Gospel Principles Lesson One

Gospel Principles Lesson One: Our Heavenly Father

–From Robert Fulghum:

“[My mother’s maiden name] was Howard. She came from a big Memphis clan that was pretty close and was referred to as the Howard Family. As a small child, I thought of myself as a member of the Howard Family because it was often an item of conversation as in “The Howard Family is getting together,’ and The Howard Family thinks people should write letters to their grandmother.” The matriarch, my grandmother, was referred to as Mother Howard. . . . Howard was a name that was important to me from early on in my life. What happened was that I got packed off to Sunday School at around age four and the first thing I learned was the Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed by Thy name.” And what I heard was “Our Father, which art in heaven, HOWARD be Thy name.” And since little kids tend to mutter prayers anyhow, nobody realized what I was saying was Howard. And believing I was a member of His family–the Howards. Since I was told that my grandfather had died and gone to heaven, God and my grandfather got all mixed up in my mind as one and the same. Which meant that I had a pretty comfy notion about God. When I knelt beside my bed each night and prayed, “Our Father, which art in heaven, Howard be thy name,” I thought about my grandfather and what a big shot he was because, of course, the prayer ends with “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever, Amen.” I went to bed feeling pretty well connected to the universe for a long, long time. It was a Howard Family Enterprise. All human images of the ultimate . . . are metaphors, and as metaphors go, this is a pretty homey one. And I thought it for so long that even when I passed through all those growing-up stages of skepticism, disbelief, revision and confusion–somewhere in my mind I still believed in Howard. Because at the heart of that childhood image there is no alienation.”

–I love this story because of the delicious mixture of getting the nature of God absolutely right and absolutely wrong at the same time. Also because his knowledge–even imperfect–blessed his life. Obviously, Howard isn’t God. But–and would that it were also obvious to each of us–God is as close to us as a grandparent. I hope in this lesson we can think about what we know about God, how that knowledge blesses our lives, and what we can do to know more about God–to refine our knowledge and maybe even get rid of some misconceptions.

There Is A God
–I’m going to share my personal story of first knowing of the reality of God. Ask: Does anyone else have a similar experience that they would like to share?
–If you knew someone who was doubting the existence of God, what would you tell her?
–Read Alma 30:44. Some people take the same data (i.e., existence of planets, natural elements) and reach the opposite conclusion (=that there is no God). What do you do with that? How do you develop the perspective that lets you take something (stars, plants, whatever) and see God’s hand in it as opposed to seeing the absence of God from it? How might this be relevant to your life?
–There are so many titles for God in the scriptures. Which ones resonate with you and why? I like JS’s “great parent” mentioned in this section!

The Nature of God
–“Because we are made in His image, we know that our bodies are like His body.” How does this (or: how should this) affect how we think about our bodies?
–Issue of God’s attributes: What difference does it (or: should it) make? Is this something you think about: “I should be more merciful because God is merciful?”

Coming to Know God
–“Knowing God is so important that the Savior said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”
–My experience (no details): God doesn’t always want us to suffer as much as possible. What have you learned about God through your own experiences? Have you had any misconceptions cleared up?
–What have you found most effective in your efforts to come to know God? What hasn’t worked?
–Mosiah 4:9. Interesting contrast with the above section on the nature of God: What do we do with the fact that we can’t know everything about God and about God’s plan?
–I was talking to my husband recently about how sometimes, it seems to me, Mormons can be arrogant in acting as if they know everything about God. He said, “It’s like a computer. People think they know how it works, but they don’t.” I thought that was a perfect image: you probably know enough to use a computer, but not build one. You know some things (No magnets! Ask me how I know that!), but you don’t know others. But you know enough to operate it. Similarly, we know enough to pray, to gain salvation, etc., but we can’t claim we know everything about God. Thoughts?

The manual introduction says this: “You can find answers to life’s questions, gain an assurance of your purpose and self-worth, and face personal and family challenges with faith.” What in this lesson can help you meet each of these goals?

