Relief Society Lesson 18: Beyond the Veil
Disclaimer: I’m stepping in for our regular lesson preparer. I’ve never taught RS before, so I hope this lesson will be of some help to you.
My comments and questions are in italics, and the manual text is in regular font. Please add your insights and presentation ideas for this lesson as a comment.
I see this lesson heading down one of two paths. First, this could be a basic, almost seminary-like lesson where we get out our shovels and dig into the scriptures, discussing the details of the three degrees of glory contained in the revelation in section 76. Or, it could be a nuanced discussion about how our knowledge (or lack thereof) about the next life affects our choices and relationships in this life. Here, I would probe for unanswered questions and what we learn from what God has and hasn’t revealed, then I would talk about where our faith in the next life centers. For some, there may be so many questions regarding sealings, works/grace, salvation, etc. that the faith portion is small. ‘I have faith that God loves me and I will feel His love after I die.’ For others, unanswered questions may not affect their faith in the afterlife or degrees of glory.
I’ve incorporated both ideas into the lesson, but you may just want to focus on one path (or something completely different!)
Since this lesson is about the three degrees of glory, maybe you could start with this (sometimes overdone) joke. It may lighten the mood and prepare for a more open discussion about this topic.
“One day a man dies, who was a devout Christian. Saint Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and begins to give him a tour of Heaven. As the tour goes on, Saint Paul points out all the different Christians. “There’s the Catholics, there’s the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Presbyterians”, and so forth. As they come to this one group way off to themselves, Saint Paul motions for the man to come closer and whispers. “Now, for this next group, we need to be really quiet. They are the Mormons and they think they’re the only ones in Heaven.”
“Although this joke makes light of this subject, discussing the rewards or punishments that await us after we die can be a very serious and personal exploration. It is so easy to get trapped in binary thinking: ‘I am doing great: Celestial Glory, here I come!’ or ‘I’ve tried for so long, I’m tired of trying and failing, maybe I should just accept that I’m Tel/Terrestrial material.’ I invite you to put aside the judging of yourself (and others!) and take this lesson at face value, perhaps as the Saints did when Joseph originally taught the doctrine. Don’t use these ideas as a stick, either to pat yourself on the back, or beat yourself with. Let’s look at this doctrine anew.”
From the Life of Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith’s work on the translation of the Bible led to a most remarkable vision of life in the eternities. On February 16, 1832, the Prophet was at work in the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, with Sidney Rigdon serving as his scribe. He was translating the Gospel of John. “From sundry revelations which had been received,” the Prophet later said, “it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one.”1
If you were Joseph, do you think you would have come to the same conclusion (that an eternal home must include more kindgoms than one)? How does this view play into our concepts of grace and works?
How has your understanding of your salvation changed over the years? Do you find comfort in the degrees of glory, or concern? How should we treat our family members who have other ideas of the afterlife?
Teachings of Joseph Smith
God has prepared three degrees of glory for His children.
“My text is on the resurrection of the dead, which you will find in the 14th chapter of John—‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ [John 14:2.] It should be—‘In my Father’s kingdom are many kingdoms,’ in order that ye may be heirs of God and joint-heirs with me. … There are mansions for those who obey a celestial law, and there are other mansions for those who come short of the law, every man in his own order.”3
What do you think ‘”mansions” means in this context? How does our current consumer society color our understanding of this important word? How do you understand it? What can we do to better understand it?
“Go and read the vision in [Doctrine and Covenants 76]. There is clearly illustrated glory upon glory—one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and a glory of the stars; and as one star differeth from another star in glory, even so do they of the telestial world differ in glory, and every man who reigns in celestial glory is a God to his dominions. …
What do we know specifically about each of these degrees of glory?
Path One: Get Out Your Shovels and Dig
In some RS classes, breaking into 3 groups could work well. Assign each group a kingdom and give them 7-10 minutes to read through section 76 and write down the specific characteristics of people in that kingdom, or requirements for entrance. If groups aren’t a good idea for your ward, you could still have silent study (bring extra copies of the D&C for folks without theirs) and assign people to study different sections. Then, you can write them on the board and talk about them.
Here’s an Ensign article from 2005 which lists the details of the degrees of glory, taken from Section 76 with verse references.
Those who receive the testimony of Jesus, receive the ordinances of the gospel, and overcome by faith will inherit the celestial kingdom.
The “honorable men of the earth,” those who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus, will inherit the terrestrial kingdom.
Those who are wicked and do not receive the gospel or the testimony of Jesus will inherit the telestial kingdom.
How did reading these lists make you feel? Are you thinking about yourself or your family? Were you encouraged or discouraged? Why?
What is the usefulness of these lists? We must be careful to judge only our own actions and not the actions of others.
What place does this study of the degrees of glory have for our lives? How does it encourage us to become closer to Christ right now?
It’s important to remember that this shouldn’t be a checklist for us. This life is about what we become, about letting Christ change our hearts.
Path Two: It’s really not that simple, is it?
(Begin with summary of each of the kingdoms, by asking the class for a few ideas from the manual or section 76)
Despite these clearly defined kingdoms, thinking of the next life is very complicated and full of questions.
What questions do you have about the next life? (list ideas may be about sealings, why there is pain and suffering in the world, polygamy, why is there only a spirit prison and spirit paradise?)
This topic can be difficult for women who are not married, who are not sealed to their spouse, or who are sealed to a former spouse. How do women in these situations find faith in the afterlife?
In the Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Posterity
February 9, 2008, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
“Individual adaptations have to be made as marital status and family circumstances differ. But all of us can agree on the pattern as it comes from God, and we can strive for its realization the best way we can.”
How do we reconcile our individual adaptation from what we know of the degrees of glory?
Joseph Smith says that in the celestial kingdom are those “who overcome by faith.”
How does this phrase apply to our study of the next life? What must we have faith in? Can faith be narrow in some areas and broad in others? Is a trust that God loves us and will make things perfect good enough? How does this change our actions and goals in this life? What do we gain as a community by having different levels of faith in the afterlife?
Close with testimony.