RS/MP Chapter 3: The Plan of Salvation (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)
Posted by Robert C. on February 7, 2014
The text of the lesson can be found online here.
From the life
Question: How does knowledge of the plan of salvation bring hope? How have you seen it bring hope to your life or the lives of others? How can it bring hope to the lives of those who don’t have the Gospel?
I especially like the quote about midway through the first paragraph of this section where Pres. Smith says in regard to his sister’s death, “I fully expected to meet her again with the rest of the family within a few weeks, but the will of God be done” (p. 59). In my experience, this “thy will be done” attitude and the hope that the plan of salvation brings are deeply intertwined.
The most important practical effect of hope, offered by the plan of salvation, is being freed from worry and fear. I remember when I was in grad school my classmates and I were feeling especially stressed out during final exams during our first year of course work. I was attending a singles ward at the time and I felt particular close with my ward family, and I was so relieved to feel this support at this time, and to have an eternal perspective that made my success or failure in the program a relatively small matter from a larger, eternal perspective.
1. The premortal spirit world
Question: So what, exactly, is the plan of the salvation, as it was explained to us in the premortal life?
With some simple prodding, it shouldn’t be hard to get class members to come up with the main points provided in this section of the lesson. I have recently grown more appreciative of the idea that “suffering, pain, sorrow, temptation and affliction” are to teach us “experience and knowledge” that we “could not get in any other way” (p. 60, 3rd paragraph of this section). I think there’s a danger of denying that genuine evil exists in the world, supposing that all suffering has a fully justifying rationale behind it (namely, to learn from). Nevertheless, as a practical matter, I find the notion of looking for meaning and redemptive possiblity in suffering a very emancipating idea. Without worrying about the abstract theological issues at stake here, I am very convinced that trying to learn from hardship is a much better attitude than being primarily concerned with searching for (short-term) justice.
Also, I think it’s interesting in the lines I quoted in the previous paragraph that “temptation” is listed alongside suffering, pain, sorrow, and affliction. Question: What can we learn from temptation? The answer that comes to my mind is empathy, a virtue that I think is significantly undervalued in our modern culture—including Mormon culture. We tend to value righteousness, understood as obedience to Church standards and obedience to the commandments, but do we truly give equal emphasis to being forgiving, patient, loving, empathetic, and charitable? Too frequently I think the answer is no.
2. The fall
Building on the ideas in the previous section, I think the very Mormon idea of a “fortunate fall” makes for a very constructive attitude regarding challenges in life. I think there is a deep and rather profound sense in which the common idea that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all represents a general attitude and truth that Mormonism is committed to. We all try to live successful and righteous lives, but none of our lives comport to this ideal. But that’s not a reason to despair. The atonement makes it possible for each of us, like Adam and Eve, to view our own messy lives as being truly redeemable!
Also, in the first paragraph in this section, I find it very curious that Pres. Smith seems to equate the plan of salvation with a “code of laws” (p. 61). I think sometimes we try to make too much of the historical facts associated with Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith and we forget to sufficiently focus on the principles of the Gospel that they worked so hard to establish and that the rituals and practices of Mormonism seem aimed at reminding us of.
3. Jesus Christ
I worry a bit about emphasizing a penal substitution theory of atonement too much (because I think it raises somewhat troubling questions about why God couldn’t simply forgive us if we asked for forgiveness), but I especially like the parts in this section about mercy and our own insufficiency. Here’s the final paragraph of this section:
The gratitude of our hearts should be filled to overflowing in love and obedience for [the Savior’s] great and tender mercy. For what he has done we should never fail him. He bought us with a price, the price of his great suffering and the spilling of his blood in sacrifice on the cross. [p. 64]
I like the question in the manual for this section, asking about what we can learn from the pit story (middle of p. 64). I think this paragraph gives us a great answer to that question. Too often I suspect we think we deserve the blessings we have in this life, and this beleif leads to an attitude of ingratitude. If, however, we properly remember our dependence on Christ, then we will be grateful that we are alive, and that we have a body, and that we live in a wonderful world (even if though there is widespread suffering)—and we will be more able, willing, and eager to serve others when it would otherwise feel inconvenient.
(I was esp. touched today by Craig H.’s post at the T&S blog titled Bo Knows Heaven. It’s a longish article, but I like how it ultimately gets at the failure that we usually experience in terms of really living for the sake of others, rather than merely performing service in a way that is still rather self-centered. The heart of the atonement is, as Craig nicely articulates, about being at one with others—and this requires getting over our own egocentric and individualistic tendencies….)
4. Working out our salvation
Question: What does it mean to “endure to the end”?
I like how Pres. Smith words the idea that we must “so live as to acquire the attributes of godliness” (p. 65, in the paragraph starting “Fifth”). This corroborates my soapbox above about tending to think about God’s commandments in a legalistic way rather than the kind of being or becoming that is emphasized here. Pres. Smith isn’t saying we need to do our home or visting teaching. Rather, he’s saying we need to become the kind of people who love others. Naturally, if we do this, we will be good home and visiting teachers, but I think it’s important not to put the cart before the horse in this sense.
5. The resurrection
Question: What is the significance of Pres. Smith’s statement, “Spirits cannot be made perfect without the body” (p. 68, last paragraph of this section)?
I think this question goes back to section 1 regarding the purpose of this life including getting a body and being tempted, and learning to be patient, forgiving, and empathetic of desires. Given the current controversies surrounding homosexuality (I’m thinking of Pres. Putin’s comments and policies that gay supporters have taken offense to, and Google’s rainbow colored theme today, in a show of solidarity), I think Mormons have a deeply theological reason to be empathetic regarding what I will simply refer to as “temptations of the flesh.” Bodily temptations seem to comprise a very significant part of God’s plan of salvation, and I think inviting class members to contemplate the reasons for this could be a good use of class time (even if no obvious answers arise from the discussion or invitation to contemplate this relationship…).
6. Eternal life
Question (direct from the manual): “In what ways is worldly wealth different from the ‘eternal inheritance’ we can receive through the plan of salvation? (See section 6.) How can an understanding of these differences help us prepare for eternal life?”
My own feeling is that this is the most important question and theme in this lesson, so I’ll be inclined to read this whole section with my quorum (though I seldom teach what I plan to teach, so who knows what will happen?). My own sense is that the main purpose of learning about the plan of salvation is to help us get a more eternal perspective on things, and to recommit ourselves to worry less about worldly things and mmore about eternal things, like eternal life. Economic concerns are arguably the most important impediment to doing so.
Also, I saw a video this week that I don’t recommend using in class, but I think might be helpful to view in thinking about the themes addressed in this section. This is a video of Mark England who is an artist and owns an ice cream business but has what seems to be a very healthy, consecrated attitude toward his business. (Hat tip to George Handley for the link. Even though the website refers to Mark as a “Democratic Mormon,” I don’t understand that video as being partisan in any direct way. Mark talks in ways that very clearly depart from an idolotrous view of money, but that is an attitude that I think Mormons of any political stripe would, or at least should, embrace—simply because idolatry is very a clearly a sin in Mormonism.)
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