“There Is No Escape From the Eternal Family”
By Elder Friedrich Nietzsche
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
This past summer I was entrapped into spending a week with my family and extended relatives. I was informed that there would be poetry readings and plans to attend concerts and the theater. To my naive delight, my sister even told me we would take in a boxing match. As you know, I consider boxing to be the manliest of sports. One man, alone without aid in the ring of life, nakedly defiant, swinging his fists at an uncaring and unfeeling universe, represented in a human, all too human opponent. To stand over that opponent, his bloodshot eyes gazing up vacantly at you, his spirit crushed by your mutinous despair, his soul so haunted and broken that later you find it unremarkable that he took his own life at the first opportunity–there is no feeling that compares to such a moment of triumphant exultation, that feeling of not just destroying a life but annihilating Life itself.
But I digress. None of that turned out to be true, for my family had conspired to deceive me. Instead of Schopenhauer and Schumann, or the dramatic delights of George Bernard Shaw, I found myself trapped inside a hell that can scarcely be described in words. Indeed, I awoke from my drug-induced stupor–no, do not be surprised that my relatives drugged me, there is nothing they are not capable of toward man or beast–in the wasteland of Rocky Mountain National Park. Ostensibly I was there for a week, though it was nothing short of an eternity of eternities. Campfires, “skits,” alpine slides, hot dogs, midnight hot tub romps, and sing-a-longs, oh the endless sing-a-longs. I dare say I shall never fully recover from the ordeal.
Of course, I had long ago given up hope that there will ever be any kind of final reprieve from such miseries. I understood, upon converting to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ all those years ago in Basel, Switzerland, that the family is eternal, and there is no hiding from it. No matter how far you might run, nor how imaginative and earnest your blasphemies, it is our Heavenly Father’s work and glory to bring to pass the eternal family. We would do well to remember Elder David A. Bednar’s succinct and stunningly terrifying encapsulation of all that we teach and all that we will ever teach:
The basic purpose of all we teach and all that we do in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to make available the Priesthood authority and gospel ordinances and covenants that enable a man and a woman and their children to be sealed together and be happy at home. Period, exclamation point, end of sentence, that’s it.
There it is. There is no getting around the fact that try as you might, protest as loudly as you will, there is no escape from the Eternal Family.
Now, I simply cannot believe in a God who must be praised all the time. And so I don’t. Certainly, I cannot praise a God whose greatest desire to is consign me to an eternity with people whom I never chose to be with, whom I daily choose not to be with, and for whom togetherness is our endless lot because we happen to share the same basic genetic material. No, I will not praise such a God, though I cannot but believe that this is the only true God in all the universe. Why, I ask, should God be the coincidental consummation and embodiment of all our desires and joys? How effortlessly self-centered must one be to worship a God who is the mirror of one’s own ego? Is this not the very definition of idolatry? No, my God is a God whose sole desire is to see all families united together forever, and my testimony is that such a God is truly terrifying, at least if you have a family like mine. After a mere 15 minutes with my nephews, I am inspired to ask myself, “Is man a mistake of God’s? Or is God a mistake of man’s?” But the Restored Gospel of Jesus of Christ strongly affirms that neither is the case, though one must admit that the former is very close to the truth when it comes to every one of my uncles.
Now, I know many of you are saying to yourselves, “But Elder Nietzsche! Who would not want to live forever with their families? How can you be so cynical about this most comforting of doctrines?” A pertinent question. I know I am in in the minority here among the Brethren, indeed among the majority of the Saints. But I have long said that there are two different types of people in the Church, those who want to know and those who want to believe. Those who merely desire to believe live their lives in the belief that the long arc of eternal life consists in the joys and challenges of this world transposed and reduced to the pure bliss of the life to come, together with loved ones in a paradise of endlessness. But those who desire to know understand that everything must return, that to live within the confines of a “family” is a thought too sobering to dwell on, lest you are prepared to lose your mind in its entirety. Indeed, everything has already returned, every moment of of every time, every inch of your life. Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. If you could but accept and affirm it, you would find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things. It is here, my dear brothers and sisters, you will be found with your families.
