Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Student Questions and Answers Regarding the Plan of Salvation

Last Sunday, I wrote on the chalkboard the various elements that get outlined when we draw the classic map of the Plan of Salvation:

Pre-existence, veil of forgetfulness, creation, Garden of Eden, The Fall, birth, mortality, agency, death, The Spirit World, Judgment, Resurrection, Exaltation.

I told the students we had discussed the Plan of Salvation last February and this month in a lot of detail, from multiple angles, so today I had no prepared lesson plan and, instead, was opening up the entire class time to any questions they had about any of the topics on the board. I told them that they had heard "lessons" about this topic all their lives, so today was going to be nothing more than a free-flowing discussion about possible ways to answer any questions they have.

It was good for them to hear how many of their questions were answered first with, "We don't know, but . . ."

I can't recreate all of the conversations we had, but the following is a list of the questions they asked - and a summary of some things I want to highlight for this forum:

1) The veil of forgetfulness = Is it complete immediately at birth, or does it fade gradually?

We also talked about how some people simply are more spiritually inclined than others - like my wife's experience seeing and feeling her recently deceased father in the temple a couple of days ago, while I got no inkling of it whatsoever.

2) Near death experiences = Are they real?

Why can people remember what happened after they "died" but not what happened before they were born - if the veil is allowed to stay open for one experience, why is it still closed to the other experience?

3) Garden of Eden = Why did God create a mortal world and then place immortal Adam and Eve in it? How could immortal beings live in a mortal world?

We talked about multiple interpretations of the Garden narrative. It led to the next four questions.

4) How old is the Earth?

We talked about differing views of the age of the Earth, then we talked about how our teachings on the subject don't need to conflict with settled science. We also talked about how religion too often has been used as a club against science (with specific examples of the shape of the Earth and the rotation pattern of the solar system based on readings of the Bible) and how we can't let ourselves fall into that trap as further light and knowledge is revealed through scientific discovery. I told them that I view scientific discovery as revelation in every important way, since it uncovers what previously was unknown - the classic definition of revelation.

5) Where was the Garden of Eden, and how long were Adam and Eve in it - if it was a literal place on Earth?

The summary: "We don't know, but here are some opinions."

6) How do we view dinosaur bones? (The student had heard the idea of them being transplanted from a different world.)

See the summary of #4.

7) Was the material used to create the Earth already there, or was it brought from somewhere else?

We talked about the nature of matter according to Mormon theology, our rejection of ex nihilo creation and the visual presentation in the temple. ("Here is matter unorganized. Let us take it . . . the other worlds . . .")

8) When we say we can become like God, do we mean that we can become like Heavenly Father - or is Heavenly Father like the ultimate God who is different than and superior to all other Gods?

We only had about two minutes left in the class, so I told the students we would tackle that question and any others they have next week.

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