Gospel Principles #47: Exaltation

This seems like a lesson where it would be very very easy to get bogged down by nit-picky details like, “What exactly, is the difference between the 3 kingdoms? What kind of people end up in which kingdom?” Or it could also end up creating what I call a gospel checklist mindset- which is where people think that they can save themselves by just doing everything on the list, and then doing it again better (the lesson manual even includes a list of things we have to do to be exalted). The trouble with this mindset is you can’t save yourself, the checklist is very long (impossibly so), and if when you make a mistake you might just feel like giving up altogether. So I would encourage anyone teaching this lesson to try and avoid these pitfalls. The atonement of Christ is of paramount importance in our lives, and no one will achieve exaltation without it. I think I would even take a moment at the beginning of the lesson to say exactly that.

So the first paragraph says:

When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being. The plan required that we be separated from Him and come to earth. This separation was necessary to prove whether we would obey our Father’s commandments even though we were no longer in His presence. The plan provided that when earth life ended, we would be judged and rewarded according to the degree of our faith and obedience.

I added some emphasis there, because those are the points I want to talk about. What is the point of this entire earthly existence exercise? God arranged this all because we wanted to be like God. With that in mind, I want to ask “what are ‘the commandments.'” Are they instructions on how to be a good Mormon? Are they instructions on how to be a good person? Is it all some sort of cosmic hazing ritual, and once we get to the Celestial Kingdom we won’t have to follow them anymore? I don’t think so. I think the commandments are instructions on how to be like God. If you want to be like God, this (the commandments) is how you do it.

So lets look at that list (from the manual):

In addition to receiving the required ordinances, the Lord commands all of us to:

1. Love God and our neighbors.
2. Keep the commandments.
3. Repent of our wrongdoings.
4. Search out our kindred dead and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.
5. Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
6. Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord.
7. Have family and individual prayers every day.
8. Teach the gospel to others by word and example.
9. Study the scriptures.
10. Listen to and obey the inspired words of the prophets of the Lord.
Finally, each of us needs to receive the Holy Ghost and learn to follow His direction in our individual lives.

Before going through this list with the class I would prepare the board to place the things in this list into 3 different categories 1. Things God Does, 2. Things we do to learn about God (so we know what we need to be like), 3. Things we have to do (and God doesn’t) because we aren’t there yet.

After categorizing the tasks, I imagine that Group 2 (Things we do in order to learn about God) would probably contain: 5. Attend Church, 7. Pray, 9. Scripture Study, 10. Listen to the Prophets.

At this point I would tell a story about my kid, you’re welcome to use it if you want. One night my kid (about 4 years old) didn’t want to go to bed. I could tell he wasn’t tired, and rather than fight him about it, I let him stay up on condition that he do chores. I gave him a basket of clean clothes and instructed him to put the socks in one pile and the other clothes in a different pile. He did that happily for about 15 minutes. When he finished, I showed him how to match up the socks, and fold them over. It was a new task, but one he was entirely capable of doing. I left him to do that, and came back a few minutes later to find that he had placed all of the sock and clothes back into the same pile, mixed them up, and was sorting them again. When I asked him about it he said that it was too hard to match up the socks, so he decided to sort them again.

After telling the story I would point out that the things in group 2 are visible, concrete, relatively easy things to do. They are all ‘sorting the socks,’ so to speak. It is very tempting to believe that anyone who does those things (including yourself) is a good person- and that isn’t necessarily true. Doing these things (group 2) gives us the information and knowledge that we need to make the necessary changes to our lives- whether or not we make those changes (through repentance, and the atonement) is entirely up to us. And making those changes is hard, doing that is ‘matching the socks.’ For example, you could read your scriptures all day and still be a jerk at the end of the day. It takes repentance and a change of heart for you to not be a jerk at the end of the day. I know because I was that person. I did all of those things (church, prayers, scriptures, conference) regularly, and I was still mean and judgmental. I am not perfect now, but I am better and it is because I repented, and changed my behaviors based on what I learned.

Next the manual quotes this scripture (D&C 14:7)

“If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”

I actually find scriptures like that kind of funny, because of the juxtaposition of the idea of ‘eternal life’ with enduring to ‘the end.’ What is the end they’re talking about here? Mortal death? Final Judgement? I would venture a guess that it is enduring until you’re finished with making yourself into the person you want to be- Hopefully the person you end up with is a person who is like God. I would also point out where the manual quotes Joseph Smith indicating that this is a work that will continue well beyond our mortal lives.

