Relief Society Lesson 35: Redemption for the Dead
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.”
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?
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.
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.