Relief Society Lesson 2: God, the Eternal Father

Did you guess that X2 couldn’t do a post on a RS lesson on Heavenly Father without mentioning Heavenly Mother?

I’ve confined the Heavenly Mother part to one section of the lesson since not all of us want to go there. And, I have 2 versions: “Making a few ladies squirm” and “Going to the bishop’s office.”

Really, these are just titles for fun because I don’t know that this should be brought up in every ward. I, personally, would make it a matter of prayer before using either because it is such a hard topic and one that requires the guidance of the Spirit if someone dares to tackle it. Okay, off my soapbox…

My comments are in italics, my questions are in bold, and President Smith’s (whoa! Why does that sound weird to me?) ideas from the manual are in regular font. And, I’d love suggestions on the Godhead part of the lesson; I’ll admit, I was stumped.

From the Life of Joseph Smith

Among Joseph Smith’s progenitors were many who sought to know the true God in their day. Joseph’s own parents were deeply spiritual, and although they did not find the full truth about God in the churches around them, they honored the Bible as God’s word and made prayer a part of daily life. The Prophet’s brother William recalled: “My father’s religious habits were strictly pious and moral. … I was called upon to listen to prayers both night and morning. … My parents, father and mother, poured out their souls to God, the donor of all blessings, to keep and guard their children and keep them from sin and from all evil works. Such was the strict piety of my parents.” William also said: “We always had family prayers since I can remember. I well remember father used to carry his spectacles in his vest pocket, … and when us boys saw him feel for his specs, we knew that was a signal to get ready for prayer, and if we did not notice it mother would say, ‘William,’ or whoever was the negligent one, ‘get ready for prayer.’ After the prayer we had a song we would sing; I remember part of it yet: ‘Another day has passed and gone, We lay our garments by.’ ”
–What do you think the purpose of these actions are?–How do you think children (and adults) benefit from them?

Joseph’s faithful prayer for mercy and wisdom was answered with the First Vision. That vision gave the young Prophet far greater knowledge about God than any of the churches of his day possessed, knowledge that had been lost to the world for centuries. In the First Vision, Joseph learned for himself that the Father and the Son are individual beings, that Their power is greater than the power of evil, and that man is indeed fashioned in God’s image—truths that are essential in understanding our actual relationship to our Father in Heaven.

Write the following parts of this quote on the board:
1) The Father and Son are individual beings
2) Their power is greater than the power of evil
3) Man is indeed fashioned in God’s image

–how do each of these facts affect our understanding of our relationship with God?

Teachings of Joseph SmithGod is the loving Father of all mankind and the source of all that is good.
“While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ [Matthew 5:45.]”
–what do you think of this quote? Or, how does it make you feel?
–what do you think of the Matthew 5:45 scripture?

–This seems to be an explanation as to why God allows suffering. Do you find it satisfactory? Why or why not?

“The purposes of our God are great, His love unfathomable, His wisdom infinite, and His power unlimited; therefore, the Saints have cause to rejoice and be glad, knowing that ‘this God is our God forever and ever, and He will be our Guide until death.’ [Psalm 48:14.]”

I think we have a hymn that illustrates the concept of God as our loving Heavenly Father very well. Please join me in singing all the verses of
“O My Father,” pg 292.

This is the Heavenly Mother part. Please feel free to skip to the “When we comprehend the character of God…” section if this is offensive to you.

Making a few ladies squirm:
I had a hard time leaving Heavenly Mother out of this lesson because I feel like in order to truly understand Heavenly Father, we can’t forget Her.

I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but to further illustrate our doctrine of Heavenly Father, I thought it would be nice to all sing “O My Father.”

Going to the bishop’s office:
I can’t leave out Heavenly Mother from a lesson on God, the Eternal Father, so I wanted to give a brief history of Joseph Smith’s teachings about Heavenly Mother. (I’ll leave it to the teacher to take what they want from the following excerpt from Linda P. Wilcox’s “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” from Women and Authority: Re-emering Mormon Feminism, ed. by Maxine Hanks)

The origins of the Heavenly Mother concept in Mormonism are shadowy. The best known exposition is Eliza R. Snow’s poem, “O My Father,” or “Invocation, of the Eternal Father and Mother”—the title it was known by earlier. When the poem was first published in the Times and Seasons it carried the notation, “City of Joseph, Oct. 1845,” but the actual date of composition is not known. It does not appear in Eliza’s notebook/diary for the years 1842-1844.

President Wilford Woodruff gave Snow credit for originating the idea: “That hymn is a revelation, thought it was given unto us by a woman.” President Joseph F. Smith claimed that God revealed the principle (“that we have a mother as well as a father in heaven”) to Joseph Smith; that Smith revealed it to Snow, his polygamous wife, and that Snow was inspired, being a poet, to put it into verse.

Other incidents tend to confirm this latter view. Susa Young Gates told of Joseph Smith’s consoling Zina Diantha Huntington on the death of her mother in 1839 by telling her that not only would she know her mother again on the other side, but “more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.” Susa went on to say that about this same time Eliza Snow “learned the same glorious truth from the same inspired lips” and was then moved to put this into verse. Since Huntington and Snow were close friends as well, it was a likely possibility that they spoke of this idea. David McKay recorded that during a buggy ride on which he accompanied Eliza Snow, he asked her if the Lord had revealed the Mother in Heaven doctrine to her. She replied, “I got my inspiration from the Prophets teachings[;] all that I was required to do was to use my Poetical gift and give that Eternal principal in Poetry.
–from: Wilcox, Linda P. “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven.” Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism. 1992. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

End of Heavenly Mother piece

When we comprehend the character of God, we comprehend ourselves and know how to approach Him.

