The Tree of Life
Commentary on the Atonement
One of the great symbols in the Book of Mormon is the Tree of Life. Lehi had a great revelation in which he saw the tree of life, a great and spacious building and a rod of iron. That revelation is foundational for the early part of the Book of Mormon.
Then Nephi, having heard of his father’s experience, said this, “I, Nephi , was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things” (1 Nephi 10:17). This great revelation of his father sparked for Nephi a profound desire to have a significant revelatory experience of his own. So he approached God and requested such an experience.
As a prelude to his experience, he was quizzed. He was asked if he believed what his father was shown. You remember Nephi’s response: “Yes, you know I do!”
Then the Spirit passed Nephi off to an angel who was to teach him. So in 1 Nephi 11, Nephi had the opportunity to not only see the same symbols as his father, but also to obtain the interpretation thereof. He was taken even one step further—to be taught the meaning of the symbols. So while Lehi had a great revelation that helped him to think about his family and their progress in their spiritual journey, Nephi had a great revelation about God and His purposes and about what would yet come to pass in the way of a Messiah.
One of the key elements of this chapter is in verse 16, where the angel quizzes Nephi and says, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” In other words, do you know what God has done for you? Do you know that God traversed the eternities to come here to save you and all your fellow humans? Do you have any idea of what He has done for you?
Nephi gives a two part answer. Let’s take the second part first. He says, “I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:16). His response is, “I don’t know. I can’t comprehend. It’s a sacred truth that I only glimpse. I do not know the meaning of all things.”
But there is one thing that Nephi does know—one thing that comes from his experiences and revelations. He says, “I know that He loveth His children” (1 Nephi 11:16). “I don’t’ know the meaning of all things, but I do know that God loves His children.”
In fact, the great revelation is communicated not merely through the interpretation. There are three levels of commentary: symbol, interpretation, and meaning. The love of God is manifest as a symbol in the tree; the interpretation is the birth of that beloved Son who came to the earth with purely redemptive purpose; the meaning of the tree is the love of God. What an amazing connection! The birth of the Son perfectly represents the love of God and the tree is the symbol!
Let’s go back to that tree and the love of God. In verse 22 the revelation teaches us this: “And I answered him, saying: Yea,it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” Elsewhere in scripture the fruit—or love of God–is called most sweet, most precious, and the greatest of all the gifts of God. The tree represents the birth of the Son and the love of God which is most precious above all things—the greatest gift any human can receive.
Little do we understand how much that sacred gift of Father’s love changes everything. May we receive it gladly and humbly say with Nephi, “I do not know the meaning of all things, but this I do know. He loves His children.”