My son Jacob and I are currently reading 2 Nephi 2. It has been, for some time, one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon. It is also one I come back to frequently, in hopes of figuring it out a little more each time.
Today I was struck by the word “opposition.” I have tended to read it as another way of saying “opposite.” This is easy to do, when the rest of the verse (2 Ne 2: 11) goes on to talk about righteousness & wickedness, holiness & misery, and good & evil. But throughout Lehi’s discourse on Adam and Eve, I think it is important to pay close attention to this word “opposition” rather than “opposite.”
Opposition is something that opposes something else. Physically, we might say that this object opposes another, in that it stands opposite of it. In sports, however, the “opponent” is not simply the team across the way but the team that is trying to stop or block your team from accomplishing your goal.
But Lehi adds a little twist here in verses 11-12. He says that if there were no opposition and “all things must needs be a compound in one” (i.e., we’re all on the same side), then “there would have been no purpose.” Not that no one would block us in our purpose, but that there would be no purpose. Why is that? Wouldn’t it simply mean that we could accomplish our goals easily? Wouldn’t we all appreciate going through life without any temptations, for example?
Lehi says it can’t work that way. In verse 15, he continues, “And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents” (and everything else), “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.”
So, in order for us to have a purpose (or, rather, for God to give us a purpose, or to accomplish something with us) God needed to introduce an opposition in the Garden of Eden. And the opposition that was chosen was a tree – a forbidden tree.
“Wherefore,” Lehi continues in verse 16, “the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.” Ah, was that his purpose? Or something necessary – something along the way – to God’s purpose? “Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” We can’t have something we want unless we have a choice; we can’t have a goal unless someone is opposing our path.
We haven’t read past verse 19 together yet. I should probably stop there, but I have some guesses growing in my brain. So, in anticipation, I’ll ask: is it that we couldn’t have goals or choices until we saw an opposition; we coudn’t understand the law until we failed; we couldn’t know happiness until we had experienced sorrow; but once this is all a part of our experience, then we wish we didn’t have the opposition of temptations and death. And guess what? God sent set up a way for this to happen: “the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because they have been redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.” Now we understand choices and consequences, but we can proceed without worrying about Satan and death. That job is done, and now it can be excerpted from the situation – as long as we believe and follow Christ. I think that is what Lehi is going to be saying here.
I also think about this in terms of little Jacob: he had experienced much “affliction” because of the “rudeness” of Laman and Lemuel (see verses 1-3), but God will “consecrate” those afflictions for Jacob’s “gain.” Is that much like the history of the whole human race? Or of Adam, as a symbol for the whole? He experienced affliction and opposition from Satan, but because Adam knows of the “goodness” of God, and as tasted of his “glory,” then Adam is redeemed and carries on regardless. Jacob had seen both Nephi’s faithfulness and Laman’s rudeness. He had a choice to follow either other brother. Having chosen Nephi, he experienced affliction and rudeness. However, this choice has also enabled him to know much about God, even being visited by God. Although his childhood was hard, it will be and has been consecrated for gain, in whatever senses Lehi meant by that. Perhaps Lehi is not only teaching about Adam and Eve, but teaching Jacob how to see his own life. (Another case of Nephite likening, I believe?)
And one more thought (half-baked since I haven’t even finished reading this chapter with Jacob yet): This guess of what Lehi is getting at is sounds similar to me to Moses 6:52-57. I’ll end with copying and pasting that passage:
52 And he also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you.
53 And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.
54 Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.
55 And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.