]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase (Doctrine & Covenants 131:1-4).
The highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom is called exaltation. Thus, those who are saved in the celestial kingdom, but have not taken upon themselves or have not fulfilled the required conditions of the eternal marriage covenant—
when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory (Doctrine & Covenants 132:16).