RS/MP Lesson 2: “Our Heavenly Family” (Part 3)
Posted by Robert C. on January 13, 2010
(This is the 3rd of 3 parts for Lesson #2 from the Gospel Principles manual on “Our Heavenly Family.” These notes are primarily aimed at supplementing the MP/RS lessons. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.)
PART 3. Our Heavenly Father Presented a Plan for Us to Become Like Him
Question (straight from the manual): How does earth life help prepare us to become like our Heavenly Father?
I think discussion in the foregoing parts of this lesson—where we found a common pattern of first seeing an initial unconditional, equal kind of logic at work, followed by a conditional, unequal kind of logic—can nicely be applied to this question. However, to delve deeper into this question, we need to understand the plan of creation better.
Key scripture: D&C 29:31-38. I actually think the best scripture to take up here is D&C 29:31-38 (listed in the “Additional Scriptures” section). First, verses 31-32:
For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal—First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work.
Repeating the chiastic structure of Alma’s passage mentioned at the end of Part 2 of the lesson, we have here a chiasm:
Question: How are we to understand this chiastic structure of creation that is described in this passage?
This is a very challenging question, for me at least. I am really hoping others here will comment with their views.
First-half of creation chiasm. I am inclined to read the first part of this creation chiasm with the double-creation stories contained in the Pearl of Great Price in mind (Moses 3:4-7, also one of the “Additional Scriptures” for this lesson; Abraham 4-5, esp. 4:31 and 5:3-5). In particular, we read in Moses 3:5,
For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. (Moses 3:5)
If the creation story, as we normally understand it, consists of, first, a spiritual part, and second, a natural/temporal part, then it seems the creation account forms the first part of the chiasm.
Question: But what about the second half of the chiasm?
First and second commandments (Alma 12-13). I think the Alma 12-13 passages we studied in the previous part of the lesson can help us here, since there were two sets of commandments listed there: commandments not to partake of the fruit (“temporal” commandments?), and then commandments that were given by true messengers, foreordained for the purpose of helping Heavenly Father’s children—or, at least those who would be willing to be called such, by being true and faithful to the messengers’ call—enter into His rest (i.e., exaltation). So, the second half of the chiasm seems to follow the ordering that Alma lays out: first temporal commandments, then spiritual commandments. This second half of the chiasm is, in short, the plan of salvation—the redemptive purpose of creation.
First and second Adam (1 Cor 15). Now let’s look at 1 Cor 15:44, also cited in the “Additional Scriptures” part of this lesson. Speaking of the resurrection, Paul says:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:44)
Here we have the natural, or temporal, first, followed by the spiritual. That is, first we face physical death (“sown,” like a seed, meaning death—cf. 15:36), followed by a spiritual resurrection. The next verse is also quite interesting in light of our lesson:
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. (1 Cor 15:45)
Paul is commenting here on Gen 2:7. One theory among scholars is that Paul is here reversing a common understanding at the time regarding the nature of man. The common understanding, among Gnostics, as well as among Jews (Philo, for example, talks about this), was that heavenly man came first, followed by earthly (or “primal”) man. This is actually the order that we see in Genesis: in Gen 1:26-27 we see that God made man in his own image (i.e., heavenly or spiritual), and then in Gen 2:7 we see man made “of the dust of the ground” (i.e., earthly or temporal). In Paul’s discussion here, however, he takes up these passages in reverse order and reverses the common ordering of first heavenly (spiritual) and second earthly (natural). Paul mentions this natural-then-spiritual ordering in verse 44, then he quotes Gen 2:7 in verse 45, then he repeats even more explicitly the natural-then-spiritual ordering in verses 46-48, and then in verse 49 Paul quotes Gen 1:27. (An excellent discussion of this can be found in Hans Conzelmann’s commentary on 1 Corinthians by Fortress Press, pp. 284-286.)
Now isn’t the time to delve into a deep analysis of this passage. Suffice it to say that it is intriguing that we find here in Paul a teaching that seems to conform to the second half of the spiritual-natural-spiritual chiasm mentioned in D&C 29.
Toward a summary. Let’s try to pull some concluding thoughts together. Let’s reconsider the first key question of this 3rd part of the lesson, and the very first question of the lesson (from part 1), in light of what we’ve studied:
Question: How does earth life help prepare us to become like our Heavenly Father?
Question: What do scriptures and latter-day prophets teach us about our relationship to God?
These two questions, at first blush, might seem fairly distinct, perhaps even unrelated. However, from what we’ve studied, we can see a deep relation. It seems that earth life prepares us for a kind of spiritual creation or resurrection. The gift of creation, and immortality via Christ’s resurrection, is an unconditional gift, reflecting the unconditional aspect of God’s love for all of us as his children (i.e., the first half of the spiritual-temporal chiasm, plus the first part of the second half of the chiasm).
However, the greater (greatest!) gift of eternal life is a conditional blessing that requires us to be born again in the image of Christ, as his sons and daughters (cf. Mosiah 5:7). Although we didn’t touch on this in this particular lesson, this second birth is, of course, symbolized by baptism (i.e., the gate to the second “spiritual” stage of the second half of spiritual-temporal chiasm).
OK, I should probably say more now by way of conclusion. But I can’t resist, instead, concluding by way of one more teaser-scriptural tangent (which does, however, relate to Sunday school themes we’ll be discussing in the next few weeks).
An unconditional-conditional covenantal pattern with Abraham, continued through the OT? Paul Williamson has written an excellent book titled Abraham, Israel and the Nations: The Patriarchal Promise and Its Development in Genesis. He basically argues that, if read the Abraham cycle in Genesis with a careful eye toward literary structure, we will find two distinct but related covenants that God makes with Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3, we see these aspects in the initial promise that God makes to Abraham:
#1. Abraham and his posterity will be blessed with land and numerous seed, and
#2. Abraham’s seed will be a blessing to “all families of the earth” (12:3).
The covenant made in Genesis 15 involves only #1, and is stated in unconditional terms, whereas the (“eternal”) covenant made in Genesis 17 involves #2, and is stated in conditional terms (terms which are fulfilled by Abraham in Gen 22, when the conditional terms of the covenant are reiterated—cf. Gen 22:18).
Williamson suggests that the rest of the Old Testament documents how covenant #1 is fulfilled, but how #2 is never really fulfilled. Thus, the Old Testament points toward Christ, the promised Messiah who fulfills the conditionality requirement of covenant #2, which was “dependent on the moral blamelessness, not only of Abraham (cf. 17.1; 22.16, 18; 26.5), but also of his ‘royal seed’ (as encapsulated in the rite of circumcision and further alluded to in the lifestyle demanded of the nation generally in the Mosaic covenan; cf. Deut 18.14-20)” (Williamson, 266).
Christ, then, as the Son of God, is the promised Messiah whose perfect atoning sacrifice makes the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant available to all of mankind, so that we are all given the opportunity to inherit all that the Father has, as his covenantal sons and daughters.
Question: What do you think?