Will the Circle Be Unbroken? is a Christian hymn written in 1907/1908 by Ada R. Habershon and Charles H. Gabriel. The song asks the question of whether or not earthly families will be reunited in heaven. As popular as the song was, though, it was A.P. Carter’s 1935 reworking of it, entitled Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)?, that made the song a national treasure. Truth be told, the Carter version has become so popular that it has rendered the original version virtually obscure.
Carter was a founding member of country music’s legendary Carter family, and his new lyrics for the song told the story of the death and funeral of the narrator’s mother. The Carter family sang their version as part of their shows for years. Then June Carter married Johnny Cash, and he took the song to an even wider audience. From there, the Carter version has been covered by some of the biggest names in music history, including Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Willie Nelson, the Neville Brothers, and the Allman Brothers band.
In answer to the song’s question, let me say that as important as your earthly family is, it pales in significance to your membership (or lack of it) in God’s eternal family. Despite what a million movies, television shows, books, and songs — to say nothing of the entire Mormon religion with its false doctrine of “celestial marriage” — tell us, earthly relationships do not extend into the afterlife. I will know Tonya in heaven, but she won’t be my wife. I will know Ryan and Royce as well, but they won’t be my sons. I will know my mom and dad, but they won’t be my parents. I will know my brother, but he won’t be my brother. These relationships won’t be inferior to what they are now; they’ll just be different. Not worse. Better. Everything in heaven is better.
What’s key, though, is that we will all be there. And why will we all be there? Will it be because everybody ends up in heaven? No. Will it be because we were such a tight-knit group on earth? No. Will it be because our love spans the test of time across the ages? No. We will all be there because each of us, as an individual, has placed saving belief in Jesus Christ and thereby become a Christian. That’s how one becomes a part of the eternal family of God. Consider the following passages (all from the N.K.J.V.):
- And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mothers and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven (He explains in John 6:40 that this will equates to receiving eternal life by believing in Him) is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
- But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
- Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
- For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)
- Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone… (Ephesians 2:19-20)
These passages all teach the same thing. They teach that placing life-changing, eternity-altering, soul-saving belief in Jesus Christ is how you become a part of the family of God. And what’s truly fascinating are the three ways by which the Bible analogizes the Christian becoming a part of that family. Let’s look at each of the three.
First, to place saving belief in Jesus is to become a “born again” “babe in Christ.” This means that the Christian is (in a very real sense) born into the family of God. As we read in John 3:3:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (N.K.J.V.)
Other passages that speak of the Christian as becoming a “born again” “babe in Christ” are: John 3:5-8; 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:22-25; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:12-14; and 1 Peter 2:1-3.
Second, to place saving belief in Jesus is to become an adoptee. This means that the Christian is (in a very real sense) adopted into the family of God. As we read in Galatians 4:4-7, Paul writing to the Christians of Galatia:
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (N.K.J.V.)
Other passages that speak of the Christian as being adopted are: Romans 8:14-17; Romans 8:22-24; and Ephesians 1:3-6.
Finally, third, to place saving belief in Jesus is to become a bride. This occurs because the new Christian automatically becomes a part of Christ’s bride, the church. This means that (in a very real sense) the Christian marries into the family of God. As we read in 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul writing to the Christians of Corinth:
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (N.K.J.V.)
Other passages that speak of the Christian as becoming a part of the bride of Christ are: Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20 John 3:27-30; Ephesians 5:22-33; and Revelation 19:5-9.
You see, the Christian just can’t be more a part of the eternal family of God. He/she is born into it, adopted into it, and married into it. Because of this, the Christian will enjoy a dual existence in eternity as not only a child of God but also a part of Christ’s bride. All earthly relationships will be rendered null and void as God the Father fills the role of the Christian’s father and God the Son fills the role of the Christian’s spouse. So, to answer the old song’s question, the family circle will be unbroken in heaven, but it will be a much different (and better) family circle than anything we experience on this earth.