Relief Society Lesson #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.