This is Life Eternal
The search for eternal life has been a concern of many religions and philosophical traditions throughout human history. This is especially poignant in our own tradition – Adam and Eve were immortal, ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, became subject to death, and were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life by angels with flaming swords. We have been seeking after that eternal life ever since.
Eternal life is spoken of at church as something that is far in the future and only for a privileged few – straight, temple married, checklist-followers. Heaven is seen as an exclusive country club for the extra-special. It’s even tiered so there’s an exclusive part of the exclusive heaven, sort of like “The Best Place” in the sitcom The Good Place.
However, God is more expansive than that. When Jesus delivered the Great Intercessory Prayer, He said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”  There is no checklist. To gain eternal life, we must know God.
English uses the word “know” to mean a few different things. This was brought home to me in high school when I learned French. In French, there are two different words for “know”. There is savoir, which means intellectual knowledge – to know about, and there is connaître, which means experiential knowledge – to understand. The kind of knowing we need for eternal life is connaître. Just knowing about God is insufficient – even Satan knows about God.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love…Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.1 John 4:7-8, 20-21
It’s really that simple. We gain eternal life by knowing God, and we know God by loving one another. Doctrine and Covenants 19 tells us that eternal punishment doesn’t mean punishment that never ends. It means God’s punishment because Eternal is a name for God. By extrapolation, that means eternal life is God’s life.
The beauty of this is that we don’t have to wait for the hereafter to experience eternal life, and we don’t have to meet some pre-defined checklist. Anyone can experience eternal life right now, including people who church leaders explicitly exclude from eternal life. People of any race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, marital status, personality type, etc. are welcome. I have a dear friend who is a smoker. The church would say that since he can’t qualify for a temple recommend, he can’t have eternal life. But he has a heart of gold and is one of the most loving people I know. When I need help, I ask him to pray for me because God listens to him.
I’m single, so the church says I can’t go to the extra-special heaven, but God doesn’t exclude me from eternal life because I can love. I made this discovery a few years ago, and it has changed my life. I realized a while back that I will never be a “good Mormon”. That ship has sailed. I’m not living a cute Pinterestified life as a SAHM of 4.5 smiling blonde children. I’m single on the wrong side of 30 with a career. So I decided that since I couldn’t be a “good Mormon”, I would focus my efforts instead on being a good Christian.
I still teach Primary and attend the temple. But in addition to that, I found people I could love and serve, causes I could support, and I opened my home to people who need it. And I have become happier than I could ever imagine. Of course I still have challenges and sadness, but on the whole, it’s wonderful. Eternal life agrees with me. I have a peace that I couldn’t have imagined was possible. And you can have it, too.
As I have come to know God, I’ve become acquainted with a Being who is more welcoming and open than I ever expected. God rejoices in the differences that make us unique and doesn’t want a bunch of Stepford followers. God wants you, God wants me, God wants that odd person living down the street. And God wants us all to have the kind of life that God has, right now, even before death. John 17:3
 see Doctrine and Covenants 19:11