Lesson 3: The Creation #BCCSundaySchool2018

Learning Outcomes

Have class members learn and discuss how our doctrine uniquely celebrates the beauty of God’s creation of both the Earth and of all humankind, particularly the gift of our physical bodies.  Note:  There is likely more material here than can be covered in a single period, use your best judgment to encourage faithful discussion on the topics most relevant to your class.

Readings

Introduction

Back in college, I took several semester-long courses on early Christianity, including one dedicated exclusively to early Christian heresies.  Of these, there was one belief, popular among early Gnostics, that truly shocked me.  Namely: Creation was a great mistake.  All physical matter is imbued with evil.  Our goal as Christians is to transcend the evil corruption of earthly mortality and enter a pure spiritual state.  That seemed fundamentally contrary to everything I had learned about the Creation and Plan of Salvation as a Mormon youth.

Opening Discussion Question:  What does modern revelation teach about creation, and how does it address and counter those early Gnostic beliefs?  (Expect a wide range of answers).

Creation is Good

In Genesis and Moses and Abraham, the message is repeated more than a dozen times:  every aspect of God’s creation is good.  

To compile the scriptures:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good.  (Genesis 1:3-4) (Moses 2:3-4)

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:9-10)  (Moses 2:10)

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  (Genesis 1:12) (Moses 2:12)

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.  (Genesis 2:9)

And [I, God, set] the sun to rule over the day, and the moon to rule over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good (Moses 1:18); (Genesis 1:16-19)

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  (Genesis 1:21)   And I, God, saw that all things which I had created were good. (Moses 2:21)  And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good. (Abraham 4:21)

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind.  (Genesis 1:25)  And I, God, saw that all these things were good. (Moses 2:25).

This Goodness permeates the Earth, both before and after the Fall (next week’s lesson).  God is Good, and as God taught Adam:  “All things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.” (Moses 6:63).

Discussion Question:  How can we celebrate the Beauty of the Earth and the Goodness of God’s creations?
Some potential answers:
  • Take time to seek God outside.  Prophets have sought God adopt mountains, and many of us have had sacred experiences in forests and meadows.  Enjoy the beauty of creation by worshipping God within it.
  • Go on family hikes and play outside.  A 2012 study shows that increasingly, American families are staying indoors and glued to screens — they don’t even go in their own backyards. (Personally, I’ve recently discovered that the most peaceful and relaxing thing I can do on Sundays is turn off my cell phone, leave it at home, and then go for a hike or read a book in the sunshine).
  • Be good stewards of the earth:  pick up clutter, recycle, reduce energy consumption, adopt eco-friendly technologies, etc.
  • Follow the Word of Wisdom, which counsels in favor of consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and against consuming meat.  The industry surrounding meat production and consumption is one the leading causes of pollution in the world; if people followed the Word of Wisdom and/or standard nutritional guidelines, it would more than cut in half total agricultural pollution.
  • Encourage local governments to adopt measures to clean up air and water, and otherwise  reduce pollution.  For Utah specifically, mention efforts to combat the pollution Inversion Fog, which is estimated to be causing the premature deaths of 1,000-2,000 Utahans per year, and to be causing increased rates of asthma and other respiratory disorders.

Read a quote, or portions of a quote, from the LDS Gospel Topics essay Environmental Stewardship and Conservation.

This beautiful earth and all things on it are the creations of God (see Genesis 1:1Moses 2:1John 1:10; 2 Nephi 2:14). As beneficiaries of this divine creation, we should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. The earth and all things on it are part of God’s plan for the redemption of His children and should be used responsibly to sustain the human family (see 1 Nephi 17:36Moses 1:39Abraham 3:24–25). However, all are stewards—not owners—over this earth and its bounty and will be accountable before God for what they do with His creations (see D&C 104:13–15). All humankind should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources, and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor and the needy (see D&C 49:19–21).

To truly reverence the Creator, we must appreciate His creations. God intends His creations to be pleasing to look upon and to enliven the mind and spirit (see D&C 59:15–19). For that reason, making the earth ugly offends Him. It is important to see and appreciate the glory and grandeur of God in everything about us (see D&C 59:20–21), because the state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected—each affects the other. The earth, all living things, and the expanse of the universe all eloquently witness of Him (see Alma 30:44D&C 88:45, 47).

