Gospel Principles 2: Our Heavenly Family
For those of you planning lessons using the Gospel Principles manual for the first time, you may want to look at the great advice Amelia and EmilyCC put together here and here for tips on ways to help flesh out these lessons for meaningful discussion.
Surprisingly, I already had the chance to teach this lesson in my own Relief Society class last week as our Stake decided to combine lessons 1 and 2. As a guinea pig, I was able to learn a few things that worked well in this lesson and am happy to pass them on to you.
We Are Children of Our Heavenly Father
I was really pleased to see this thoughtful question the manual posed at the start of the lesson: What do scriptures and latter-day prophets teach us about our relationship to God? Possible ideas you may want to discuss in answer to the question:
- Modern revelation teaches that our God is a literal parent. How is having a relationship with a Heavenly Parent different from having a relationship with other notions of God (Heavenly King, Judge, Lord, Creator, Almighty)? You may also want to read the Joseph F. Smith quote here that our “spirit[s] [were] begotten and born of heavenly parents and reared to maturity” in the preexistence. What are the kinds of things you imagine our heavenly parents would have wanted to impress upon us to prepare us for mortality?
- In my class we also read D&C 93:29 “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” I posed the question of how knowing that God did not create us, but rather organized us helps us better understand our relationship to him and others. What does knowing that our intelligence is co-eternal with God’s teach us about ourselves and our own potential? What does it teach us about God’s understanding of us as individuals? What depth can it add to our understanding of others?
We Developed Personalities and Talents While We Lived in Heaven
I think the most important idea to impress here is the recognition that in Mormon theology, we don’t believe that we enter the world as a blank slate. We each have eternal histories. Rather than focusing on the word “talents” (which I think often makes people think of literal “talent show” talents and it becomes easy to get off topic) I would instead emphasize the notion of having unique personalities, dispositions and abilities that are in part formed by our pre-mortal experiences. An interesting question to pose your class may be to ask if there are particular qualities or personality traits that members of your class feel have been with them for longer than this life? Are some of those qualities things they need to develop? Are some of them things they need to overcome?
Our Heavenly Father Presented a Plan for Us to Become Like Him
So now we’ve gotten to the big question: What is the purpose of life? Although most members of your class will be very familiar with the idea of the Plan of Salvation, there is actually a lot here that deserves rigorous thinking and discussion.
If we take the section heading at face value, the purpose of life would seem to be for us to become more like God. Not just to grow closer to God or obey better, but to begin to become gods ourselves! You may want to read from the manual on page 10: “Our Heavenly Father knew we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left Him for a time. He wanted us to develop the godlike qualities that He has. To do this, we needed to leave our premortal home . . .”
Ask your class why leaving God to come to earth was necessary. Possible ideas you may want to discuss in answer to the question:
- This is our chance to find out who we really are. Like a teenager leaving home for the first time, there are things you can’t know about yourself until you are making choices for yourself: What do you really love? How do you really want to spend your time? What do you most value? Etc.
- Read Alma 42:7 “And now ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow their own will.” Emphasize that the purpose of this life is being subject to our own wills, figuring out what our desires are since this is what we’re going to get in the end (Alma 41:5-7).
- From the manual on page 11, forgetting our heavenly home was “necessary so we could exercise our agency to choose good or evil without being influenced by the memory of living with our Heavenly Father. Thus we could obey Him because of our faith in Him, not because of our knowledge or memory of Him.” How do “knowledge” and “memory” differ from faith?
As the concluding thought to your lesson, you may want to ask how can exercising our personal agency helps us to become more like our Heavenly Parents.
I found the following testimony from a sister in my ward here in Baltimore incredibly moving in making this point: This sister shared a story about a day she was taking the bus to a part of town with which she was unfamiliar. She suddenly realized that she had missed her stop and no longer knew how to get to her destination. Her first impulse was to pray for God to tell her where she should go. But just as she began her prayer, she was impressed not to ask God for directions but instead to trust in the brain God gave her. She was surprised at this turn of events but followed the prompting. After a bit of an adventure that included some wrong turns, she did make it to her destination. Upon arrival her first act was to pray to her Heavenly Father and thank Him for giving her a mind she could trust. She testified that the experience left her feeling closer to God and full of gratitude for His awareness of her particular gifts and abilities.
As the ultimate parent, God understands there are qualities and understanding we can only develop through our own experience. It is important for us to remember that often what we experience in life is the direct result of a world organized around personal agency and chance. When we signed on for the plan, we knew it was dangerous and it would hurt. Satan’s plan spared hurt, but forfeited divine progression. By remembering that the particular events and circumstances of our lives are less about God’s will and more about the will and randomness of this widely peopled earth, we can respond better to our experiences while learning more about our eternal selves and hopefully better develop the godlike qualities that our Heavenly Parents most desired would be the product of our time here.
Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.