Gospel Doctrine Old Testament Lesson #11Genesis 37; Genesis 39; Genesis 34:1–1235:2238:1–30

The manual states two aims for this lesson that are markedly different— but I think they work hand in hand to take us to the same divine destiny.

“To help class members (1) learn how to make all experiences and circumstances work together for their good and (2) strengthen their commitment to obey the Lord’s standard of sexual morality.”

(1) All things shall work for thy good…

I truly believe that being divine means you have a transformative power to make all things be good. No matter what happens, it can lead to goodness. The story of Joseph being falsely imprisoned is one of these prime examples in the scriptures. Because he still chose to be a believer, the circumstances provided him a way to do good beyond what his previous scope of life had offered. The Doctrine and Covenant repeatedly promises that if we walk upright, then “all things shall work for thy good.”

Now, hearing and understanding the possibility of this is very different than living it. All things? Like all all? Like when there are horrific things in people lives (that I can’t bear to even touch on here) and even the mundane irks of my own life, like the plumber still can’t get my kitchen sink to drain, and the electricity just went out again, and I found a snake in my shoe cabinet, and the rickshaw guy just tried to rip me off…again. All those things that makeup life in rural India…all all?…work for my good? (I am sure you have your own irks in whatever place you find yourself geographically and emotionally.)

Perhaps this is where the gap plays between being divine and being human. I am not my best, most loving self in those situations. But if I were a more divine being, perhaps I would see the moment as a transformative opportunity. (Heaven, apparently, knows I could use more patience-developing situations.)

Elder Hartman Rector Jr. explained: “[The] ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic. Our Heavenly Father/Mother always seems able to do this. Everything, no matter how dire, becomes a victory to the Lord. Joseph, although a slave and wholly undeserving of this fate, nevertheless remained faithful to the Lord and continued to live the commandments and made something very good of his degrading circumstances. People like this cannot be defeated” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 170; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130). (italics added are mine)

So, we are also taught to be grateful for all things. And perhaps these go hand in hand. When I am grateful, I can transform the situation into a more loving moment. Or I can try. And try again.

Speaking of trying, the lesson manual also pairs this as the second goal.

(2) The power of practicing sexual purity.

Growing up, I thought the difficult part of sexual morality was getting through your single life into married life when sexual acts were permissible. I kind of thought it was otherwise a pointless exercise. If you just got through this years then what the point of all that effort? Since then I have learned two things. One from an outside perspective and one from my own.

From the outside: A friend who was not a member said that Mormons track record of practicing celibacy was amazing— the very act of practicing become a superpower. As she said, “Mormons have all these muscles built up for later on resisting extramarital affairs or even lapses in self-discipline of all kinds.” Huh. That gave me a new perspective. All of that practice was simply that…practice. Practice building who I am (and who I want to be) so that later I could be the kind of person I want to be. Interesting.

From the inside: I had no idea that one of the greatest challenges in married life was in controlling my thoughts. All those years of practice on the sexual morality front is a lot of practice for other thoughts that need controlling now. The stories we tell ourselves will shape our marriage— our marriage will become what we make it in our own heads, first. So, if the story I tell myself is my husband is a generous man and view his behavior through that narrative lens— then he becomes that. If I have the lens that he is a selfish jerk, then all behavior becomes that. Try…and watch your world shift. A happy marriage DEPENDS on being able to control your thoughts in the most divine self-mastery way possible.

Perhaps, then, we practice being gods with both #1 and #2— being divine is about the transformative power of self-mastery…from humans to gods.