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In Our Ward: Lesson 2: “Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 10, 2010

I usually type out word-for-word how I expect a lesson to go – not that it ever goes quite that way, and certainly not that I read my plans as scripts. I find, though, that it is useful for me to put my thoughts into words ahead of time – this helps me clarify my thoughts, helps me transition smoothly from one part of the lesson to another, and, if I get tongue-tied or stumped while actually teaching, I can always glance down and find a way to get back into the lesson.

Better scriptorians and teachers than me (Julie at Times and Seasons, Jim F. at Feast Upon the Word, a whole raft of scholars at Faith Promoting Rumor) are posting ideas and questions and material to help gospel doctrine teachers. As long as they’re already typed up, and for what it’s worth, I’ll throw my lesson plans into the mix in hopes that some idea may be useful to a reader, even when the plan is posted after most of us will have given/heard a lesson.

Lesson 2: “Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”

Purpose

To help class members understand the doctrine of foreordination and their own responsibility to help build up the kingdom of God and bring souls to Christ.

Attention Activity

Do you remember the book Added Upon? It was one of the first Mormon novels, and follows a group of family and friends from the premortal existence, all through their earth lives, and into the eternities. I have my grandmother’s copy here – the book was published in 1898, and I think has never gone out of print. Or, if you don’t remember Added Upon, how about Saturday’s Warrior, the musical from the 1970s? It follows another group of family and friends from premortality to earth life and beyond.

How would you react if someone announced that the standard works of the Church included:

the Bible
Saturday’s Warrior
the Book of Mormon
the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price
Added Upon
and three random books from wildly popular youth conference speakers?

[Stand books on table as they are mentioned, and tie a ribbon around the collection to represent their all being treated as of equal value]

We’ll come back to this a little later in our discussion.

Scripture Discussion and Application

1. Abraham learns that in the premortal life many spirits were foreordained to their mortal missions.

Abraham, one of the greatest of the prophet-patriarchs, lived in the 10th generation after Noah. The people had greatly multiplied since the Flood, and even though the priesthood and a knowledge of God had been preserved among some of them, the majority of the people – including Abraham’s own family – had abandoned the gospel and indulged in idol worship. Abraham, though, had sought the true God, and had received the priesthood, and also the “right belonging to the fathers,” or, as we say it today, the presiding authority, or the keys to the priesthood.

The Lord appeared to Abraham, announcing “My name is Jehovah.”

Abraham 3:11-12

*Verse 12: What is the significance of the Lord’s calling Abraham, “My son, my son”? What is the significance of his outstretched hand?

Jehovah taught Abraham many things, not only about his own role in teaching the world about the one true God, but also the secrets of Creation and the destiny of mankind.

The Lord’s instruction to Abraham on this occasion had two parallel parts. The first part concerned the organization of the heavens, with all the suns and moons and stars.

* Why do you suppose the Lord wanted Abraham to understand something about this celestial astronomy?

(Draw on left half of whiteboard a sketch to indicate the multitude of heavenly bodies, and the relative size and glory.)

Abraham 3:17-19

The second part of this lesson for Abraham was to learn about the spirits of men and Gods.

(Draw on right half of whiteboard a similar sketch representing the relative intelligences.)

* Why is the analogy between the relative glory of the stars and the relative merit of intelligences important?

And then Jehovah tells Abraham that all these intelligences existed “before the world was” – that is, before time began, before the world was created, before we had physical bodies.

Abraham 3:19-23

* What does it mean to be chosen before one is born? What does it mean to be chosen at all? Chosen for what? Why is it important for Abraham to know that he was among those chosen?

Much closer to our own day, the prophet Joseph F. Smith was shown a vision of the spirits of mankind after mortality, in a kind of parallel to Abraham’s vision of premortality. He names some of those who were present in that world:

Doctrine and Covenants 138:38-49

Skipping down to verse 53… (138:53-57)

* How does having these familiar people identified as being “among the noble and great ones” help us understand spirits “noble and great”?

* What do we learn about our own possible standing among those spirits Abraham saw in the premortal world?