Men And Women Are Created In The Image Of God

Scripture Readings:

So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them. (Abraham 4:27)

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.  And I, God, blessed them, and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good.  (Moses 2:27-28, 31) (Genesis 1:26-27, 31).

Discussion Question:  What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Some Potential Answers:
  • “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”  (Romans 8:16-17)
  • Monotheistic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) have debated the meaning and phrasing of “the image of God” for millennia.
    • Some theologians say that because God exists outside of all physical space and time, this should not be taken literally.
    • Some say that the “image” of God reflects only our ability to reason, because that is what sets us aside from all of God’s other creations.
    • Some say that our spiritual souls reflect God, not our physical selfs — that we were put on earth to act for and on behalf of God in serving our fellow men.
    • Some say that our physical selfs themselves reflect God Incarnate — namely, we are not in the image of God the Father, but rather of Christ, who adopted a human form in order to save us all.
    • Some say that God himself has a physical body, reflected in humanity itself.
    • Where on this spectrum do Mormons lie?
  • Mormons teach that gaining a body was a critical purpose of creation and the Plan of Salvation, that our bodies are temples of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and that after death, our bodies will be reunited with our spirits and continue to exist in a resurrected and glorified state.
Discussion Question: Why is the creation of both men and women “very good?”  Who are “the Gods” making “male and female” in “our image?”
Some Potential Answers:
  • The Proclamation to the World proclaims that everyone “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
  • The First Presidency has said: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity” (“The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 78).  The scriptures proclaim:
  • Susa Young Gates, a secretary in the Relief Society general presidency, wrote in 1920 that Joseph Smith’s visions and teachings revealed the truth that “the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father.”
  • A Gospel Topics Essays addresses Heavenly Mother.  And a recent book of BCC Poetry, Mother’s Milk, contains beautiful reflections on her.  Here are two favorites:

What Joseph Taught Me
If women do not comprehend
the character of God the Mother,
they do not comprehend themselves.

Child’s Play
Heavenly Mother didn’t think
She believed in toys,
until She saw her daughter
play with daylight,
wind, trees, songs.
Now she seeks to give her every
good (play)thing.

Discussion Question:  Sometimes, even though we believe that all of God’s creations, including our bodies, are good, pieces of belief from either Satan or worldly philosophies slip in.  They falsely teach that our bodies are corrupt, evil, or meant to suffer.  What are some examples of common ways in which we make mistakes in teaching about our bodies, and how can we counteract those beliefs?
Some Potential Answers:
  • Fasting.  We fast in order to humble ourselves before God, to elevate our spiritual nature over our physical ones, and to remember to care for the poor and needy.
    • Sometimes we judge others for not following our same practices on fast Sundays.  But the Church teaches: “Many are subject to weakness, others are delicate in health, and others have nursing babies; of such it should not be required to fast. Neither should parents compel their little children to fast” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 244).
    • Also sometimes we hear strains of thought along the lines of, if fasting for 1 day is good, then fasting all the time is better.   This can  lead to severe eating disorders.  God gave us food for our pleasure and enjoyment; we do not believe in denying ourselves food as a form of punishment or long-term holiness.  President Joseph F. Smith counsels us to be wise in our fasting. “There is such a thing as overdoing. A man may fast and pray till he kills himself; and there isn’t any necessity for it; nor wisdom in it.”

 

  • Medicine.  Although not common, occasionally Mormons make statements to the effect that sicknesses can be cured by faith, prayer, healing blessings, and following the Word of Wisdom alone.  They make statements to the effect that physical ailments or mental illness should not need medical intervention.  This is not the teachings of the Church.
    • Elder Holland taught in 2013, Like a Broken Vessel:  “If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.”
    • Since at least the 1970s, the Church has officially encouraged and dedicated its Humanitarian resources to promoting vaccination.

 

  • Body/Modesty Shaming.  God gave us bodies on order to celebrate them — to run and jump and swim and exercise.  To feel the wind and sun on our skins.  Sometimes, however, we hear comments that all exercise clothing, all swimsuits, all pajamas, starting from birth and continuing through old age, must always follow “temple garment” standards.  We have all encountered gossip about other member’s worthiness due to them not following someone else’s level of dress standards.  This is not God’s will.
    • Sister Marilyn Arnold explained back in 1975: “Modesty in dress is at least partly dependent upon the appropriateness of a particular costume to the occasion or activity for which it is worn. What is appropriate and modest for one activity may not be for another. We have to exercise judgment and make every effort to obey the spirit of the law.”