35 comments for “Gospel Principles Lesson One

  1. Sterling Fluharty
    January 3, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing these great questions and giving us some ideas for our own lessons.

    I want to believe what you say about suffering, but how do we square it with scriptures like 3 Ne. 27:27 that tell us to become like Christ as much as possible.

    How possible is it that some of our arrogance about knowing God stems from Joseph Smith’s promise that through the Book of Mormon we could “get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”?

    How can we reconcile Mosiah 4:9, which says we can’t comprehend all of the things of the Lord, with Alma 12:9-10, which says we can know the fullness of God’s mysteries?

  2. Julie M. Smith
    January 3, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Sterling, those are good questions. I’ll take a stab at each one:

    (1) Being like Christ doesn’t mean suffering as much as possible, any more than it means becoming of Middle Eastern descent or wearing sandals. I think the defining characteristic of Jesus was/is His willingness to do exactly what God wanted Him to do, and that that is what we should emulate. Trying to suffer as much as possible may not be what God would have us do.

    (2) “Nearer to God” doesn’t mean right next to God–it means “nearer.” I believe that statement of JS’s to be true, but I don’t believe it means that you will know everything there is to know about God if you read the BoM.

    (3) I read that passage in Alma as saying that we might eventually know the mysteries . . . but not today!

  3. January 3, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    These are fine notes, Julie. I was struck by the contrast between Moses 1:31 (“For mine own purpose have I made these things”) which seems to say that God is not sharing his purpose; and 1:39 (“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”) which we often take to be a disclosure of that purpose.

    Following the caution against arrogance, perhaps it is better to read 1:39 as a disclosure directed at our purpose (to further God’s work and glory by bringing to pass our own salvation and that of those around us) but not God’s ultimate purpose, which remains veiled.

  4. Drew
    January 3, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Yes, thank you. Every time I read Alma’s testimony I wonder the same thing–how 2 completely opposite viewpoints as to the reality of God can arise from the existence of planets, things of nature, etc.

  5. L Soderquist
    January 4, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Very interesting. Love the “Howard” story! Many thoughts flood my mind.

    Why do I believe in God? Quite simply, because my parents, teachers and leaders (prophets et al.) told me about him and it resonated with me (Moro 7: 22-25) Also the scriptures testify to me. (Alma 30:44)

    I think that Alma should be taken literally when he says that all things denote there is a God. In other religious traditions, communion with God through nature is prominent, but it is not entirely absent in our tradition as Alma 30:44 suggests. D&C 128:22-23 speaks eloquently of the testimony of the various elements of nature.

    Meditation and prayer are a well-traveled avenue to God, as the scripture “Be still and know that I am God” suggests. D&C 88:62-69 is an open invitation to a direct experience of the divine.

    I can’t resist adding one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith:
    “God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and . . . the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him.” Hist.of Church 2:8

    Now that’s a testimony!

  6. January 4, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Good on you, Julie. I love your insights and am excited to hear this lesson in my ward next week. Thank you for your efforts here.

  7. January 4, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Well done.

  8. ESO
    January 4, 2010 at 11:35 am

    I am totally stealing that Howard story. Thanks for the outline–I am teaching this lesson, too. I am sorely tempted to re-teach the I am a Child of God lesson I taught in nursery yesterday.

  9. January 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    God most likely doesn’t want me to suffer as much as possible, or perhaps even everything that is possible. He wants me to learn to be more like him.

    I don’t think Father wants to shield me from affliction, because he knows how much I can learn from it. We just have different capacities, and need different feedbacks to help us, and need different time frames.

    To me God is neither a sadist nor someone who is responsible for making sure I avoid inconvenience.

  10. Clair
    January 5, 2010 at 2:05 am

    The universe is indeed beautiful and orderly, but that is not why I believe in God.

    For me, the primary evidence of God is the testimony of the prophets and apostles to whom God revealed his presence and his nature. My own spirit reverberates with their testimonies.

    I’ll take one testimony of Isaiah or Stephen or Joseph over all the Hubble photos.

