Here’s a lesson I taught at institute this summer. As with all the lessons I put together and record here, I wish I had a way to remember all of the comments that come out of our discussions. Those moments of sharing the spirit and sharing ideas are sacred moments of testimony and growth that are far more important than the framework that I’ll record here…
The lesson is based on 2 Nephi chapter 2, with supplemented verses from Moses 4. The hand-out for this lesson can be downloaded here: 2nephi2
PART 1 Lehi’s “soft intro”
At the end of his life, Lehi gathers his sons and offers discourses to them individually. I think of his responsibility as a father, but also as a prophet. In these last moments, I feel impressed that Lehi had a sacred duty to teach, prepare and to guide his family, knowing each of their characters and knowing their potential. As Lehi addresses Jacob, his message is tailor-made, and that sense is present from the very beginning of 2 Nephi 2. I think of father’s blessings I’ve had in the past, and about the feelings associated with them. Always, it’s comforting to me that in those first moments, I am reminded of basic truths that are personal to me: that God knows me individually, and that He loves me. He is mindful of my life. Lehi begins his discussion to Jacob in much the same way:
1 And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my firstborn in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.
2 Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.
3 Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men
What do we know about Jacob?
- Born in the wilderness, and it was a tough time!
- Suffered at the hands of his brothers Laman and Lemuel
- It’s important to note that Jacob would have grown up witnessing the great contrast in behaviour from Laman and Lemuel and from Nephi and Sam
- His afflictions have refined him and are for his “gain”
- He “knowest the greatness of God”- he has a testimony
- His future will be spent in the service of God
- We know that Jacob was destined to become prophet, and he was set apart as high priest and spent his days teaching in the temple
- The saviour will redeem Jacob (and us)
I particularly liked that Lehi acknowledges that Jacob knows the greatness of God. On one occasion I was with a sister who was being set apart for a calling in Relief Society. At the beginning of the blessing, it was said that “the Lord is mindful of the way you conduct your life and is pleased with you.” Little acknowledgments along the path of mortality from a caring father in heaven remind us that we are known to Him. How great an acknowledgment that God knew that Jacob loved him and knew him!
After this “soft launch”, Lehi rounds to the purpose of his discourse to Jacob:
4. …The way is prepared from the fall of man and salvation is free.
Two pivotal threads are introduced here. First Lehi testifies that the journey of Gods children is “prepared” or pre-meditated, and mortality launched from the event of the fall. This doctrine separates Latter-day Saints from other Christian denominations. Second, the idea that salvation is free; another piece of doctrine that denominations squabble over.
By mentioning this idea of Salvation, Lehi gives a spoiler to the pivotal theme of his message. Though he will teach of the fall, Lehi’s message will lead to a discussion of the Messiah, and the choice that each son and daughter of God has to accept him in their lives.
Salvation means “to be saved from both physical and spiritual death. All people will be saved from physical death by the grace of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each individual can also be saved from spiritual death as well by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is manifested in a life of obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and service to Christ. (Guide to the scriptures, salvation)
Exactly why Lehi decides to teach the story of Adam, Eve and the decisions they made in the garden of Eden is fascinating to me. The issue this father was presented with was: how can I prepare my child for the journey of mortality, helping them to understand all of God’s plan and His doctrine in just one short discourse? Not the first time a father has been faced with this question… I wonder if God himself likewise chooses to teach us of our first parents so often because their journey reflects His great plan so simply?
Bruce R. McConkie suggested,
It is not possible to believe in Christ and His atoning sacrifice, in the true and full sense required to gain salvation, without at the same time believing and accepting the true doctrine of the fall. If there had been no fall, there would have been no need for a Redeemer or Saviour. And it is not possible to believe in the fall, out of which immortality and eternal life come, without at the same time believing and accepting the true doctrine of the creation: If there had been no creation of all things in a deathless or immortal state, there could have been no fall, and hence no atonement and no salvation. The Father’s eternal plan called for the creation, for the fall, and for the atonement, all woven together into one united whole.
PART 2 Agency
A precursor to understanding the fall is understanding the building-blocks of God’s plan, agency. Robert D. Hales defines:
We teach that agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and ‘to act for [ourselves] and not be acted upon.’ Our agency is essential to the plan of salvation. … When we choose to do the will of our Father, our agency is preserved, our opportunities increase, and we progress.
