Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: "What do the sciptures teach us about the Aronement?"

This month, the lesson topic is "The Atonement of Jesus Christ". The topic I chose for this week (and next, assuming it would take at least two weeks) is:

"What do the scriptures teach us about the Atonement of Jesus Christ?"

I wrote four questions on the board: "What?"  "Why?"  "How?"  "Why God?"

I told the students that we might not get to all four questions, especially the last one, and that we probably would have to take at least two weeks to cover everything I wanted to cover.

I started not by opening the scriptures first, but rather by asking the students how they would define the atonement if someone at school asked them what it means. They mentioned the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha, and they mentioned "returning to God". We probed a bit further and went into the Bible Dictionary for what it says. We focused on the meaning of bringing two things together as one and talked about what that means - and how oneness in Mormon theology is different than just being with God - that it's being like God enough to be gods in our own right.

I had them open the Topical Guide and look under "Atonement" to see how many scriptures are listed there. They saw that there are no verses or passages listed; instead, there are other topics listed, including "Jesus Christ - Atonement through". We turned to that topic, and they saw that there are about 1 1/2 columns of verses listed there. I asked each of them (10 students total) to take 5 seconds and choose one of those verses to read and discuss. I told them to close their eyes and put their fingers on one if they wanted, since I didn't care at all which ones we read. I waited about 10 seconds and then asked them, one-by-one, which verses they picked. They stayed in the Topical Guide, while I found and read each scripture. (I did that to save time and to allow them to pick a different scripture if someone before them picked the same one they had chosen.) I read the ten scriptures and we talked very briefly about each one. I told them we would talk more next week about the ones that dealt with pain, suffering, affliction, temptation, sickness, infirmities, etc. being covered by the Atonement.

I then asked why an atonement is necessary. They mentioned that we can't get to heaven on our own and a couple of other good but standard answers. I asked them to think even more fundamentally and simply, using the definition we had read as the basis for their answer. One girl said, "Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve" - so I asked what she meant. She said that we are separated from God and need to get back to Him and be like him, which we aren't right now. I agreed and said that being made "at one" can't occur unless we aren't at-one.

I then asked them how we can become at one with God - not how Jesus suffered, but what our responsibility is in the process of atonement. That stumped them at first, but someone mentioned obeying the commandments. I changed that to "doing what we think will make us like God", since not everyone agrees about what the commandments are, and they all agreed with that. Someone then said we need to repent, and we talked about the meaning of repent being, at the core, nothing more than "change". I pointed out that if we are different than God and want to be like God, the ONLY thing that is necessary is to change that difference - and, again, that means our part of the deal simply is to try our best to change in ways that we believe will make us more like God. I told them that I don't really care much about exactly how someone understands the Atonement intellectually; what I care about is how someone strives to be Christ-like in how they act and how they treat other people.

We ended by reading John 17 - the Intercessory Prayer - the entire chapter. I reminded them that this was Jesus' farewell prayer right before the Garden and the Cross. I asked them to keep that in mind as we read the prayer. I highlighted, especially, verse 3 (life eternal is knowing God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ), verse 5 (which I read as a request by Jesus that he be given back the glory of his status as a God, so he could handle what he knew was coming), verse 10 (that Jesus' glory was in his disciples - a very different definition of glory than many people have concerning God), verse 13 (that full joy is internal and shared), verse 15 (saying, essentially, "I have protected them up to this point, but I won't be around much longer, so take care of them when I'm gone" - which hits my heart every time I read it), verses 21-23 (which I told them I believe is the simplest, most pure description of "at-one-ment" we have in all of our scriptures) and verse 25 (which says, in essence, that the disciples still didn't know the Father like Jesus knew the Father). We went back to verse 3 and read just that verse and verse 25 back-to-back, pointing out that Jesus was praying in a very real way that the disciples would be able to gain "life eternal" in his absence - that AFTER he left them, they could come to know Heavenly Father in a way they couldn't when Jesus still was with them.

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