  11. Keith
    January 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    What’s really good about what you’ve done here is shown how to use what’s given (the manual) and think about it and ask questions that make the experience a discussion/discovering/revealing one rather than simply a passing on of bits of information.

  12. New Teacher
    January 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I’ve been nervous about teaching as this is a new calling for me. I feel like I have a good starting point after reading this, thanks.
    Like others, I find that my testimony of God comes from what I have been taught throughout my life by parents, teachers, prophets, etc. Also, my own experiences testify to me that there is a God who knows and loves me. Praying to know if He is there and if what I have been taught is true has given me my testimony because the Spirit bears witness to me when I pray.
    “…for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.” Jacob 4:13

  13. park
    January 8, 2010 at 10:48 am

    When will you have lesson 2?

  14. Julie M. Smith
    January 8, 2010 at 11:54 am

    park, I won’t. I only teach on the second Sunday of the month, so I’ll only be doing the odd number lessons. Sorry.

  15. Karen
    January 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Thank you for the input, I too love the Howard story, I am planning on using it.

  16. Gail Robertson
    January 10, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    So when will you post lesson 3? Thanks

  17. Julie M. Smith
    January 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Gail, on or around Feb 7th.

  18. J. Murdock
    January 10, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Where is lesson 2??

  19. J. Murdock
    January 10, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    never mind found my answer.

  20. Singularity
    January 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm


    I, too, like the story from Fulghum that you found to kick-start the lesson. I looked at the manual to see if it was quoted there but was surprised to see that it is not in the manual. Did you see the article in the Church News recently in which church leaders strongly discourage the use of outside sources to supplement lessons? The article says that the new Gospel Principles manual has been carefully constructed by an inspired committee working under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and that the lesson manuals contain all that is needed, and more, for class discussion. See http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58411/Use-proper-sources.html.

    The Introduction to the Gospel Principles manual also states: “If you have been called to teach a quorum or class using this book, do not substitute outside materials, however interesting they may be.”

    Do you feel like you can have the Spirit with you when you teach this class if you are not obedient to the instructions from the Brethren and choose to use “outside materials” (even good ones like the Fulghum story)?

  21. January 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Singularity, you’re on the wrong blog. You want SelfRightesousnessPersonified.com.

  22. Singularity
    January 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I wasn’t trying to be self-righteous, Ardis. It was a serious question. Sometimes tone is difficult to ascertain in online communications, especially when we are not familiar with each other. I am just wondering what Julie and others here think about the instructions we have been given as teachers in the Church News and in the Gospel Principles manual not to use any outside materials, even if they are interesting. The article goes to great pains to stress that these instructions come from the very top. The Church News article had to be approved by the First Presidency to get published; the Introduction in the GP manual likewise. Are you saying teachers in the church ought to ignore the direct request of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on this matter?

  23. Kristine
    January 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Church News editorial =/ “direct request of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve”

  24. January 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I’m saying, Singularity, that you have no right whatsoever to call Julie to repentance this way. This doesn’t fall within your stewardship. Not by a mile.

    You want to start a conversation about appropriate teaching methods, and especially about whatever counsel may have been given in various forums, then do it without making it a personal attack. You forfeited your right to a serious discussion, as far as I’m concerned.

  25. Researcher
    January 12, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Since Ardis has decreed that there shall be no serious discussion, here’s something frivolous. The manual also says “use personal experiences.” The Fulghum story is clearly a personal experience, and is therefore fair to use within the teaching guidelines.

  26. Julie M. Smith
    January 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Singularity, I’m having a hard time getting links to work today, but I’d like to refer you to the chapter “Looking for Lessons Everywhere” in the (official, correlated) book _Teaching, No Greater Call. I try really hard to follow the advice in that chapter in terms of always keeping my eyes and hears open for experiences and stories that illustrate gospel principles and then trying to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit regarding when and how to use those stories.

