Relief Society Lesson 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful
by Aimee Hickman, co-editor of Exponent II magazine
This lesson cuts right to heart of one of the most profound and exhilarating teachings is Mormonism—that our eternal progression can lead us to godliness and Godhood. As women, we should consider thoughtfully and prayerfully what that means for us. I think one of the most successful things we could do as teachers in this lesson is to help each sister in our class envision this divine potential within herself and within the women surrounding her. The following outline offers possible questions you could ask and points you could emphasize to facilitate a discussion about what women of the Church can do to cultivate and understand our divine potential. We would love to hear your thoughts for how you plan to present this lesson in your own wards in the comments below.
God’s Human Past and Our Divine Future
I would suggest beginning the lesson by reading the first paragraph of the lesson and writing President Snow’s couplet on the board:
“As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.”
Ask your class what this means? Emphasize the following points:
* We have the potential to progress as God has and become like God ourselves
You may choose to read the following quote from page 84 in the manual:
“I believe that we are the sons and daughters of God, and that He has bestowed upon us the capacity for infinite wisdom and knowledge, because He has given us a portion of Himself. . . There is a spiritual organism within this tabernacle [the physical body], and that spiritual organism has a divinity in itself, though perhaps in an infantile state; but it has within itself the capability of improving and advancing as the infant that receives sustenance from its mother. Though the infant may be very ignorant, yet there are possibilities in it that by passing through the various ordeal of childhood to maturity enable it to rise to a superiority that is perfectly marvelous, compared with its infantile ignorance.
We have divinity within ourselves; our spiritual organism is immortal; it cannot be destroyed; it cannot be annihilated. We will live from all eternity to all eternity.”
I imagine at this point, the women in your class will have an image of God as a young boy, as a young man and perhaps as an old male God in their mind. But as this lesson is applicable to ALL participants, male or female, tell your class that you want this to feel relevant and personal to them. I would suggest driving that point home by erasing “man” and replacing it with “woman” in the couplet:
“As woman now is, God once was:
As God now is, woman may be.”
Ask your class to try to envision this phrase with a woman in mind. How do they feel about this change? Does their potential godhood as a woman feel less abstract? Have they had previous spiritual experiences which have testified of their own divine potential as women?
Our church teaches us that faithful women can become gods. We have been taught that we already have a woman God in the form of our Heavenly Mother. Ask your class how can that teaching can bless and guide us as women in our own spiritual journey? Eliza R. Snow, sister of President Lorenzo Snow, captured a sense of her own experience with a divine mother in the beloved hymn “O My Father.” You could ask a class member to read this if you’re having a hard time getting responses.
I believe the following quote on page 86 in the manual has particular resonance for women in the Church as we contemplate our eternal future:
“The Lord has placed before us incentives of the grandest character. In the revelations which God has given, we find what a person can reach who will travel this path of knowledge and be guided by the Spirit of God. I had not been in this Church [very long] when it was clearly shown to me what a man could reach through a continued obedience to the Gospel of the Son of God. That knowledge has been as a star continually before me, and has caused me to be particular in trying to do that which was right and acceptable to God . . . It seems, after all the education that we had in things pertaining to the celestial worlds, that there are some Latter-day Saints who are so well satisfied with simply knowing that the work is true that when you come to talk to them of our great future they seem surprised, and think it has nothing to do particularly with them.”
Ask your class what they think President Snow means when he says:
“It seems, after all the education that we had in things pertaining to the celestial worlds, that there are some Latter-day Saints who are so well satisfied with simply knowing that the work is true that when you come to talk to them of our great future they seem surprised, and think it has nothing to do particularly with them.”
What the difference is between “knowing that the work is true” and preparing ourselves for a divine future?
I think President’s Snow’s statement has particular applicability to the women of our church. We make up the majority of the membership of the Church. We are foundational pillars in both the function and faith of the daily operations of the Church. The “errand of angels is given to women”—we are God’s hands in this work—but do we fully appreciate our great future? Do we see ourselves as female “Gods in embryo?” Are we currently acting with that power and authority in our homes and in our Church service? Do we lay claim to our own powers of inspiration as much as we testify of those powers in our leaders?
Cultivating an Ambition
Read the following passage from page 86 in the manual:
“Paul, in speaking to the Philippians, suggested that they cultivate an ambition which is quite strange to people at the present time, though not so to the Latter-day Saints, especially those who are not satisfied to be but babes in the things of God.”
Ask your class what they think President Snow means by “cultivate an ambition?”
Sister Cheiko Okazaki, former counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency seemed to partially answer this call to “cultivating ambition” when she wrote the following:
“In most Mormon gatherings, if I were to ask who you are, particularly what your eternal identity is, many would answer, ‘I am a child of God.’ It is a beautiful answer shaped by the Primary song we have learned and loved for two generations. But that is not enough. Every living person is a child of God. But that’s the beginning point, not the ending point. The ending point is to become peers of God, friends of God, coworkers of God, adults of God. He wants us to grow up, not remain children.” Chieko Okazaki Being Enough, pg. 61
For Sister Okazaki, cultivating an ambition means not just serving God , or loving God, but striving to become like God. To become God’s peer. To become God’s friend. To be a coworker and collaborator.
How is being a peer, friend, coworker of God different than being a child of God?
We see hints of a divine ambition to become a peer of God in the life of President Snow as well. Return to the beginning of the lesson and read the second paragraph on page 83:
“Feeling that he had received a ‘sacred communication’ that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently.”
This passage suggests that President Snow’s revelation on the divine potential of human beings and the human past of God was independent of any teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. President Snow was not waiting on another person, even a prophet, to receive his own revelations, even those as heretical to most Christians as a notion that people could become like God. He “guarded” this sacred communication, but he did not doubt it and he sought it out for himself. As sisters in Zion, we too can press forward with such courage and confidence.
Are we willing to “cultivate an ambition” to seek personal revelation? What bold theological questions do you have? What knowledge do you seek? Do you trust in your divine potential to bravely ask those questions and be open to answers, even if they’re as surprising as President Snow’s were to him? Are you willing to seek personal revelation to questions even the prophets have yet to speak about?
Ask your class to think about the work they are engaged in on a day-to-day basis that is cultivating an ambition to receive personal revelation and develop the goddess within them.
Conclude by reading the final paragraphs from the lesson on page 90:
“Let us never allow our prospects to become dimmed; let them be fresh before us by day and by night, and I will assure you that if we will do this our growth from day to day and from year to year will be marvelous.
“We are all aiming for celestial glory, and the grandeur of the prospects before us cannot be expressed in human language. If you will continue faithful to the work in which you are engaged, you will attain unto this glory, and rejoice evermore in the presence of God and the Lamb. This is worth striving for; it is worth sacrificing for, and blessed is the man or woman who is faithful unto the obtaining of it.”