“If a man learns nothing more than to eat, drink and sleep, and does not comprehend any of the designs of God, the beast comprehends the same things. It eats, drinks, sleeps, and knows nothing more about God; yet it knows as much as we, unless we are able to comprehend by the inspiration of Almighty God. If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. I want to go back to the beginning, and so lift your minds into more lofty spheres and a more exalted understanding than what the human mind generally aspires to. –This is a pretty strong statement, especially towards those who don’t believe in God.
–Why do you think President Smith feels so strongly about this?

“If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being He is,—if he will search diligently his own heart—if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.
–This statement is a big one, reminding us that eternal life is the key to all Mormon doctrine.
–Do we sometimes take the idea of eternal life for granted?
–What does the concept of eternal life add to our daily lives?

“… Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, He begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to Him, He is ready to come to us.”
–how does this statement make you feel?
–what does it say about our relationship with God?

In the Godhead there are three separate and distinct personages.
Remember, I was struggling here!

Articles of Faith 1:1: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
–why is our view of the Godhead an important aspect of the Gospel?

“That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones.”
–what do you think other churches and/or religions think of this statement?

The Godhead is in perfect unity, and God the Father presides.

“Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth. These personages … are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Witness or Testator.”
–I’ve been with other members of the Church and Young Women who get confused by this statement and others like it.
–How would you help clarify this statement, so people understand that the Godhead is made up 3 distinct personages?

“[It is] the province of the Father to preside as the Chief or President, Jesus as the Mediator, and the Holy Ghost as the Testator or Witness. The Son [has] a tabernacle and so [does] the Father, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle.”
–an important quote, but I’m not quite sure what to do with it…any suggestions?

“The scripture says, ‘I and my Father are one’ [John 10:30], and again that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one, and these three agree in the same thing [see 1 John 5:7–8]. So did the Savior pray to the Father, ‘I pray not for the world, but for those whom ye gave me out of the world, that we might be one,’ or to say, be of one mind in the unity of the faith [see John 17:9, 11]. But everyone being a different or separate person, so are God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost separate persons, but they all agree in one or the selfsame thing.”
–another good quote…

Close with testimony.



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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  1. Deborah says:

    Emily: Thanks for posting this thoughtful lesson. It’s nice to see your thought process as you looked through this.

    The background the Eliza’s hymn is beautiful. Particularly this:

    Susa Young Gates told of Joseph Smith’s consoling Zina Diantha Huntington on the death of her mother in 1839 by telling her that not only would she know her mother again on the other side, but “more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.”

    While the subject of a Mother in Heaven can stir up mixed feelings (which I don’t always fully understand), I’m struck that the phrase “Heavenly PARENTS” seems to be increasingly common in talks and materials from Salt Lake.

    For this lesson, for example, I would absolutely include this line from the Proclamation on the Family (it’s my favorite line from the document):

    “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

    That’s a beautiful doctrine. Children of God. Loved by heavenly parents. Heirs to divinity. That’s the beauty of the vision Joseph gave us . . .

  2. Lois says:

    Thanks for the lesson ideas!! Very helpful. Why is it so controversial to talk about our Mother in Heaven?? I am a lifelong member, and although I haven’t heard Her mentioned much, I genuinely don’t know why???

  3. Caroline says:

    I love the Heavenly Mother part, Emily.

    This quote caught my eye: “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”

    I think it might be interesting to explore the transverse of this: If humans do not comprehend themselves, they can’t comprehend the character of God. This idea is quite appealing to me. That we all need to reach inward and find that spark of divinity within ourselves to understand God. (disclosure: I got that from Amelia)

  4. Caroline says:

    Lois, I think it’s because there was a crack down in the 1980’s on Mormon women who prayed to her. I think this may have made some people feel like they shouldn’t even be talking about her.

    I, like Emily, think it’s great to talk about her. She is one of the most inspiring unique doctrines that our church has, in my opinion.

  5. Ann says:

    I really dislike discussion about Heavenly Mother because we really know nothing about her, except that she exists. Anything we say beyond what has been revealed is going to be purely speculation filtered through the patriarchy.

    No thanks.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Good point, Ann…if someone chose to add this part, I wouldn’t recommend going beyond Joseph Smith’s history of receiving revelation about Her. Even then, it would be really tricky.

    That’s why I’m glad that I’ll be teaching the Sunbeams tomorrow instead of RS.

  7. Autumn says:

    I’m so glad I found this website! I have just been called as the 2nd Sunday RS teacher! I was looking for additional resources on this lesson. Thanks so much for posting this! is it ok to print this lesson & use parts of it with my lesson?

    Thanks again!

  8. Jessica says:

    You continually amaze me! How do you find time to come up with these lessons, take care of your children, teach, and still do your primary calling? (are you still in primary?)
    Seriously. wow.
    It’s a very good lesson. I taught a similar one to the 5 year olds. The manual does mention heavenly mother, but only briefly. So, there should be no problem talking about it in RS.
    Nice work.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    Autumn, please, please use what we’ve posted for lessons! I think everyone can always use a little lesson help 🙂

    Jessica, you’re so nice! Such comments mean a lot when all I see is that the blog is up 4 days late and I’m putting the last stamps on my holiday cards today) 🙂

  10. makakona says:

    thanks for this, emily! my husband scanned it before he taught his lesson and the elders quorum spent over ten minutes on heavenly mother! score!

    but relief society? despite my best efforts, the teacher said she “didn’t have much to work with” and finished 20 minutes early. GAH!

  11. Turner & Field says:

    I love these lessons on your site! I’ve just been called to teach Relief Society and I’d love to use your outlines. How far in advance do you publish them? I teach lesson 3 next week (February 10). When does it post?

  12. Deborah says:

    Turner and Field: It should be up on Tuesday — check back!

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