Why must there be opposition in all things?
11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
Besides describing the effect that opposition in all things has, I note the importance of a line in verse 13, “And if these things are not there is no God.” God balances his design, creation and purposes on the premise that we have a choice. A seemingly simple concept, but actually one that many pre-mortal souls could not fully comprehend. Indeed Lucifer so little understood its importance that it cost him his salvation:
Moses 4: 3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearkenunto my voice.
Lucifer knew the end-goal (and it’s important to remember this): that mortality would prepare us to return to God more like our heavenly parents. He knows that our inheritance is divine: we are to become like them, even as the Gods. But because he “knew not the mind of God” (Moses 4:6), because he made no attempt to become yoked to God’s designs, he could not understand Him; he had no godly intuition.
Apostle Robert D. Hales warns,
The world teaches many falsehoods about agency. Many think we should “eat, drink, and be merry; … and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved.”17 Others embrace secularism and deny God. They convince themselves that there is no “opposition in all things”18 and, therefore, “whatsoever a man [does is] no crime.”19 This “destroy[s] the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes.”20
Lehi further testifies that God is real, and that agency is a big deal:
14. And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
PART 3 Let’s spend some time in the Garden of Eden
Understanding the purpose and value of agency enriches our interpretation of the Garden of Eden, and all that happened there.
So here we are in Eden; earth is created with her waters and land, day and night. Animals, plants created for specific purposes, but a “need… that there was an opposition” held them back from progressing in the fullness of their potential. Similarly, Adam and Eve were formed,
Russell M. Nelson: And they were [commanded] to ‘be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’
To have dominion over other living things required Adam and Eve to “Act” and to “Act upon”, but this nature was not fully realised yet. One member of the class described this state of being as “flat”, which we referred to often throughout the lesson.
Lehi introduces a concept of the story of the fall that Christianity hadn’t observed previously, which is important in our understanding of the fall and the atonement:
15 … it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter
The ‘forbidden’ fruit stood as opposition to the tree of life: there were two trees, one (the first) sweet (and this tree was called the tree of knowledge of goof and evil, Moses 4) and the other (the latter) bitter (and this tree was called the tree of life). More on this later.
So there’s our setting: a flat garden adorned with creation, including two important trees. A son and a daughter of God, commanded to fulfil specific purposes, but a lack of opposition rendering them incapable: for full agency had not been activated yet. For a fuller account of the exchange that happened in Eden, we turned to Moses 4, which is an account given by God himself. Satan, knowing not the mind of God, seeks to destroy God’s purpose. His entrance into the Garden was pivotal: for he exerted a behaviour that Eve and Adam may have found foreign: he sought to act upon them.
Were Adam and Eve forbidden from eating of the tree?
Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith: Just why the Lord would say to Adam that he forbade him to partake of the fruit of the tree is not made clear in the bible account, but in th original as it comes to us in the Book of Moses it is made definitely clear. It is that the Lord said to Adam that if he wished to remain as he was in the garden [FLAT], he was not to eat the fruit, but if he desired to eat it and partake of death he was at liberty to do so.
Adam and Eve were not forbidden to eat of the tree, but they were presented for the first time with a consequence for what would be them acting or acting upon.
Because again Satan did not know the mind of God, he reveals (or reminds) to Eve,
PART 4 We need to take a closer look
This is where the Christian world begins to divide. Many denominations look upon Eve and her choice with disdain and regret. Many curse female-kind for her sake, and wager that she led Adam astray. Dr Valerie Cassler, a Mormon scholar, offers an alternative perspective, drawing upon the lessons of agency and the added insight from the books of 2 Nephi and Moses:
… And so in the Garden were placed a son and a daughter of God, and two trees. Two persons, two trees.
Both Trees represented doorways along the journey of the Great Plan. The First Tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, symbolized the doorway leading from heaven, and the ordinances of entering mortality with a mortal body, gaining full agency, and having the light of Christ awakened within. The Second Tree, the tree of eternal life, symbolized the ordinances of salvation and exaltation, and the doorway back to our heavenly home.
