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D&C Sunday School Lesson 10: “Lay aside the things of this world” (25:10)

Posted by Robert C. on March 3, 2009

D&C Lesson 10: “Lay aside the things of this world”

(Note: Jim F.’s lesson notes from 4 years ago can be found here.)

One of the most provocative verses in this lesson for me is D&C 25:10:

And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better.

The question I will be exploring in this post will be focused on understanding what “this world” might be referring to, as well as “things of a better.”

Immediate context

If we take some of these surrounding verses as pointing to a contrast of worlds, then we might start with verse 8 where Emma is commanded to give her time “to writing and to learning much.” If this is parallel to things of a better world, what does this imply about “the things of this world”? In today’s busy and informationally rich world, it is tempting to conflate acquiring information with actual learning. Elder Oaks, back in April 2001 General Conference talks about this brilliantly (see here). Here’s one gem of a quote:

Because of modern technology, the contents of huge libraries and other data resources are at the fingertips of many of us. Some choose to spend countless hours in unfocused surfing the Internet, watching trivial television, or scanning other avalanches of information. But to what purpose?

On my reading, “learning much” requires focused attention, as well as time. Finding time to really contemplate the “solemnities of eternity” (D&C 43:34) in this busy, fast-paced world is, perhaps, the most significant way that this world is able to crowd out the things of a better.

In verse 9, Emma is told “thou needest not fear.” How does fear impinge upon things of this world versus things of a better world? In this time of economic turmoil, there is a huge temptation to let fear run our lives. In Moses 1 we read that when Moses “began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell.” Fear, it seems, goes hand and hand with Satan’s order, in contrast to the peace that the Gospel brings.

In verses 11-12, we read the famous passage about Emma being called “to make a selection of sacred hymns . . . for my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.” How might “sacred hymns” contrast with music as it pertains to this world? What does “the song of the heart” mean, and what might be the parallel in this world? Are there hymns that we might offer that are not sacred? I’ll avoid the temptation here to get on my soapbox about Mormon pop music becoming a substitute for more sacred music, but suffice it to say that I firmly believe the music we listen to can be one of the best ways to interrupt the order of this world and to give us a window into a more sacred order of things.

Well, of course I’m not even scratching the surface in terms of thinking through this question of how the context surrounding verse 10 can help us understand the differences between the things of this world versus the things of a better, but I hope I’ve hinted at some direction that this kind of exercise or discussion might go. Learning, peace, and music all seem to be important ways by which we can make the spiritual world opened up to us through scripture more immanent in our lives.

Broader context

How do other passages of scripture use the phrase “this world” and how might that help us understand what is being told to Emma here? The phrase “this world” is used in at least 50 other distinct chapters of scripture (see an lds.org search here). According to Hermann Sasse in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “the New Testament borrowed the doctrine of the two aeons [worlds] from Jewish apocalyptic, in which we find the same expressions from the 1st century B.C. onwards” (Vol. 1, p. 206). Sasse goes on to quote several passages from the Book of Enoch which are, on my reading, very suggestive of temple symbolism and imagery, especially when coupled with New Testament teachings the this new world or kingdom is constructable in this mortal sphere (e.g., Hebrews 6:4-5 talks about those in this life who have already experienced things of “the world to come”). Thus, to really appreciate what this verese, D&C 25:10, is really saying, we need to understand the temple and apocalyptic imagery in scripture more generally. In other words, to fully appreciate this single verse is a life-long endeavor!

For now, I will focus more specifically on the usage of the more particular phrase “things of this world” as it occurs in the LDS canon, specifically Mosiah 4:23, Alma 39:14, Helaman 7:21, and D&C 121:35. In each of these Book of Mormon passages, “riches” are explicitly mentioned. In D&C 121:35, “the honors of men” seems to take the coupled of riches as forming the partner to “things of this world.” So what is common between seeking for riches and seeking for the honors of men?

Because D&C 121:34ff is so well-known, I think this is a good place to begin thinking about this question. The image of “the doctrine of the priesthood . . . distil[ling] upon thy soul as the dews of heaven,” (121:45) in a way that is, at least on my reading, loving and receptive rather than authoritative and domineering is . . . well, rich. But one thing that has puzzled me about this imagery is the way that it seems to form a contrasting image with the “rolling waters” of verse 33 where the way that knowledge will be poured out upon the Saints is compared to “the Missouri river in its decreed course” that cannot be stopped. So, slowly distilling dew or a rushing river, which is it? why the different images? (I’m inclined to think that knowledge occurs differently in different times and that the distilling image is what we are to strive for, with patience, and the rolling waters are something we should anxiously prepare for….)