 

  • Sex Shaming:  Because we so thoroughly believe that sex should be a loving experience between married adults, we strongly discourage it before marriage.  However, this discouragement can sometimes lead to men and women learning false and harmful messages.
    • For example, Elizabeth Smart has repeatedly told about how teenage chastity lessons made her kidnapping worse.  She thought that after being raped and sexually abused she had lost all of her worth.  She felt like a chewed-up piece of gum that was only good for being thrown away.   We should always teach that victims do not sin when they are abused, and even those who willfully sin are fully able to participate in Christ’s atonement and receive healing and grace.
    • More ordinarily, many men and women in the Church have a hard psychological time adjusting to marriage — because they spent decades hearing that sex was bad and physical pleasure was dangerous, they are highly uncomfortable in their bodies once married, and feel ashamed in the bedroom.  While encouraging abstinence before marriage, we should not use fear and shame,  but rather always keep the message positive and focused on the beauty of God’s gift of emotional and physical intimacy.  Dr. Jennifer Finlayson Fife, a Mormon sex therapist, provides excellent resources on how to teach children positive sexual messages and how to encourage increased intimacy in adults.

Conclusion

Bear testimony of the gifts of creation that God has given us, in nature and the environment, and in the joy that we can take from our bodies.

Supplemental Readings From the BCC Archives

Jason & Kristine Kerr, Sunday Sermon: Creation (Apr. 13, 2014)

Kevin Barney, Adam, Eve, and the Order of Creation (Oct. 8, 2015)

RJH, Creation and Collaboration (June 27, 2011)


(If Necessary) Answers For the Inevitable Class Trolls

Answer to: The Earth Is There For Our Use; Jesus’s Second Coming Will Fix The Environment.  The Gospel Topics environmental stewardship essay addresses these questions.  It explains that “replenishing” is part of humanity’s stewardship, and that “The fulness of the earth is to be used with wisdom and restraint.”  “In our care and preservation of the creation, we either accept or reject our accountability to God.”  “To be complacent with His creations offends Him (see D&C 59:18–21).”

Answer to: Evolution/Youth Earth Creationism (from the manual): The length of time required for the Creation is not known. The term day in the scriptural account of the Creation does not represent a 24-hour period. The Hebrew word yom can be translated as “day,” “time,” or “period.” The Apostle Peter said that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8; see also Abraham 3:4).   Henry Eyring once wrote “the theories that the earth is about four-and-a-half billion years old and that life evolved over the last billion years or so are as well established scientifically as many theories ever are.”  Reflections of a Scientist (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1983), 61-62.

Comments

  1. I believe that the Henry Eyring that wrote Reflections of a Scientist was the father of President Henry B, Eyring, the Apostle. Although he was not an Apostle, Henry Eyring was still a very faithful man of high standing in the Church.

  2. Oh you’re right! I’ll delete the word “Apostle” from that.

  3. Sounds like it could be an excellent lesson–or, if done wrong, an absolute monstrosity of a lesson.

    If the main Sunday School teacher teaches this in my ward, she’ll handle it masterfully, and the only problematic issues will be those from class members.

    If the backup is teaching, he’ll make it into an anti-evolution and anti-environmentalism diatribe–and honestly, I know how this goes well enough that I’ll leave before the class starts.

    But the 6-year-old has a temperature, so I’ll most likely be at home, reading over your lesson plan in more detail, instead. Thank you for this.

  4. I really love your discussion questions. I was struggling with finding good discussion questions for this lesson. And I am totally using that Eyring quote if it comes up.

    I also plan to bring up the phrase “help meet for him,” and how it should be parsed, that has been discussed on this blog before.

  5. Also, can I just vent about the manual here for a second? “Ask a class member to volunteer to make or draw a small animal using modeling clay or chalk (allow only one or two minutes). Then discuss the fact that while we can create a model of a living thing, only God can create life.” I mean… are there actually adults for whom this would be a class activity that would be interesting rather than deathly boring? (Though my 8-year-old would enjoy it, as long as she got to be the one using the clay rather than in the class watching.)