2. Jesus Christ was chosen in the Council in Heaven to be our Savior; we chose to follow him. Lucifer (Satan) and the spirits who followed him were cast out of heaven.

Jehovah also showed Abraham the great event of the premortal world – the meeting or meetings that we have come to call “the Council in Heaven.”

Abraham 3:24-28

Moses tells us about a little more about that.

Moses 4:1-4

* What does it tell you about yourself, or how does it make you feel, to know that you kept your first estate? What might your individual responsibilities be, and how can you find them out?

Conclusion

The scriptures that we have read today, together with a few scattered references to the War in Heaven (all of which are listed in your study guide), tell us all that the Lord has told us about our premortal existence. This is the entire scriptural record. Period.

But very often when the subject of premortality comes up, Latter-day Saints mention other ideas they have concerning premortality. What are some of the other ideas you have heard?

Soul-mates
Chose our parents
Agreed to our specific personal trials and tribulations
“I never told you it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it”
Covenanted to find/marry/teach/convert someone

(Discuss)

None of these ideas, though, are found in the scriptures; in at least some cases, prophets have taught us that the ideas are not true, yet they still persist among us. Where do those ideas come from?

Discuss role of Mormon pop culture in adding “philosophies of men” to the revealed word. Note that while those ideas may not be entirely wrong – they are, for the most part, built upon scriptural ideas – they do go far beyond the revealed word, and we need to be able to distinguish between what is known and what is merely imagined, no matter how attractive those imaginings are.

Pluck the non-canonical books out of display of standard works.

In contrast to these philosophies of men, which all seem to be centered on our own rather self-centered concerns (“I” have a soul-mate, “I” did the choosing, it will be worth it to “me”), the scriptures teach us about our obligations to help fulfill God’s plan.

Abraham 3:25

Doctrine and Covenants 138:53-56

The scriptures do not say that every last soul to be born on earth in these latter days was among the noble and great ones, chosen before we were born – other prophecies talk about the great wickedness to be found among men in the last days, of course – but the scriptures do say that those who are “taking part in laying the foundations of the great Latter-day work, including the building of temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead,” and who “labor in [the Lord’s] vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men,” are fulfilling a call that was placed upon us “before the world was.”

[Testimony, including relying on the spirit and on the revealed word of God, and recognizing the “philosophies of men mingled with scripture” that sometimes creep into our culture]



13 Comments »

  1. The scriptures that we have read today, together with a few scattered references to the War in Heaven (all of which are listed in your study guide), tell us all that the Lord has told us about our premortal existence. This is the entire scriptural record. Period.

    As one who was told today how proud I should be as a former “general in heaven”, I appreciate your point here. Your notes and the others (Julie, Jim F. etc.) that you refer to ably demonstrate that we don’t need to add the fluff– there is plenty to discuss just by sticking to what is really there.

    Comment by C Jones — January 10, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  2. Thanks for posting. I’ve been feeling sad that my current calling prevents me from hearing a lesson on Sundays, but now I feel like I’ve had a thought-provoking and spiritually uplifting one.

    Comment by Amy — January 10, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  3. Thanks, C Jones and Amy. I wish I could reproduce the discussion because there were some really great remarks. In almost any class there is someone who wants to go off on a tangent, but this time everything was on-topic and showed some thought and honest feeling.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  4. In our lesson today I expressed my view that while the scriptures in Moses and Abraham clearly indicate that great men (and women) are foreordained for future callings (Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith, Thomas S. Monson) it is going beyond the scriptures to say that most persons “placement” in this mortal life is detemined by what we did or did not do in the pre-existence. I think that the Saturday’s Warrior and Added Upon approach, while entertaining is not really justifed by the scriptures.

    In particular in a post -1978 ,Offical declaration 2 era there is a need to repudiate to notion that Black men were denied the priesthodd because of their preformance in the preexistence.

    We really know very little about the process by which most pre-mortal spirits are “placed” into various situations.