… It is through women that souls journey to mortality and gain their agency, and in general it is through the nurturing of women, their nurturing love of their children, that the light of Christ is awakened within each soul. And we should include in that list of souls Jesus the Christ. Even Christ our Lord was escorted to mortality and veiled in flesh through the gift of a woman, fed at his mother’s breast, and awakened to all that is good and sweet in the world. Women escort every soul through the veil to mortal life and full agency. It is interesting to think that even Adam, who was created before Eve, entered into full mortality and full agency by accepting the gift of the First Tree from the hand of a woman. In a sense, Adam himself was born of Eve.
…Eve, then, was not the worst among women; Eve was the best among women! She was the most courageous, the most full of faith.
So it’s established that Eve’s decision is a conscious one. What of Adam? Lehi puts it that “Adam fell that man might be,” (v25) indicating that he acted because he understood that it was necessary in order for mankind to be. And in Moses we read of his demonstration that his decision was a conscious one. God asks Adam in the Garden what has happened. Adam recounts,
18 …The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.
Adam accounts for the commandments that the Lord has given to him, and specifically indicates that Eve provided the blessing of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to him. Adam was, in a sense, born of Eve, whom he calls the mother of all living” (Moses 4 26).
What happens next?
Cassler: … In the King James version of the bible, we are told that… Adam would “rule over” [Eve]. Is that what the LDS believe? Actually not. Elder Bruce C. Hafen says: “Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to rule over Eve, but… over in ‘rule over’ uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over… The concept of interdependent equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel.”
So the LDS alone among all Christian religions assert that not only did Eve not sin, but she was rewarded for her courage and wisdom, and God was assuring her that, just as she fulfilled her role in the Great Plan of Happiness, Adam would step up to the plate, and he would perform his role in the Great Plan of Happiness, and that would entitle him to rule with her. This is absolutely revolutionary and astounding doctrine among all the Christianities!
… What gift will Adam give to further the Great Plan? The LDS believe that Adam and his sons will give the fist of the fruit of the Second Tree to the children of God, those who are worthy to receive it, just as Eve and her daughters five the fruit of the First Tree to all who are worthy to partake of it. The fruit of the Second Tree is the ordinances of salvation and exaltation administered by the sons of God. Just as the doorway through the veil into this life is administered and guarded over by the women, the daughters of God, so the doorway through the veil that brings us home is administered and guarded over by the sons of God.
…Just as Adam was asked to hearken to Eve and received the fruit of the First Tree, Eve is asked by God to hearken to Adam in accepting the fruit of the Second Tree. We would be remiss if we did not see two hearkenings, two gifts given, two gifts received, two stewardships.
So in short, Adam and Eve prove that they are the champions of the pre-mortal and mortal spheres. In the great council in heaven, they were the Hermione Granger’s of the class- unlike Lucifer, and much like the Christ, they knew the mind of God. They understood not only God’s endgame, that we could become more like him and earn our eternal godly inheritance, but also the building blocks of the plan (agency) and the necessary roles they each had a choice to play.
PART 5 Another purposeful player
Along with Adam and Eve, it’s important to emphasise that the Saviour also was deliberate in his choice to play his role. Apostle Russell M. Nelson considered the voluntary nature of the Messiah:
While visiting the British Museum in London one day, I read a most unusual book. It is not scripture. It is an English translation of an ancient Egyptian manuscript. From it, I quote a dialogue between the Father and the Son. Referring to His Father, Jehovah—the premortal Lord—says:
“He took the clay from the hand of the angel, and made Adam according to Our image and likeness, and He left him lying for forty days and forty nights without putting breath into him. And He heaved sighs over him daily, saying, ‘If I put breath into this [man], he must suffer many pains.’ And I said unto My Father, ‘Put breath into him; I will be an advocate for him.’ And My Father said unto Me, ‘If I put breath into him, My beloved Son, Thou wilt be obliged to go down into the world, and to suffer many pains for him before Thou shalt have redeemed him, and made him to come back to his primal state.’ And I said unto My Father, ‘Put breath into him; I will be his advocate, and I will go down into the world, and will fulfil Thy command.’”15
Although this text is not scripture, it reaffirms scriptures that teach of the deep and compassionate love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for us—attesting that Jesus volunteered willingly to be our Savior and Redeemer.16
In Moses, we learn that after Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden to live mortally, God placed “cherubim and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life” (31) and “enmity between [Satan] and [mankind]…”
6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
9 Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.
