By Emilia Julian | January 16, 2020
Everything you want to understand about the test of life can be found in Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life.
When my husband and I married almost 29 years ago, we could not afford many luxuries. We struggled financially at times, but for the most part, we managed with what little we did have.
I remember preparing to attend the temple one day. Near the temple there was a small church bookstore similar to Deseret Book. We used to go there often to purchase supplies that we needed–usually small items. One day when we entered the bookstore, we looked up on the wall and there was a beautiful painting of Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life. It was as if we both suddenly stopped at the entrance and simultaneously admired the beautiful piece of art wide-eyed. We fell in love with it! We asked the lady at the sales desk how much the painting cost. Our hearts dropped because we knew we just couldn’t afford it.
The painting I am referring to is what is posted as my cover photo above. I’m not even sure who the artist is because it is not legible to us. Each time we went to the Toronto Temple, we stopped in at the bookstore and admired the painting once more, and finally, after many weeks, we decided that we just needed to admire it from a wall in our home. So we saved, and we saved until we could purchase it for ourselves. I believe it took months, but we did it. It has been the center of our family room for about 27 years now and each time someone new comes in, whether they are Latter-day Saints or not, I can see the look of admiration on their faces when their eyes meet the painting. It has also become the center of gospel conversation as people ask what the meaning of the painting is. As converts to the Church, we enjoy discussing it with our friends who are not of our faith.
As you could imagine, I was elated when I noticed that this painting was used in the Come Follow Me study manual this week. Like the painting, the story of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life is filled with much symbolism, and if we read carefully, we can learn about where we are in life and where we would like to be or should be to gain eternal life.
In between all the symbolism in Lehi’s vision, we can categorize four different groups of people based on the events we learn about in Lehi’s dream. Some of these groups may have many similarities, however, pay close attention–only one of these groups will reach the celestial kingdom. Let’s study them in more detail.
We can find group one in verses 21-23 of 1 Nephi 8.
The people we read about in this group have a desire to come unto Christ. They have begun to “press forward” in their journey to the “tree of life” as they enter the “strait and narrow path,” which leads to eternal life. They were probably baptized but sadly, these same people, whose testimonies were still very basic and fragile, and who initially had good intentions, began to be led astray in the “mist of darkness” by the temptations surrounding them. It didn’t take them long to succumb to their temptations, which caused them to “lose their way” from the “strait and narrow path,” which leads to the tree of life.
You may be one or may know of such people. They listen to the missionaries with excitement. Many get baptized, but soon after, they cease doing what it takes to endure and lose their way. They may remember having good experiences and may even have gained a testimony, but their spiritual foundation was not yet strong enough to endure further along the path to the tree of life, and they are once again lost to their old ways of life.
We can learn about the second group in verses 24-28.
The people in this group begin their journey similar to those in group one. They too press forward toward the tree of life and they make it further than the previously mentioned group. They hold tight to the iron rod and make it carefully through the mist of darkness. If we can recall the symbolism of the iron rod and the mist of darkness, we can conclude that this group of people held tight to the word of God by studying the scriptures and following the words of the prophets. They, too, were tempted by Satan, however, since their testimonies were strengthened by their obedience to the gospel, they were better able to thwart Satan’s temptations as they traveled along the path. Their focus was to reach the tree of life, and eventually, they arrive and partake of the fruit, which symbolizes the love of God.
This group did gain a testimony of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, however, they allowed themselves to “cast their eyes about,” which caused them to notice others who were part of that great and spacious building across the river of filthy water mocking them for their choice to follow Jesus Christ. They began to feel ashamed, and they eventually fell away.
There is a great lesson to be learned here. If we allow ourselves to look away from our eternal focus, it is a simple ingredient for Satan to lure us into temptation. We can lose what we worked so hard to build–our testimonies and perhaps eternal life with our Father in heaven and Jesus Christ. No matter where we are on our journey to the tree of life, Satan does not cease in using his powerful resources to lead faithful, righteous members of the Church astray. As is still the case today, in Lehi’s dream he used materialism, pride, and peer pressure to allow those who had a strong testimony and who had made covenants with the Lord to fall away out of shame.
Also, did you notice in verse 26 that the great and spacious building was described as if it “were in the air, high above the earth”? It’s as if the building had no foundation. A building without a foundation is deemed unsafe and will eventually collapse to the earth. In other words, those who have a solid gospel foundation will always stand firm. But those who choose a life of pride, sexual transgression, materialism, and all manner of sinful activity, have no foundation in their lives and will ultimately fall and perish in their sins.
The third group of people are described in verses 30-33.
We can all learn a tremendous lesson and use the patterns from the people found in the third group as a beautiful example of what a true son or daughter of God should exhibit. In fact, if we pay close attention to how this group conducted themselves, we will surely learn how to receive eternal life.
The people in group three did everything those in group one and two did to reach the tree of life…but much more. They pressed forward and endured to the end. They held tight to the iron rod, meaning they feasted on the word of God by studying the scriptures and listened to the wise counsel of the prophets. They were baptized, received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and made covenants with the Lord. They were extremely faithful in their duties to God and had built a strong spiritual foundation. They partook of the fruit of the tree of life continually throughout their lives and found joy in doing so. Their focus was on eternal matters, and their eyes never wandered off to see what others were doing outside the grounds of the tree of life. They were obedient and didn’t allow themselves to be tempted or shamed by those who desired to be part of the great and spacious building and who “were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” toward them. The people in this group will find their greatest treasure in heaven. The blessings that come to those who endure to the end in this life are real and very significant, and I believe it is beyond our comprehension how incredible those blessings will be in the life to come.
The people who are part of the fourth group are found in verses 31-33.
One of the common factors between the first three groups is that the people therein had a desire to hear the gospel and did believe and have a desire to press forward. Some fell away early, and others endured to the end obediently. The people in group four had none of those qualities.
Instead of finding their way toward the strait and narrow path that leads to the iron rod (word of God) and ultimately the tree of life (the love of God), this group set their sights instead on that great and spacious building (pride of the world). Many wandered on paths that led them further and further away from God. They enjoyed material goods, joined the crowds in pointing “the finger of scorn” at those who were not part of their group, and even led many away from the strait and narrow path.
Satan is real. Satan knows the gospel. He does not want us to find our way to the tree of life where we will find eternal joy. Instead, he tricks us into believing that real pleasure can be found in places like the great and spacious building, or in material things. He lures us by offering us power and culturing us in the art of loving money instead of people.
“Trials, deception, and iniquity—these are the enemies of endurance. Those who can bear the pain of trials, who can ignore alternate voices, whose loyalty can’t be bought with sin—these are they who will not betray their Master’s trust. They will faithfully maintain the charted course. They will endure” (Stephen E. Robinson).
The Savior said:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The doctrines of the Restoration make it clear that individuals who endure to the end, remembering and honoring their covenants, will receive eternal life. Our primary defense against Satan’s deceptions must be a reliable and abiding testimony that the Church is true, and when one’s endurance has failed before the end, repentance can bring about a new beginning.
The gospel is perfect. It is meant to bring us joy. A joy that will last into the eternities. During our probationary state, our faith in the Lord will help us endure trials and tribulations and bring us closer to Christ. Even amid adversity, through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be made stronger.
Whenever I study Lehi’s account of the Tree of Life, I think about these four groups of people, and I pray earnestly that I may always remain steadfast in my determination to be a true child of God. I pray that we can all ponder in our hearts where we are in our own paths of life, where we would like to be and work to get there with the help and guidance of the Holy Ghost.