    I’m not sure how well my comments went over. I sensed some hostility but I did give people something to think about. But I also mentioned an old cartoon by Calvin Grondhal in which a group of people are standing around a newborn infant’s crib. They are saying “oh you sweet little spirit straight from the pre existence what message do you bing us?” The next frame has a loud voice from the crib saying “DO YOUR HOME AND VISITING TEACHING!!!”

    Comment by John Willis — January 10, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

  5. I was an impressionable teen when Saturday’s Warrior came out and my perception of the gospel and the preexistence was hugely influenced by it. Over the years I have discarded those early ideas and taken an approach like the one you take in your lesson that there is little in the way of scriptural support for such an expansive view. But those early ideas die hard. Your class is lucky to have you.

    Comment by Sanford — January 10, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

  6. Wow! Can I just say how impressed I am that you actually type out your whole lesson–someone as bright as you paying that much attention to your teaching is exemplary. Lucky ward.

    Comment by Kade — January 10, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

  7. I hadn’t ever really thought about the self-centered element of some of the premortal folklore. Interesting insight.

    And yet, while the ‘generals in heaven’ notion has been repudiated, even in the lesson there was a quote that is not completely dissimilar — from Pres. Benson about being ‘a marked generation’ and being ‘saved for the final inning.’ We aren’t told about how that relates to the premortal experience, but it still has some of the overtones of chosenness and our important role in this dispensation relative to others.

    So perhaps not all the folklore is w/o some basis in something more substantial.

    Thoughts?

    Comment by m&m — January 11, 2010 @ 12:11 am

  8. We made the point in our discussion that the folklore was not necessarily wrong, that it was extrapolated from scripture in many cases, but the fact of extrapolation meant that it was uncertain. Pepole can believe just about any crazy thing they want to believe, but we ought to be clear about where our beliefs come from, and which are scripture and which are not.

    I brought this up in our class because I’ve noticed how often in the past few months the answer offered to a question starts with the folklore and then builds from there — “Since we know that we chose all our own earthly trials in the preexistence, then it’s really our own fault that we struggle with [fill in the blank].” Okay, if you want to believe that, okay — but this man-made philosophy allows you to say, too, that “it’s really her own fault that she is tempted by drugs and alcohol — she didn’t have to choose that trial” or “it’s really her own fault that her husband beats her — she chose that.” I have a real problem with that.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 11, 2010 @ 8:45 am

  9. Good point Ardis, although sometimes I like to think of some folklore as a kind of “oral torah” akin to what the Jews had. Typically it reflects a lot of theological thinking but also it definitely does go beyond scripture. So I don’t discount it quite as much as others do – there’s a lot of spiritual experience among the members reflected in it. That said there’s also a lot of garbage and often it is ideas from books muddled by peoples misunderstanding. (Books on NDEs being some of the worst)

    Comment by ClarkGoble — January 11, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  10. OK, that does it. I’m moving to Ardis’ ward. (Or, maybe she could arrange to have her lesson live-streamed over the internet??)

    Comment by Hunter — January 11, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  11. I really like that you mentioned the pop culture issue in this lesson. There is a lot of folklore floating around in the church. Your visual aid is very appropriate; this problem has a new twist now with the continual growth of gospel themed movies.

    I have frequently heard the story about pre-mortal covenants and the trials and tribulations. Some people I know actually prolong their trials because of their belief they are some kind of foreordained lessons, similar to what you described in comment #8.

    I agree also with John Willis # 4. The last thing I want my kids to believe is their potential in life is somehow limited by conditions in their pre-mortal existence, or that problems they face in life cannot be challenged because it is their fate.

    I wonder if the CES folks are aware of these kinds of things and if they have ever considered as part of the lesson manual to include clarification on these myths?

    Comment by Happy Lost Sheep — January 11, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

  12. When thinking about being “preserved” to come to earth at this time, just remember that the latter days are also to be times of great wickedness.

    Maybe you are here now because you’re likely to fulfill that part of the prophecies!

    Comment by Mark B. — January 11, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

  13. Great lesson, Ardis. I imagine that the Benson quote won’t be included fifty years from know. It is one of the quotes that we will probably look back on as an interesting historical datum on 20th century Millennialism.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 11, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

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