The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The great plan of salvation is a theme which ought to occupy our strict attention, and be regarded as one of heaven’s best gifts to mankind” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 68) So how is this for a huge topic for a Sunday School lesson? It helped when I read that next week's lesson is on the Three Degrees of Glory, so I didn't need to cover the post-mortal section of the plan in too great of detail.
I started by drawing a circle on the board and asking the class what it was. A few smart-alecks had actually read the lesson and said "the Earth" right away, spoiling the point, but we went on and said it could be anything from that starting. Then I drew the rest of the diagram of the plan of salvation that we used to use in the mission field. I made the comparison of knowing just our earth-life, or knowing all of the plan. Without that wider vision, this life could be anything.
Then we went through the various stages, talking about what we know and how it affects our life, our faith, and how we act.
We have been given a lot of modern revelation about pre-Earth life. As a quick list here is what we mentioned:
- We are children of our Father in Heaven
- There was a council in Heaven
- We had spirit bodies
- We were taught the gospel/plan of Heavenly Father
- Lucifer rebelled and offered his own plan
- Jesus Christ offered himself as a Saviour to fulfill Heavenly Father's plan.
- 1/3 of the spirits went with Lucifer
- All of us here on the Earth followed Christ
We sang and shouted for joy for the opportunity to come to the Earth, to progress further, to become more like our Father in Heaven. We knew it would be hard, we knew some would be lost, but we were joyful anyway. That is something to remember when things are hard, isn't it?
This mortal world has three main purposes:
- To receive a physical body
- To prove our faithfulness: Alma 12:24
- To live in families, be sealed together: D&C 138:48
There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy. … “Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act [of a play]. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. … “Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of [the plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much. Some are born in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering. Some experience premature death, even innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We have seen a lot of that recently. “Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven (The Play and the Plan [satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995], 1–2).Recently I listened to a podcast about the three act structure and why it is such a part of Western thinking. The thing that stayed with me, and repeated in my mind as I read the above quote was (paraphrased), "The second act is where I really put my characters through the wringer, I try and bring them as low as they can possibly get." If we, humans in the middle of our second act, do not realize there is another act coming, it would be very easy to despair, to see the suffering happening constantly on our planet as proof that life has no meaning and to "curse God and die" as the scriptures so eloquently put it. But this is only act two. There is more glory and triumph in the next act than we can possibly imagine.
We are not left alone here either. In Alma 7:11-13 we read:
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
Elder Eyring said in his conference talk,What we do here will determine so much of what comes after, but when we can develop a testimony that there is a "what comes after" we live our lives differently, we think and feel and believe differently about a whole host of things. When we know about God's plan of happiness, we become different people, more able to live in a way that brings us back to him.
It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. The Book of Mormon gives us the certain assurance of His power to comfort. And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.
Read 2 Nephi 2 and think about the plan, and how much we have been given. I can't even express my gratitude for the kindness of a Heavenly Father who loves us enough to give us our agency, and makes a plan that accounts for the mistakes we would make as we learned to use it. This learning process is what will eventually result in salvation and exaltation, if we can continue on. I know that this plan will result in joy, here in this life as well as in the life to come.
Thanks for reading this all the way down, I know it was long, but it is such an important topic. I am grateful I have the chance to study these gospel topics in ways I never would do without this calling.