  27. Singularity
    January 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    First let me apologize if my question seemed either a personal attack or a call to repentance. I did not intend it as either. The Church News editorial coming at the same time as the release of a new manual with new instructions (do they supersede what is in the Teaching, No Greater Call manual?) to avoid the use of any outside materials is of interest to me and I was wondering how church teachers this year might view those instructions. I guess the Fulghum story could be a “personal experience” but it is the personal experience of Robert Fulghum not the teacher, so it is a bit of stretch to try to comply with the requirement through semantic gymnastics. One wonders what “outside material” would not fall under the umbrella of “personal experience” if that is the touchstone. Does the fact that the manual and the Church News (both published under the direction of the First Presidency) both prohibit the use of outside sources and emphasize reliance on the curriculum as produced through the inspired correlation process mean nothing? Do they affect, in any way, the manner in which you are preparing for and teaching your lessons this year? Is this topic of discussion verboten?

  28. Kristine
    January 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    It’s not verboten, but it is really tacky, Singularity. If you want to play holier than thou, at least have the guts to do it in declarative sentences rather than faux questions. “One wonders…” Ugh.

  29. January 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Singularity, when you read Julie’s lesson (assuming you went farther than the introductory paragraph), did you honestly feel that her lesson did not teach the facts, the spirit, the scripture, the purpose, outlined in the manual for that lesson? Did you feel she distorted the message, or scrapped part of the intended lesson in order to substitute a gospel hobby? If not, then the lesson was exactly what the curriculum people intended.

    If, on the other hand, you didn’t really read and consider the lesson, but instead jumped on the introductory paragraph with a pharisaical “Ah, ha! She’s breaking the rules! I’m going to tell!” then YOU are the one who is out of tune.

    If someone in the class, not the teacher, had commented on a point in the lesson by saying, “You know, before hearing the Restored Gospel I was all mixed up in my ideas of God — almost as mixed up as Robert Fulghum said he was as a child when … [summarize story],” would you expect someone to jump up and say “Stop! You can’t say that! That isn’t in the manual!” or would you smile and nod and think, perhaps, about your own early misunderstanding about the nature of God?

    If you’re a teacher, frankly, I suspect you bore the pants off everyone in your class, because if you practice what you preach, you read the manual word for word lest some unauthorized illustration creep in. That’s no way to teach.

  30. Julie M. Smith
    January 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Singularity, I am going to ignore abundant evidence to the contrary and assume that you are honestly curious and not aware of how incredibly obnoxious you sound. To put it simply: I do not think the counsel in the Church News means what you think it means. Here’s what the intro to the manual in question says:

    “If you have been called to teach a quorum or class using this book, do not substitute outside materials, however interesting they may be. Stay true to the scriptures and the words in the book. As appropriate, use personal experiences and articles from Church magazines to supplement the lessons. For more on this subject, see Teaching, No Greater Call, pages 50–59.”

    Let me break that down:
    –Substitute means to exchange one thing for another. If there had been material in the lesson that said “use this for an introduction” and I used the Fulghum story instead, that would be a substitution. But the manual as written does not contain an introduction. TNGC makes clear that lessons need introductions (“attention getters”). We have been told repeatedly that we are not to read the lesson verbatim–to teach out of our hearts and not out of our books–and so obviously we would need to provide our own introductory material for this lesson.

    –I believe the story is very much “true” to the scriptures and the manual in that it hits the same themes, particularly re coming closer to God by knowing Him.

    –I read this story and it had a huge impact on me. I shared *my personal experience* with the Fulghum story when I taught the lesson.

    –You’ll note the reference to the Teaching, No Greater Call book.

  31. January 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    My comments are offered, by the way, as one who sat through a lesson last spring supposedly out of the Joseph Smith teachings, where the teacher spent a significant part of the time discussing revelations given to Merlin the Magician and outlining how the fall of King Arthur’s Camelot came about because the people in his kingdom corrupted the temple ordinances.

    Know that I’m one who recognizes the difference between a teacher doing what was condemned by that unsigned Church News article and a teacher who engages her class with appropriate illustrations.