Anyway, if the honors of men are only useful to those who want to domineer over others, then they are analogous to riches that are sought for their own sake and not “for the intent to do good” (Jacob 2:19). However, if “this world” is then characterized largely by the desire to aggrandize oneself, in contrast to losing oneself in the service of others, how are we to understand the “learning much” that Emma is instructed to undertake? Clearly, this pursuit of learning should not be understood in the spirit of Korihor where “every man . . . prosper[s] according to his genius” (Alma 30:17). Rather, learning itself should be understood in a serviceable, non-egocentric way, otherwise we run the risk of contaminating the better world with attitudes of this one.

Other ways we might think about this contrast of worlds is in terms of the temporal or natural versus spiritual disctinction frequently made (see here or here), noting similarities and contrasts. Another idea is to think about the ways in which our attitudes and “Church platitudes” might run the risk of becoming contaminated by this world. For example, perhaps the ideas of “individual responsibility” or “accountability” run the risk of being marked by an individualistic attitude that undermines community-focused, kenotic aspects of Gospel love. Or, perhaps our approach to self-reliance is approached in ways that undermine our awareness of dependency on the Savior and others for our salvation and well-being. Or perhaps, as fathers, our concern to provide for our family runs the risk of valuing things of this world at the expense of things of a better? What else? What are your thoughts about this D&C 25:10 specifically, or other verses in this section or lesson more generally?

4 Responses to “D&C Sunday School Lesson 10: “Lay aside the things of this world” (25:10)”

  1. john willis said

    The best illustration I have ever seen of the difference between the values of the world and the values of Jesus comes from a short book by the late Raymond E. Brown and Catholic Priest and biblical scholar in his book “The Churches the Apostles left Behind” .He discusses Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 that we should become great in the Kingdom of Heaven by becoming as a little child. I quote
    ” In the practical language of business the first question when one is trying to deal with or analyze a large corporation is “Who has the heft here?”
    By the standards of other societies the greatest authority or power makes one the greatest figure in the group. Matthew would argue that such a norm cannot be allowed in the Church where Jesus’standards must override . The question of who is the greatest in the kingdom (or in the church where the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed)is given through the example of a little child.This is not because as romantics would have us think, the little child is thought of as loveable, cuddly or innocent. but because the child is helpless and dependent and has no power. In the kingdom of heaven God has supreme power or authority ; closeness to God and therefore greatness in the kingdom comes according to the degree in which people surrender themselves to God. When God rules in a persons life that person is great in God’s Kingdom. The value system of the kingdom’s of this world is upside down in relation to the kingdom of heaven, for in Jesus’ eyes, not power, but the lack of it can make aperson great”

  2. Serena said

    In pondering “things of a better” world. I find so often people speak of the past “the good old days”. As I read more literature from the 18th and 19th centuries, and watch pre code Hollywood movies, I find they were no better off than we are now. All of the vices found in the modern world were alive and well in the past. So, no point in wanting to return to a more innocent time.

    I think the best way to find the things of a better world is to follow the 13th article of faith – seeking after those things that are of good report and praiseworthy. Family prayer, scripture study, creating strong family bonds, help us to create a better world at home.

    However, we can not stop at home. We can do our part to try and make a small part of this world a better world, by being involved in our community, helping where help is needed. Not being afraid (you spoke of fear) of those who are different than we are, by loving our neighbor.

    I am not as eloquent as you are Doug, but I do appreciate your making me ponder.

    Thanks,

    Serena

  3. Robert C. said

    John #1,

    Thanks for the Raymon Brown sugesstion—I’ve only read (parts of) his Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John, but I’m a fan of his work so I’ll have to hunt downt his book you recommend.

    Also, I very much like what you about children and dependence. I think this is one of the biggest problems of our modern era, and although I love many things about our American (philosophically) liberal tradition, the underlying egoistic, atomistic conception of the self is, I think very dangerous, for precisely this reason.

    Serena #2,

    Yes, thanks for mentioning the 13th article of faith, especially because it quotes Philippians, one of my favorite books in scripture. A few verses after 4:8, which is the verse quoted, I especially like how Paul says, “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” I think the kind of contentment that Paul is talking about here is a particularly good reminder for us in our oftentimes frenetic lives where we get so busily involved in less important things that we leave the “good part” (Luke 10:41 where Martha is “troubled about many things”) undone. Better to slow down and live with more gratitude for the simple pleasures in life and focusing on relations with family and community rather than things of this world.

  4. Movie reviews…

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