Relief Society Lesson 35: Redemption for the Dead

by EmilyCC

I think the beginning of this lesson has some good background on how Joseph Smith’s life experiences prepared him to receive revelation for redeeming the dead (this lesson is talking primarily about baptisms for the dead and endowments, marriage isn’t discussed).  I thought the section below might be a nice way to talk about why people outside of Mormondom might be offended by this practice.

When Alvin died, the family asked a Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, New York, to officiate at his funeral. As Alvin had not been a member of the minister’s congregation, the clergyman asserted in his sermon that Alvin could not be saved. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, recalled: “[The minister] … intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it.”

How do you think Joseph’s family felt during the funeral?
We know there are people who don’t want baptisms for the dead performed for their ancestors.  Do they have legitimate reasons for not wanting this done?  Why should we be respectful about this?

Teachings of Joseph Smith
God loves all His children and will judge all people according to the law they have received.

 “God judges men (and women) according to the use they make of the light which He gives them.”

I think the above is the best quote of this section.  I would use it as a springboard for dicussion:
What does JS mean by “light?” 
Can you think of other descriptive words that could be used instead?
What do you think of this statement?
Do you have a personal story that frames your understanding of this idea?
The Savior, Jesus Christ, offers the opportunity for forgiveness and deliverance to both the living and the dead.

I’ve broken up the big block quote below, and I would have the women in class read each scripture and then, you (or someone else) can paraphrase JS’s commentary.

 “Peter, also, in speaking concerning our Savior, says, that ‘He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah’ (1 Peter 3:19, 20). Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah; and what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not! Let His own declaration testify.

‘He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.’ (Luke 4:18.)

Isaiah has it—‘To bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness from the prison house.’ (Isaiah 42:7.) It is very evident from this that He not only went to preach to them, but to deliver, or bring them out of the prison house. …

God is perfectly just and merciful to all people, living and dead.

“The idea that some men form of the justice, judgment, and mercy of God, is too foolish for an intelligent man to think of: for instance, it is common for many of our orthodox preachers to suppose that if a man is not what they call converted, if he dies in that state he must remain eternally in hell without any hope. Infinite years in torment must he spend, and never, never, never have an end; and yet this eternal misery is made frequently to rest upon the merest casualty [chance]. The breaking of a shoe-string, the tearing of a coat of those officiating, or the peculiar location in which a person lives, may be the means, indirectly, of his damnation, or the cause of his not being saved.

“I will suppose a case which is not extraordinary: Two men, who have been equally wicked, who have neglected religion, are both of them taken sick at the same time; one of them has the good fortune to be visited by a praying man, and he gets converted a few minutes before he dies; the other sends for three different praying men, a tailor, a shoemaker, and a tinman; the tinman has a handle to solder to a pan, the tailor has a button-hole to work on some coat that he needed in a hurry, and the shoemaker has a patch to put on somebody’s boot; they none of them can go in time, the man dies, and goes to hell: one of these is exalted to Abraham’s bosom, he sits down in the presence of God and enjoys eternal, uninterrupted happiness, while the other, equally as good as he, sinks to eternal damnation, irretrievable misery and hopeless despair, because a man had a boot to mend, the button-hole of a coat to work, or a handle to solder on to a saucepan.

“The plans of Jehovah are not so unjust, the statements of holy writ so [illusory], nor the plan of salvation for the human family so incompatible with common sense; at such proceedings God would frown with indignance, angels would hide their heads in shame, and every virtuous, intelligent man would recoil.

This is a strong statement.  Why do you think JS took the time to spell out this idea giving various analogies to make his point?

Excerpt from a block quote: To say that the heathens would be damned because they did not believe the Gospel would be preposterous, and to say that the Jews would all be damned that do not believe in Jesus would be equally absurd; for ‘how can they believe on him of whom they have not heard, and how can they hear without a preacher, and how can he preach except he be sent’ [see Romans 10:14–15]; consequently neither Jew nor heathen can be culpable for rejecting the conflicting opinions of sectarianism, nor for rejecting any testimony but that which is sent of God, for as the preacher cannot preach except he be sent, so the hearer cannot believe [except] he hear a ‘sent’ preacher, and cannot be condemned for what he has not heard, and being without law, will have to be judged without law.”