  32. DavidH
    January 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I think Singularity was being facetious in a sense. Read literally, the Church News editorial could be construed to prohibit anything from being used outside of correlation materials. And some “by-the-book” leaders will construe the instructions that way. I live in a stake where stake leaders once criticized a relief society lesson because, in an attention getting opening, a teacher referred to something said on a popular talk show. (It was not an inappropriate or racy show or reference.) Really. The leaders said that because it was not in the manual or in correlated materials, the reference should not have been used even as an opening. And that was before the editorial in the Church News. But I suppose the meaning and potential implementation of the CN editorial are beyond the scope of this thread.

  33. Singularity
    January 12, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Just to be clear (I’m afraid I have not been as articulate as I wished), I am not critical of Julie’s lesson at all. I think it was well within the spirit of what was intended by the manual and I think the introductory story from Fulghum was effective and relevant. I have used “outside sources” often in my teaching, finding the lessons benefit from some supplementation (rather than substitution–I appreciate the distinction). My comment was more about the introduction to the manual and the editorial, both of which seem pretty clearly to discourage teachers from using the Internet or reading outside the four corners of the manual in preparing and teaching lessons in church classes. I have the Teaching, No Greater Call book but am wondering if anyone sees the CN editorial and Intro to GP manual as a tightening of the policy about using outside sources. One of President Monson’s first pronouncements as Prophet was the prohibition of asking fellow church members to turn to their scriptures and read along during a Sacrament talk. Church leaders appear to be concerned about exercising control to a fairly fine level of detail over what is said from authoritative positions at the local lever (i.e., from Sacrament meeting speakers, gospel doctrine teachers, and the like). I truly did not intend to call anyone to repentance, appear holier-than-thou, or to be obnoxious. I am new here, and I must say I have found the response I have received from fellow followers of the Savior somewhat surprising. Maybe I can direct the conversation away from a discussion of the specific lesson Julie gave and make it more general: does anyone here think the CN editorial and introduction to the GP manual represent a shift in church policy about the use of outside sources? If so, how would you characterize the size of that shift? Is it significant or minor? Will it affect in any way how you prepare your lessons going forward?

  34. Julie M. Smith
    January 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Singularity, perhaps with hindsight you can see how your earlier comments came across and why they provoked the reaction that they did. Your latest comment is much better and, I might note, quite interesting.

    I can’t read anyone’s minds, but I don’t think the ban on “please read along in Alma . . .” during sacrament meeting has anything to do with our conversation here. Every effort I’ve seen at reining in outside sources has specifically mentioned the scriptures as THE place to go instead. I believe (just my opinion, though) that the “please read along” ban has to do with the nature of a worship service being distinct from a Sunday School lesson.

    I don’t think the intro the GP manual says anything different re this topic than any other recent manual. I do think the CN article goes a little farther, but I’m disinclined to give it that much weight, given that when the leadership wants to reach the Saints, they don’t do it through unsigned articles in the CN, which the vast majority of members never even see. I do think that article is a response to the new GP manual, which at first blush might seem “boring” or “basic” and might send people googling for some juicy Parley P. Pratt quotes to spice things up. After teaching my lesson this week, I feel that the very basic doctrine we covered and the very basic questions I asked led to a good experience, almost entirely because of the testimony-filled comments of the members of the class.

    I have always tried to be extremely careful to stay *very* orthodox in what doctrine I teach. (Those who have been reading my posts here for a long time might be on the floor laughing, but I consider a blog an appropriate place for crazy speculation, so I do that here. Not at church.)

  35. TinMan
    January 13, 2010 at 12:16 am


    I too, have struggled with the “outside source” counsel in the CN article and the new manuals introduction. Especially given the subject matter.

    I am sure it is incredibly difficult to “write” a manual that can be used in the smallest branch in Lower Swabovia as well as in the largest ward on the East Bench of Salt Lake. And then to say basically, “Teach from the manual, all you need is here,” only compounds the challenge.

    I see the new manuals as a great tool to generate discussions about the scriptures. And to explore meanings for scriptures that you may not have thought about before. It is going to be an interesting couple of years.

    Do you think that generally speaking, it will be harder for Relief Society teachers to teach from this new manual, or for Priesthood teachers?

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