Relief Society Lesson 22: Gaining Knowledge of Eternal Truths
Yeah! This lesson includes my very favorite Joseph Smith sentiment: ““Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth.” My father, a man of faith and of science, had me memorize that phrase. It was a bit of a mantra for him – a way to reconcile searching for truth “by study and also by faith.” He saw God in geological strata and drosophila DNA. Only a religion big enough to include all Truth was worth his time. That’s what he taught his daughters (and sons). If I had a chance to teach this lesson this week, I would dedicate it to his memory.
I’d place several books on the table – Bible, Book of Mormon, a geology textbook, To Kill a Mockingbird, a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, The Chronicles of Narnia, a cookbook, etc. I’d then write on the board, “The glory of God in intelligence, or in other words Light and Truth” (D&C 93:36) Ask for reflections about that scripture. What is light? What is truth?
I’d then summarize the “From the Life of Joseph Smith” section, including George Cannon’s reflections on how much Josoph loved learning. Sometimes we play up the idea that he was uneducated – but the Prophet was a voracious learner. He loved languages, loved study, loved to learn from others. He actively sought out people who had training in areas he did not – he hungered for knowledge. Are we hungry to learn more?
Section 1: The gospel of Jesus Christ embraces all truth
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.”
Read this twice, and then ask for reflections. This is an expansive definition of “Mormonism” – it invites opening ourselves to truth, opening ourselves to God. How do we determine “truth?” Where can we look for it? Have you had the experience of learning something new – something that had nothing seemingly to do with religion – and experiencing a spiritual insight? (Here is where I would bring in To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. – but then, I’m an English teacher – others might find such insight while studying gardening or physics).
“I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints … are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time. . . . .I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes [limits], and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’ [Job 38:11]; which I cannot subscribe to.”
What is “creed?” Why was Joseph Smith wary of creeds? How does this quote fit with your understanding of the gospel?
“I have always had the satisfaction of seeing the truth triumph over error, and darkness give way before light.”
This reminds me a lot of Martin Luther King Jr.’s saying: “The arc of the universe is long and bends toward justice.” It’s a supremely hopeful sentiment and tells us something about Joseph Smith.
Section II: Gaining knowledge of eternal truths is essential to obtaining salvation.
“Knowledge is necessary to life and godliness , , , knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is. … In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because He has greater knowledge; and hence He knows how to subject all other beings to Him. He has power over all.”
“Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, and seek for every good thing” [see 2 Peter 1:5].
“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”16
Again, ask for reflections. Relief Society manuals used to include lessons on art, music, literature, etc. – which seems very much in keeping with this sentiment. But that was a different era. Women today often lead very busy lives, What can we do to nurture our intellects? How do we find time to study and learn? This is a good opportunity to bring in the 13th Article of Faith – and provide a forum to share practical ideas! (Also a good chance to plug enrichment activities that are learning oriented? Or to brainstorm new enrichment groups? Or to share books that have helped increase your understanding of the scriptures? Or to promote the virtue of library cards, continuing education, and reading to children?).
Section III: We obtain knowledge of eternal truths through diligent study and prayer.
“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart! …:
This passage seems to promote not just prayer but pondering and meditation and exploring. How can study enrich our relationship with God?
Section IV: We gain knowledge of eternal truths a little at a time; we can learn all things as fast as we are able to bear them.
“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”
This is the “comfort quote” – the reminder that we have to start where we are, and that we are all somewhere on the ladder . . . . a nice way to close.