Richard G. Scott explains,
Richard G. Scott: “I know that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. I witness that Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice; that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also. I testify that except for the atonement of the Holy Redeemer, the demands of Justice would prevent every soul born on earth from returning to the presence of God, to partake of His glory and exaltation, for all make mistakes for which we cannot personally appease justice. I witness that except for the infinite atonement of Christ, we could not return to God at death and, as Jacob solemnly warned, ‘our spirits [would] become subject to… the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits [would] become like unto him, and we would become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God… to remain with the father of lies in misery. I witness that ‘redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah… unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.’”
Because Adam was not qualified to satisfy the demands of justice, being “fallen” or “mortal”, which is to say spiritually and physically separated from God, mankind needed a Saviour to advocate for them. I testify that we were created mortally to be imperfect: we were created to need the saviour. His presence and participated in our individual lives is a most necessary ingredient in our salvation, and because He volunteered for that role, salvation is free if we choose it (see how even this depends upon that basic building block, agency).
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
As Lehi concludes, he dispenses that fatherly advice- look to the great mediator: not only to keep His commandments, but to look to Him, follow his perfect example of encountering opposition in all things. Robert D. Hales examines this principle:
Throughout His life our Savior showed us how to use our agency. As a boy in Jerusalem, He deliberately chose to “be about [His] Father’s business.”10 In His ministry, He obediently chose “to do the will of [His] Father.”11 In Gethsemane, He chose to suffer all things, saying, “Not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”12 On the cross, He chose to love His enemies, praying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”13 And then, so that He could finally demonstrate that He was choosing for Himself, He was left alone. “[Father,] why hast thou forsaken me?” He asked.14At last, He exercised His agency to act, enduring to the end, until He could say, “It is finished.”15
Though He “was in all points tempted like as we are,”16 with every choice and every action He exercised the agency to be our Savior—to break the chains of sin and death for us. And by His perfect life, He taught us that when we choose to do the will of our Heavenly Father, our agency is preserved, our opportunities increase, and we progress.
Evidence of this truth is found throughout the scriptures. Job lost everything he had yet chose to remain faithful, and he gained the eternal blessings of God. Mary and Joseph chose to follow the warning of an angel to flee into Egypt, and the life of the Savior was preserved. Joseph Smith chose to follow the instructions of Moroni, and the Restoration unfolded as prophesied. Whenever we choose to come unto Christ, take His name upon us, and follow His servants, we progress along the path to eternal life.
PART 6 Lehi wraps it up… and I will too
Finally, in a most powerful declaration, Lehi accounts for his own mortality to his sons:
30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part, according to the words of the prophet. And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls. Amen.
What a impactful thing, to have lived and to be able to say that to the best of his ability, he has chosen the good part, which is to say he has chosen the right when faced with opposition. What an example! What a struggle.
So much more can be said of the doctrine that Lehi chose to relate to Jacob: this story is rich with symbolism, the depths of which seem endless. But what was meaningful to me in our discussion yesterday was the reminder that both Eve and Adam made deliberate decisions because they understood the plan; they, unlike Lucifer, understood the mind of God, and in using their agency to choose correctly, exhibited an inkling of godliness. When we exercise our agency we are using those same building-blocks that our Heavenly Parents are so dependent upon. We acknowledge that God is real.
How empowering it is to me to understand that Eve’s stewardship- that woman’s stewardship is so pivotal in the plan. That mortality was her gift: she is the mother of all living, she willingly took hold of her mortality, and all so that she could fulfil the measure of her creation. What a heritage for me to be a part of: what an important role women play for all those sons and daughters of God who kept their first estate. In discussing Adam’s acceptance of this gift, I found myself overcome with gratitude for the sons of Adam who, today, work hard to step up to the plate as Adam did, and to worthily administer in the priesthood. Their charge is stewardship of that second tree and all the ordinances that it represents. Truly, Adam and Eve- and men and women today- are equally yoked in our mortal struggle to progress ever closer to our Heavenly Parents.
I can’t recommend enough reading this article by Dr Valerie Hudson Cassler, whose background and purpose in writing are also included at the end of the article.