What do we know about other churches’ views of salvation during this time period (remind the class that JS grew up in an area known as the “Burned Over District”)? 

With history in mind, I think this is a surpisingly ecumenical statement for the time period.  How can we show radical ecumenism in our society today, especially as a church who is known for trying to “save” the dead?  (I think this could be a great place to push a discussion: how do we separate the idea that God loves all and will treat all equally while also pushing that everyone gets baptized into OUR church?)

It is our duty and privilege to be baptized and confirmed for those who have died without the gospel.

Rather than reading the quotes in this section, I would start with looking at the scriptures and seeing how they influence our understanding of the doctrine of redeeming the dead.

Isaiah 24:21–22
John 3:5
1 Cor. 15:29
Isaiah 49:8–9
Isaiah 61:1–3
John 5:25
D&C 138:11–37

Why is it our duty to perform this work for those who have died?
How can we benefit from doing this? (both the genealogy and finding names in addition to doing the actual temple work)
Have you had experiences in the temple when doing work for the dead that you’d like to share?

Close with testimony.

 P.S. I thought this hymn would be nice to use in the lesson: Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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11 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Emily, great lesson. I love how you’ve highlighted JS’s most inclusive and ecumenical ideas, while at the same time addressing the reasons some of his ideas are problematic for other faiths.

  2. LeAnne says:

    there is a perfect hymn on pg. 283 called, “The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone”. I am having a sister sing it in class. The words are perfect for the lesson. I have never heard it befor though.

  3. Anne says:

    Hi there, I always love reading these ideas for the lessons.

    However, I believe Redemption for the Dead is lesson 35 – not 34 as stated in your title.

    Thanks

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Thanks, Caroline!

    LeAnne, this hymn would be a lovely addition to the lesson, and I love that you planend ahead to have someone sing it. I always love a musical performance in RS.

    Anne, you are so right! Thanks for letting me know!

  5. Cumorah says:

    I have read and re-read this lesson from the manual – and haven’t started really preparing, because I can’t get over 1 big hurdle. I like to look at lessons as a non-member, who has never heard this doctrine before would see it…and from that perspective, I have a question that I hope you can help me resolve.
    The lesson talks repeatedly about how merciful God is, and how men will be judged by what they knew in their mortal life, and by the desires of their hearts. If this is true, and they will be given blessings according to the light they had, why is it imperitve that WE do the work of ordinances for them? Why wouldn’t they be given that opportunity in Heaven – instead of sitting around waiting and just hoping that someone will find their name & do the work for them? (especially when they were NEVER given the opportunity to hear the doctrine of salvation on earth?) Why would their independent salvation be so heavily dependent on someone else? Even in Joseph’s vision of Alvin – he saw that he had inherited the Celestial Kingdom w/o being baptized – or sealed to someone for that matter. (D&C 137:6) (Of course, some explain this away saying that Joseph Smith saw the END RESULT of the process required to save the dead – is there a better, clearer, founded in prophecy explanation?). D&C 138 talks of all those righteous spirits awaiting Christ’s resurrection so they could be resurrected & exalted also…but how could they be according to the rule that ordinance work MUST be performed humously? Were they all baptized and given the Holy Ghost, and sealed with the proper Priesthood authority while on earth? Why then would Christ have to “preach to them the everlasting gospel”(D&C 138:19) as if for the first time?
    I’m not trying to be a nay-sayer, I really am just trying to figure this out, and need some help!
    I guess the simple version of my question is: Why is it required of everyone to have the ordinances of baptism, endowment, and sealing performed here on earth, even when those opportunities were never presented to them. Especially, with the understanding that God is so merciful that He will only judge people according to the light and knowledge that they had here. HELP PLEASE! THANKS!

  6. Kati says:

    Thanks for posting this lesson. If for nothing else it always gets me thinking about some things I missed.
    Cumorah, I am not sure how much this will help. But a few ideas….
    1. “why is it imperitive that WE do the work of ordinances for them? Why wouldn’t they be given that opportunity in Heaven – instead of sitting around waiting and just hoping that someone will find their name & do the work for them?”
    We are doing the work here on earth so that everyone’s work will be done BEFORE they go to Heaven. In order to get to Heaven you have to make covenants that allow the Atonement to serve it’s purpose.
    The Plan of Salvation…we were sent here to get a body and be tested, that test includes making and keeping sacred covenants HERE on earth. (baptism, etc..)

