Not long ago, I drove several young men and their leaders to the beginning of a great trail. They were headed for a 50-mile hike. As we neared the drop-off point, leaders began reminding the youth of details about their journey. Each young man was studying the map and seemed sobered by the dramatic changes in elevation along the trail. One of the leaders talked about his firsthand knowledge of the adventure and the dangers that lay ahead. He assured the boys that the plan for the trip had been carefully prepared, and that no matter what they would face—fatigue, pain, rodents, rain, and so forth—they would enjoy the experience.
One of the boys was my son. I had a father’s concern, but I was grateful that there were faithful leaders, loyal friends, and, above all, a plan. It had been taught to the boys and reviewed before the trip began. It would be reviewed and followed along the way. Understanding the overall plan, seeing how each leg of the journey helped the group reach its goal, and having trustworthy, wise, and experienced guides inspired my confidence that the hike would be successfully completed.
As I consider the confidence those boys had, I also consider the confusion and frustration faced by many who are journeying through life without a secure knowledge of the plan of life. They struggle without a sense of eternal purpose. Prophets of God have always sought to explain the purpose of life by teaching the plan of salvation, also known as “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). Through inspiration, parents can understand and teach this road map of eternity. They can use it to guide their paths and their children’s paths through mortality.
The following is a basic outline of the plan:
We worship God as the almighty ruler of heaven and earth. He is our Father in Heaven. We lived with Him as spirits before we were born. We are His children and belong to His eternal family (see Heb. 12:9). He loves us and wants us to achieve true, eternal happiness (see Rom. 8:16–17). To enable us to become like Him, our Father in Heaven prepared a plan that allows us to come to earth and receive a physical body. This life is a time of testing to see if we will keep His commandments (see Abr. 3:24–25). Having no memory of our premortal life, we must act by faith (see 2 Cor. 5:6–7). He gives us commandments, ordinances, and covenants to point the way we should go to fulfill our eternal potential (see Moses 5:58–59). We will be held accountable for our decisions and actions (see D&C 101:78). We experience difficulties, trials, and temptations. By overcoming them through faith in His Beloved Son we develop many of the characteristics of our Heavenly Father (see Heb. 12:10–11).
The sins we commit make us unworthy to dwell in the presence of God (see 1 Ne. 15:34). But because He loves His children, our Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us. Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father and voluntarily suffered and gave His life to pay for our sins. Through His Resurrection, He overcame physical death so that we can again obtain a physical body after our death. His suffering, death, and Resurrection are called the Atonement (see LDS Bible Dictionary, “Atonement,” 617). To enjoy here in mortality and hereafter all the blessings that come from Christ’s sacrifice, we are to accept Him and live according to His example and teachings (see A of F 1:3).
When we die, our spirit leaves our physical body, but the spirit is still alive and goes to the spirit world (see Alma 40:11–13). There we await the Resurrection and Judgment. In the spirit world the gospel is taught to all who died without hearing or accepting Jesus Christ and His gospel (see D&C 138:32–34).
When we are resurrected, our physical bodies and spirits are reunited, never to be separated again (see Alma 11:43, 45). The degree of glory we experience depends on our faithfulness to Heavenly Father’s teachings. If we have been faithful and worthy, we will be with our Father in celestial glory. Those who qualify to be exalted in the highest degree of this glory receive a fulness of joy (see D&C 132:19–20). There are lesser degrees of glory for those who have been less valiant in obeying His teachings (see D&C 76:96–98).
Most of us have been taught the doctrines of the plan of salvation, yet we appreciate help in putting the various doctrines into a meaningful overview as we try to explain the plan to others.
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has suggested: “From time to time, I would … give an overview of the plan of salvation. I would try to do it a little different each time. You could use different scriptures. You could emphasize different things, but always remembering that the point of it is more than intellectual. It’s not just to know who God the Father is and who Jesus Christ is and who the Holy Ghost is. It’s to feel that is reality and that those individuals—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—are real, that they know [us], and they love [us] and they are attentive to [us]” (“Teaching Missionaries the Plan of Salvation,” Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 22 June 2000; emphasis added).