Lastly there was something I saw in my news feeds the other day that I had in my mind as I was reading through the lesson. It was a story from a waiter who received a money tract- a bible verse printed to look like money on one side- in place of a tip. I am infinitely glad that the church doesn’t produce such things, and I don’t think that church members are particularly prone to the sort of lack of empathy shown by that sort of action. I’m sure the person who left that tract thinks they’re a good person, and if you asked them they would say they love their neighbors. So I think it is worth considering if we might be a little bit like that, and maybe we can take a moment to ask ourselves how we could be treating the people around us better. Our hearts can be filled with all sorts of abstract love for the abstract people around us, but until we put that love into action in the lives of the real people around us (the waiters, the other people on the freeway, the cashiers at the store, etc.) then it is meaningless. We need to put our money where our mouth is, both figuratively and in this particular case literally.

I think it goes back to the sorting or matching the socks, it is comparatively easy to learn about God and to learn to love God. But it is hard, so so hard to learn to love like God. But really, that is what we have to do, that is the reason we are here. And we can do it, because of the atonement.

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.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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10 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for the post. Perhaps we make the gospel more complicated and difficult than it really is. I like the Dalia Lama’s quote: “My religion is kindness.” When we are kind to ourselves and others, we keep the commandments without becoming legalistic or obsessive. I truly believe that God meant the gospel to be fun and easy. We make it hard when we become burdened by outward appearances and forget to savor the sweet blessings of the Spirit.

  2. Jessica says:

    I think in my life I have come to understand how much I am loved by my Heavenly Parents and more of who they are, and that I think set me free. I want to become like them and so I listen to the promptings I get while reading the scriptures and in prayer and personal reflection. I feel as though my knowledge makes me want to become better everyday.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    This is awesome! I’ll admit my first instinct when preparing a lesson like this might be to do the traditional listing who gets into what kingdom–a sort of sorting socks from clothes, if you will 🙂

  4. selina says:

    awesome, when I read the lesson I thought I cant teach this, it made it sound that we cant be happy just obey and do so yr remarks made it possible for me

  5. Salinda Riebow says:

    Whew! Thank you so much for your thoughts on this lesson and its possibilities. I have been thinking about it all week and just couldn’t come up with an approach I felt good about. Now my mind is working. Thank you again!!!

  6. Lietta Ruger says:

    Thank you. I was floundering a bit with this lesson and much needed help with how to sort it out without going into the drill. I had reviewed the lesson from the manual with my husband wanting to hear his take on it and we shared a useful discussion. In finishing up the prep work for the lesson, I went to google and found your post here. I so much liked how you reframed it and read it aloud to my husband who also appreciated the thoughts.

  7. Dave says:

    I liked this article–except for the lack of a complete list of the basic commandments we need to follow. You listed “obeying the commandments” but didn’t elaborate too much. I think it’s important to list them as these are the only things we really have some control over.

    There are some things that if we don’t do them we can’t be exalted, isn’t this true? Like, for example:
    1. Go to the temple for Eternal marriage and Endowments.
    If that is a must-do item, then the question becomes, “What are the things
    that could prevent us from going to the temple, which would thwart our quest for “Exaltation”.
    There are the obvious ones:
    Honesty in our dealings
    Adultry
    Fornication
    Smoking
    Drinking alcohol, cofee, tea, etc.
    Paying a full 10% tithing.
    Etc.
    The Bishop’s Interview is designed to assure that the potential Temple Recommend recipient is living up to these requirements. If he/she is not then he/she will not get the TR and will not be able to get their Endowments and , therefore they would not be on track to Exaltation.

    These are critically important for members to clearly know and understand.
    If we don’t, we could hear those awful words from our Savior at Judgement, “Get thee behind me, I never knew ye.”

    • Annie B. says:

      Or you could do all of those things, and still hear “You draw near to me with your mouth and honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.” I find Christ’s teachings to be the greatest help in knowing how to return home safely.

  8. Diane says:

    Starfoxy

    I know people who do everything on your list, as well as the one’s listed on Dave’ and they are some of the meanest, nastiest people I know.( I probably shouldn’t have said it, but, that’s how I feel) If doing all of these things is going to get me into the Celestial Kingdom and be with the same people, honestly, I don’t want to be there.(not trying to be rude, just expressing my feelings)

    I just try to be kind to people, especially, the ones’ who have really hurt me badly.(Inside, and outside the church) I try to help people when I can, with my limited means, even if it means just to listen to them talk, or just letting them pet my dog.

  9. What is the greatest gift of God (D&C 14″7)? Not one from Mortals! I want to help you!

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