I ask of you: What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more.” This is not the mere fantasy of an eternal life with people you always preferred to be with anyway, delighting in a frictionless world where every experience is more joyful than the last. No, eternal life is the re-living of every moment of eternity, forever and ever, the good and the bad, the holy and the blasphemous, the contemplative and the horrifying. Would, then, you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”
What if the formula for human greatness, for the consummation of the purpose for all existence is amor fati: that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity? Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness before the necessary—but to love it. You must be willing and eager to re-live the worst moments of your lives, to not desire a different world than the one in which you now live. You must gratefully cultivate the desire to not simply be with your loved ones for eternity, but to be with the whole of your loved ones for eternity, and all the darkness they have concealed within them.
That nagging mother of yours, do you think that heaven will simply burn the fault-finding out of her? Or magically suppress your father’s propensity to become enraged at the slightest inconvenience? Or your older brother’s torments–do you suppose that Paradise will pluck out his eagerness to shame you in front of your friends, or your sister’s constant speaking ill of you behind your back? No, my young friends, endless life with persons such as these is one Eternal Noogie. Have you met your son as an old man? Ah, you counter, but what about my spouse? “Oh, but what bliss, Elder Nietzsche, what sweet joy to consider spending eternity with he or she whom I fell madly in love with in my youth, which love has only deepened and matured with the passing years!” Yes, I know, I have heard it a thousand times before. And how fortunate that you happen to be one of the infinitesimally few who have truly found the yin to their yang. But your erotic calculus could never account for such a staggering amount of time. Goodness me, have you even stopped for one moment to consider what a million years together with the same person would be like? Or a billion? How about a trillion trillion years? What might the endless slog of time, the constant repetition of a billion billion days do to such a relationship? Why, the boredom and sameness alone would undo the most passionate of loves within no more than a few thousand years, by my estimate. Nevertheless, there is no way to positively prove either of our positions. Yet I dare say that those who live in searingly average and less-than-ideal marriages will find themselves nodding silently in agreement.
But this is not all! You must desire to live forever with those whose company you would never have preferred, and make of these your family. I testify that it is the grand yet terrible purpose of our Heavenly Father, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to seal the entire human family together in one grand unit, all the billions of us that have lived or will ever live on this planet. Think about this. Every neighborhood you’ve ever lived in, every community you’ve ever been apart of. Every bishop or Relief Society president you’ve ever despised. Every obnoxious neighbor whose death you fantasized about carrying out. Every dictator and tyrant and torturer and every person who has committed unspeakable acts of evil. Slapped 2gether 4evr onto the great tacky car bumper of life. RULDS2? Yes, shudderingly and despairingly, there is not a one of us who will not be. Now, I know: It is written that the murderers and the wicked and all those who reject the Gospel will be found in the Telestial Kingdom, not in the Celestial where the faithful reside. Yet what are we to make of the testimonies of prophets present and past that God’s work is for the salvation of the entire human family, even to the point that we cannot all be saved without all those who have died? It is my testimony that to become a being whose sole desire is all of that is to become a God greater than the Almighty God who governs the universe.
However, for my own part, I am weak. We are all weak. The idea of eternal recurring togetherness with actual human beings is horrifying and paralyzing once we stop hiding the truth from ourselves. It is an idea so terrible in its veracity–for even the universe itself affirms it, the law of conservation demands such an eternal recurrence of the same–that God himself hides his face from it. It is in this sense that, though we worship him as the Father of us all, God is nevertheless dead. That God might be both alive and dead should come as no shock to the faithful. For our God is both the Crucified and the Resurrected. Our God is Life and Death. And one way in which God is dead is to this unfaceable truth, but here he is dead only because we have killed him. We have killed him by not accepting the truth, by cowering before the strength of the universe instead of stretching our flesh over its merciless frame and loudly declaring we are ready for what is to come, knowing that what is to come is what has always returned to us again. We have killed him by crying for a virtual world of pure otherness in which to while away our endless time, instead of submitting to the reality of reality, that this world, these lives, these people, are all there is and all there ever will be.
We are all here on this planet, stuck with one another, in an awful togetherness that will never end, a dreadful thought that veritably drinks up the sea, wipes away the entire horizon, and unchains the earth from its sun, a thought that makes my stomach wrench and bleed. There is no escape, my dear brothers and sisters, from the Eternal Family. This is my testimony.