  6. I read parts of Reflections of a Scientist this week in preparation to teach this class, also interesting in the book is an encounter between Henry Eyring and President Joseph Fielding Smith who had a much different view of the age of the earth unfortunately. After watching a short video adapted from Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life film, the creation sequence, I plan on getting a discussion going about the age of the earth, evolution, history/myth of the two Genesis accounts, it will probably overwhelm my class a bit but I am interested to see what exactly they think or don’t think about relationship of science, religion and history.

  7. Geoff - Aus says:

    Would it be too much to ask that you publish these sooner. I live in Brisbane Australia which is 17 hours ahead of Utah. I really enjoyed the points you brought out, none of which we discussed in our class.
    Thanks

  8. Geoff — not too much to ask. I had originally hoped to get these out Thursday, but then normal life blew up and I didn’t have time until the weekend. We’re trying!

  9. A good lesson plan, and several good points to be made, so thank you for putting this together. If I could add to the discussion, I think I would chime in as “devil’s advocate” in the final discussion question. For example, thinking about the sex shaming example you give, and it seems to me that we frequently invoke Mos. 3:19 (or similar “natural man” scriptures). Earlier in the lesson, you stated that goodness permeates the creation both before and after the fall, but this scripture suggests that our “carnal and sensual” nature is a result of the fall. Do we take an Augustinian “sex before the fall was passionless, easily controlled, and holy, but sex became passionate, difficult to control, and sinful after the fall” kind of theology — or what does our theology around goodness of sex before and after the fall look like?

  10. I’m pretty sure Peter ought to be required to post a after-the-fact comment telling us how the discussion turned out. I can only grimace at how ugly that would be in my ward.

  11. Great post, great helps. Love it.

  12. Ours today ended on why the Big Bang and evolution are untrue. Everyone under 40 was rolling their eyes.

  13. In response to jaxjensen the class generally went well but like I expected it was a bit too much for some stubborn heads to take in, I tried to lighten things up by talking about how fruit flies share almost 60% genes with humans, and a few other things like that. I would’ve liked to talk more about evolution but ran out of time.

  14. This is great, thanks for sharing. When I taught this lesson a few years ago, I made my class watch the creation scene from The Tree of Life (including the part with the dinosaurs…). After I set that tone, no one seemed to have anything to say about evolution :D

  15. Rebecca J says:

    Wow, this is a very discussion.

    I taught the Creation to my Primary class on Sunday. I talked mainly about God creating the earth for our benefit and giving us the responsibility to take care of it. And we drew a lot of pictures of animals (including a dinosaur). One of the kids discovered how cool it was to say, “Let there be light!” and flip on the light switch, so then he wanted to act out the whole story. I know that technically we’re not supposed to have people pretend to be a member of the Godhead at church, but I decided to give him a pass.

  16. Paul Ritchey says:

    Very well done, Carolyn. As another potentially useful angle on the class troll staking environmental well-being on miraculous deliverance, I like to respond by emphasizing that the accountability involved in environmental stewardship may be much more important than the actual outcomes for the environment (one can see Earth as a laboratory for righteous use of godly dominion). Miraculous deliverance can, indeed, fix the environment, but it can’t make us better creators. Only stewardship can do that.

  17. Steve, are you in my ward? ;) When the teacher bore testimony that the Big Bang and evolution are false, I wanted to throw my copy of the Eyring book at his head, but I’d left it at home so I faked a coughing fit instead.

  18. Ryan Gotchy Mullen says:

    Really good stuff here. I attend Gospel Principles these days, so I missed this lesson entirely, but I heard second-hand that there was a bit of a dust up in my ward when my wife asked for people’s experiences on how to teach our children the value of the creation and evolution.

    “The term day in the scriptural account of the Creation does not represent a 24-hour period.” I would argue this is not true. The 7-day structure in Genesis is designed to emphasize the Sabbath as a day of rest. If each day is instead a million (or billion) years, are we only supposed to rest every 7th million years?

  19. Aussie Mormon says:

    If each of our days lasted for x-illions of years then possibly. I think it’s more that there is a time set apart for the sabbath observance. If we’re going to go with the seventh day being the sabbath, then we should be observing it on Saturday not Sunday.