    2. “Why would their independent salvation
    be so heavily dependent on someone else?”
    If they never had the chance…God is Merciful, YET he is also JUST and we all need the same ordinances done here on earth to GET TO Heaven. Everyone must be cleansed to be in the presence of God. They must be baptized here on earth and receive all of the saving ordinances. That is why it is so important to do the work for them.
    4. “some explain this away saying that Joseph Smith saw the END RESULT of the process required to save the dead – is there a better, clearer, founded in prophecy explanation?”
    No. That is what he saw…the end result.

    5. “D&C 138 talks of all those righteous spirits awaiting Christ’s resurrection so they could be resurrected & exalted also…but how could they be according to the rule that ordinance work MUST be performed humously? Were they all baptized and given the Holy Ghost, and sealed with the proper Priesthood authority while on earth?
    Read vs 48-51 it says the work that was done was FORESHADOWING THE WORK TO BE DONE IN THE TEMPLES. He was there to preach to them so they would accept the work that WILL be done here on earth.
    6. “Why is it required of everyone to have the ordinances of baptism, endowment, and sealing performed here on earth, even when those opportunities were never presented to them. Especially, with the understanding that God is so merciful that He will only judge people according to the light and knowledge that they had here.”
    Again, God is merciful, but he is also Just. He can’t bend the rules. We came to earth to receive a body and keep the covenants that we make with him as we receive ordinances of baptism, etc….Doing the work for the Redemtion of the Dead is a very important work.

    I hope I explained myself well. I hope in no way did it come off as rude. I hope this helps you in your lesson. thanks for asking, it gave me practice before someone else asks something similar. Good Luck!

  7. mb says:

    If we look at ordinances as hoops to jump through or things that are simply prerequisites that must be done by every person in order to get an end result, ie: exaltation, then Cumorah’s question makes sense. And that is the perspective from which I think she is forming her question and from which Kati forms her answer as well.

    However, my experience is that each ordinance I’ve received has been a blessing in and of itself, long, long before any “end result”. I learn from the words spoken on my behalf. I internalize divine perspective when I am connected to specific covenants with God that I would not internalize as well if I did not have an individual experience with them. They are impetuses (impeti?) on my journey to become one with God. And God intends them to be so.

    We do not do temple work for the dead because we fear that they will languish in hell without it. We do it because it is an unselfish act of kindness to extend a blessing we have received to someone else, who, at that moment, cannot physically do it for herself though she may wish to. In the process, such acts remind us of our personal connection with God and causes us to think about those others and sharing our blessings them. And those individualized ordinances also give each deceased person an opportunity to personally connect with the here and now blessings of personal ordinances in their own lives (which I mentioned above) not just the way-down-the-road salvation and exaltation ones.

    And, by the way, I don’t believe they “wait around” for us to do it. Time is so completely different in paradise than it is here that there really is no comparison. I really dislike the notion that started showing up in dramatic, creative 1970s mutual activities that people in the spirit world are miserably sad for long periods of time until they receive all their ordinances and that it is up to us to make them happy again. It was an emotionally laden guilt-trip that was not based on accurate theology. It may have spurred some people to start thinking about doing genealogy research, but not for the right reasons.

    Finally,the salvation of the dead does NOT depend on someone else doing proxy ordinances. If absolutely every person who ever lived on earth refused to do any proxy ordinances, God would still find a way to get each of his children who lived without them on the earth the opportunity to participate in saving ordinances one way or another, simply because they are blessings in and of themselves that he hopes they will receive with joy.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    Cumorah, you offer great and insightful questions as you prepare for your lesson. Though it’s no fun to struggle with finding the answers, I think it is through those struggles that we grow as teachers and our students benefit.

    Kati, you offer a great step-by-step response to Cumorah’s questions that I didn’t catch in time. Thank you!

    mb, thank you for your response, too! I particularly like this part: We do not do temple work for the dead because we fear that they will languish in hell without it. We do it because it is an unselfish act of kindness to extend a blessing we have received to someone else. Beautiful!

  9. *Camille says:

    great ideas, thoughts, questions, and insights! i put my lesson prep here
    htt://reprep.blogspot.com
    thanks you guys, it helped alot! *camille

  10. Great lessong, thanks for sharing.

  1. August 2, 2013

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