What are some helpful ways to present an overview of the plan to our children? The following are charts, activities, and scripture discussion ideas with which this may be done.
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has explained: “Individual doctrines of the gospel are not fully explained in one place in the scriptures, nor presented in order or sequence. They must be assembled from pieces here and there. They are sometimes found in large segments, but mostly they are in small bits scattered through the chapters and verses” (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” 1993 Church Educational System [CES] Symposium, 1).
The challenge of identifying and assembling doctrines of the plan of salvation may be resolved by providing an overview or framework on which a person may organize the various doctrines, such as the pieces of a puzzle. Each piece could be labeled with a different element of the plan of salvation. Some of the pieces could represent parts of the plan that God has freely and unconditionally provided for us. These doctrines identify what we cannot do for ourselves and without which salvation would be impossible. You could assemble these pieces first. Other pieces could represent parts of the plan that we must choose to accept in order to take full advantage of God’s precious gifts. You could assemble these pieces last. Once the puzzle has been put together, a short scripture reference, such as the ones on the puzzle pieces, may be read and discussed as an extension of the activity. The importance of each piece to the overall plan could be discussed by asking what would happen if any piece of the plan were missing.
When we understand even a simple overview such as this puzzle, we may approach the journey of life with greater confidence. “People retain much more,” says President Packer, “when they know how all the pieces fit together, and the light of learning shines more brightly” (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” 2).
A series of three horizontally drawn circles, representing premortal, earth, and spirit world life, with four vertically drawn circles to the right, representing postmortal degrees of glory, is often used to present an overview of the plan of salvation. Lines between the circles, representing birth, death, and judgment and resurrection, may also be drawn. Each circle and line is labeled with the name of a part of the plan.
It may be helpful when teaching with this drawing to talk about the locations (the circles) and transitions (the lines) we all experience. Causes and reasons for each transition can also be discussed. For example, instead of simply observing, “After we die, we will be resurrected,” a parent could say, “Because of the Fall everyone dies. After death, because of Christ, we will all be resurrected.”
This drawing also illustrates the relationship between what God has done for us as well as what we must do to fulfill the plan of salvation. Here the plan may be compared to a bridge with three pillars that spans a wide gulf. The bridge provides a path on which we may walk to gain eternal life. The drawing is an illustration of the truth taught by the prophet Nephi: “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all that we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23).
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the relationship between doctrines on the pages of scripture and the plan of salvation. Scriptural passages can become more relevant when the ideas in them are placed into the context of a model of the plan of salvation and the learner is invited to ponder how that doctrine fits into the plan. Doing so may be the difference between reading the scriptures and searching them. For example, after studying in Moroni 2 about conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost, a parent could ask, “On what part of the bridge would you put this chapter?” and “Why would you put it there?” Discussing answers to these questions can help clarify how the words we read in the scriptures relate to the actions of our daily lives.
One of the strengths of the representation on page 38 is the inclusion of the imagery of the “strait and narrow path” (see 2 Ne. 31:17–20). Note that the path that leads from Heavenly Father’s presence to spiritual death is downward, but the direction of life’s path continues forward. There is a gate across the path that leads to the house of the Lord. This suggests that there is more to returning to the presence of God than simply going through the gate. We must follow along the path if we are to progress and return to His presence.
You can use your home or another building to take those you teach on a “journey” through the plan. One room could be designated as the “premortal world,” another room could represent “earth life,” a third room could represent the “spirit world,” and the last room could represent the “celestial kingdom,” which might be where treats are located at the lesson’s end! You could talk about how we go through the doors of birth, death, and resurrection. Death could be explained as part of the plan—going from one room to the next. It might be useful to point out before anyone moves from room to room that someone had to plan and build the house we are all in. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are the architects and builders of the plan of salvation (see also Christine Wright, “Walking Through the Plan of Salvation,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 72).
After studying these or other models of the plan of salvation, you will be able to discuss the strengths of each overview. One model might emphasize the importance of ordinances, while another might focus more on major transitional experiences, such as birth or death. Some models focus more deeply on the Savior’s Atonement. Wise parents might invite family members to create their own models or charts, based on sound doctrines found in the scriptures and the words of the prophets.
