(by Mette Harrison religionnews.com 3-9-17)
One of my favorite stories in Mormonism is Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon.
After Lehi has left Jerusalem before its destruction, he has a vision of an allegorical tree with beautiful, pure fruit on it. When he tastes it, it is “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.” He also says that it “filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also” (1 Nephi 8:11-12).
It’s interesting to note that unlike the allegorical tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” which Adam and Eve sample in the Garden of Eden story, partaking of this fruit has no dark side to it. There are no negative consequences, and no one has to trick anyone into taking it.
The dream continues with Lehi being successful in getting some of his family (his sons Sam and Nephi and his wife Sariah) to partake of the fruit, but not his sons Laman and Lemuel, who are the problem children for most of the beginning of the journey to the new world. Laman and Lemuel are caught in the “mists of darkness” and pay attention to being mocked by those in the “great and spacious building.”
Of course, this dream is meant to be an allegory for our lives on Earth and the ways in which we are led astray from finding the delicious fruit of the tree, which an angel explains is meant to represent the “love of God.” The love of God waits for anyone who wishes to come and partake of it. It is an invitation to all, and no one is prevented from receiving it. The only people who do not get to taste it are those who choose to deny themselves its goodness.
When my children were younger, we used baking clay to create part of this dream so that the children could retell it to us and to each other. We made a tree with fruit, along with all of the figures in the dream, the mists of darkness, the great and spacious building, and the “iron rod” which helps guide those along the path to the tree.
I feel strongly that Lehi’s dream is a seminal part of Mormonism, which is a strain of Christianity that emphasizes the all-encompassing nature of God’s love and that proclaims universal resurrection for all of God’s children who have been born on Earth and a degree of heaven for everyone. The only hell Mormons believe in is the hell we create for ourselves by our own guilt. God loves us all and therefore spends all of His time trying to convince us to go partake of the fruit of the tree of His love.
Yes, there are people who do not reach the tree, but it isn’t because God has denied them access. Sin keeps us away from the tree, but once sin is renounced, we can get back to the path by holding to the rod. Nothing is a permanent barrier to our own happiness except for our own choices.
I love that instead of the prickly story of the tree in Eden, in which Adam and Eve had no real way to follow both of the conflicting commandments to replenish the earth AND not to partake of the tree, the tree in Lehi’s dream is all about experiencing joy. It’s also about the importance of family in finding that joy in this life and in the life to come. Adam and Eve had no children when they were tempted by Satan. They had to fall in order to experience mortality and the joy of family. But Lehi’s dream isn’t about the fall. It’s about redemption and love, about how we are taught about God’s love largely through the lens of the love of our family.
For me, the fruit of the tree can represent many other joys in life, which can all be ways for us to experience God’s love. Books and stories in general are a major way I experience joy. I often find myself finishing a perfect book and wanting to share that with someone else. If I offer you a book I’ve loved, it means that I consider you part of the family of my heart.
But it doesn’t always work that what I find joy in, you will find the same joy in. My children frequently reject or mock things I love, from Ironman triathlons to Longmire to knitting. It can be painful when this happens. It can divide us. But God’s love is greater than any of the things I love and find Him through. If one way to share love doesn’t work, there are other ways. Even my children who are atheists, I believe, find ways to share God’s love with me through laughter, family time, and meditation.
Lehi’s dream—and indeed the Book of Mormon as a whole—teach me about the binding power of family and about the great love that will always be there waiting for us, when we are ready to receive it.