Relief Society Lesson: Trust in the Lord by President Dallin H. Oaks
The topic of this talk is the spirit world and our families after death. For this reason it can potentially be a very fraught topic for class members. Reasons may include divorce in the family, family members not active in the church, fear of eternal polygamy, and above all the death of loved ones. I would begin class by openly acknowledging that this is a difficult subject, both to honor the pain of class members and as a reminder to be sensitive and thoughtful as commenters.
The talk begins with examples of people with doubts or serious questions about the hereafter. I found Elder Oaks’ presentation and response to these queries to be be a callous and dismissive. However, I think as a teacher you could open up a discussion to the class about times when they have been able to cope with a doubt or a concern by trusting God.
What doubts or concerns have you had about the afterlife or other church teachings? What counsel would you offer to your sisters who may be experiencing the same feelings? How have you coped with uncertainty, doubt, or fear?
It may be helpful in your class to use the scriptures that Elder Oaks cites to build a shared doctrinal foundation of what we do know about the hereafter, particularly if many of your class are newer to church activity. Invite the class to read Doctrine and Covenants section 138 to prepare for the lesson, or break into smaller groups and assign verses to discuss, including Doctrine and Covenants 138: 16, 19-20, 29-37, 42, 50, 57-58.
What do we learn from scriptures about life in the Spirit World?
Elder Oaks acknowledges that:
“Many members of the Church have had visions or other inspirations to inform them about how things operate or are organized in the spirit world, but these personal spiritual experiences are not to be understood or taught as the official doctrine of the Church.”
However, you may feel inspired to invite class members to share spiritual experiences they have had that give them comfort about what comes after death.
One important paragraph in this talk is when Elder Oaks affirms that the opinions of one apostle do not constitute an officially binding position:
Elder Christofferson taught: “It should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.”5
Given that many church members struggle with conference because of anti-LGBTQ remarks, dismissive attitudes towards single or divorced members, archaic gender roles, or other issues, this passage may be a fruitful avenue of discussion.
Have you ever struggled with a talk or teaching from church leaders? How can we differentiate between eternal truth, current policies, and cultural norms?
In my own Relief Society our president spent several lessons last year focusing on helping us to create these distinctions. It may be a good exercise in your class as well.
A doctrine is something that is the same in all dispensations. It is a simple truth that applies to all people. Examples include: We are children of God. God loves us. Through repentance we can be cleansed from sin. Jesus Christ atoned for our sins.
A policy is something that may elaborate on a doctrine and can be readily found in church handbooks and on church websites. Policies are mutable and may vary from place to place.
Culture is everything else.
So for instance:
- Doctrine: God created our bodies and we are stewards of them
- Policy: Endowed members should be buried in temple clothes if possible
- Culture: You have to have a white shirt to pass the sacrament, men should always wear suits and ties, women should not wear pants to church or the temple, we should not wear flipflops to church, two piece swimsuits are wrong.
Elder Oaks does a good job of returning to simple doctrinal truths about the hereafter when he says:
First, remember that God loves His children and will surely do what is best for each of us. Second, remember this familiar Bible teaching, which has been most helpful to me on a multitude of unanswered questions: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
“Trust in the Lord” should not be used to dismiss the very real pain of others. It is not a cureall or a magic wand to waive away disquieting questions. But it is a path forward for those who struggle, feel mired in doubt or pain, or do not know where to turn.