I picked up my van load of boys a week later. They were dirty and tired, and some had scrapes and bumps. But without exception, they were glad they had the experience. They had experienced bruises, rodents, rain (almost perpetually), and many other things. The valleys and hills had presented inclines so steep they appeared impossible to ascend. Yet they spoke of their experience with enthusiasm and wonder. They had endured to the end and reveled in the joy of accomplishing something that seemed beyond the limits of their natural abilities. They had been well prepared and had followed their plan. Loving leaders had guided them along the way.
Teaching, understanding, and following the “great plan of happiness” is a key to journeying safely through mortality. “The plan is worthy of repetition over and over again,” explains President Packer. “Then the purpose of life, the reality of the Redeemer, and the reason for commandments will stay with [those you teach]. Their gospel study, their life experiences, will add to an ever-growing witness of the Christ, of the Atonement, of the restoration of the gospel” (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” 3).
The following are some teachings by current members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the plan of salvation:
About the Plan
“One of the great blessings flowing from amplifying latter-day revelations is the crucial, doctrinal framework known as the marvelous plan of salvation, the plan of happiness, or the plan of mercy” (Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1984, 21).
“You elected to have this earth experience as part of His plan for you. The prophets call it ‘the plan of mercy,’ ‘the eternal plan of deliverance,’ ‘the plan of salvation,’ and yes, ‘the great plan of happiness.’ You were taught this plan before you came to earth and there rejoiced in the privilege of participating in it” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1996, 73).
“You can think of the plan of salvation as a set of eyes that allow you to see what the natural eye does not see” (Henry B. Eyring, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 2000, 2).
Studying and Teaching the Plan
“Youth must be taught to expand their minds and to think in spiritual terms. They must know that there was no beginning and there will be no end. Then they will begin to understand the plan of redemption” (Boyd K. Packer, 1993 CES Symposium, 6).
“Truly, of all the errors mortals could make, God’s plan of salvation is the wrong thing to be wrong about! No error could be more enormous or more everlasting in its consequences! No wonder this Church and its people go to such great lengths and expense to share the fulness of the gospel concerning this plan. No wonder the Lord wants this plan taught plainly and repetitively. And why not? It is God’s plan—not ours!” (Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1984, 22).
“We must give adequate attention to the doctrines of happiness—real happiness, infinite and eternal. They should be the objective of everything we teach in the Church and of everything we do” (M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, May 1995, 24).
“Learn the doctrinal foundation of the great plan of happiness by studying the scriptures, pondering their content, and praying to understand them. Carefully study and use the proclamation of the First Presidency and the Twelve on the family” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1996, 75).
Blessings from Understanding and Following the Plan
“Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of this great drama [plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life” (Boyd K. Packer, CES Fireside, 7 May 1995, 3).
“So much more than a matter of abstract theology, this great plan can focus daily life. Its truths are crucial to how we see ourselves, others, life, the Lord, and even the universe. Or how we view a baby. Or death. Or the praise and honors of the world. This plan constitutes the mother lode of meaning and can cradle us, conceptually, amid any concern” (Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1984, 22).
“When we understand the plan of salvation, we also understand the purpose and effect of the commandments God has given his children” (Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, Nov. 1993, 73).
“The plan of happiness is available to all of his children. If the world would embrace and live it, peace, joy, and plenty would abound on the earth. Much of the suffering we know today would be eliminated if people throughout the world would understand and live the gospel” (M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, May 1995, 23).
“Some of us at one time or another let the pressures of life or the false teachings of men cloud our vision, but when we see with clarity, the difference between the plan of God and that of Satan is unmistakable” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1981, 11).
“The more closely you personally adhere to His plan for you on earth, the greater will be your happiness, fulfillment, and progress; the more qualified you will be to receive the rewards He has promised for obedience” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1996, 75).
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Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
If you have used several overviews to help teach the plan of salvation, ask family members which parts of the presentation they would like to better understand.
Ask your family members which statements from our Church leaders on the plan of salvation impress them the most and why.
Ask family members what hard things about life are better understood and endured, or what decisions can be made more wisely, when we know and trust in the plan of salvation.