Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormon joy, Lehi’s dream, and the love of God

Mette Ivie Harrison

(courtesy of Mette Harrison)

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

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.

 


OTHER POSTS BY METTE HARRISON:


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

29 Comments

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  • What if one experiences joy in one of the man made constructs of sin? Should one accept that joy is found within? Let’s assume one enjoys the sins of being left handed or eating pork or meat on Fridays or Coffee?

  • Harrison’s article is interesting, in that it actually takes the risk of openly discussing some real differences between the Mormon religion and biblical Christianity.

    You don’t often see such fortitude. Many people are conditioned to avoid rocking the boats or ruffling the feathers, even when issues of ultimate truth and final destiny are at stake.

    Sure, both Mormons and Christians will say, “God loves you.” And both groups mean it.
    But what exactly does God’s love entail, and what exactly does it NOT entail? And what does God look like? A universalist? An exclusivist? Does God do hell-fire, or does He not? Is God’s salvation “through faith (in Christ)”, or is it “through works (self-efforts)”?

    So let me offer you a coupla Christian quick-reads, to start things off.

    https://carm.org/mormon-beliefs
    https://www.gotquestions.org/Mormons.html

  • The problem with Lehi’s dream is that the book that tells this story has no archaeological evidence to support its claims and the tale about the American Indians descending from the Jews has been disproved by modern DNA testing.

    The tale of Lehi is fictional. As well as the tale of a restored gospel.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • A religious text that’s fictional? No surprise.
    A religious text that’s factual? ……erm

  • You mean MAINSTREAM Christianity, seeing how Mormons use the Bible extensively. And I doubt many Christians are going to assert that God’s love isn’t freely offered to any that will take it. (Except for the Predestinationists, of course, but I sometimes have doubts about just how Christian they are.)

  • Mormons reject the Holy Trinity. …. I already know your response, you will say that Mormons accept the trinity — but they DO NOT believe in the same HOLY TRINITY of Christians.

    Mormons are not Christians in any form. You belong to a cult — get out before it too late.

  • Since the doctrine of the Trinity being one in substance is not found in the Bible, that has nothing to do with whether Mormons are Biblical Christians.

  • Both trees represent Heavenly Mother & wisdom. One represents us trying to obtain salvation on our own and failing, the other partaking the fruit of the tree (Christ) appropriately and gaining salvation. The fruit of the first tree gave us all the light of Christ, the one Lehi’s dream grants us salvation in Christ. The lesson here is that we cannot just obtain salvation of ourselves, but through the appropriate channels.

  • Technically, all religions are “cults,” and especially the ones that feel the need to label other beliefs as the “boogeyman.” While I no longer attend the LDS Church, I have an even lower opinion of churches that base their “Christianity” on calling other groups, such as the Mormons “cults.” There is nothing “Christian” about doing so.

  • The Trinity is a doctrine that came about politically to unite Christian factions under Constantine. It was an attempt to resolve doctrinal differences between the Old and New Testaments as well as resolve issues among various rival Christian sects. Some Orthodox Christians also do not accept the notion of the Trinity in their faith in Father, Son and Holy Ghost as separate beings.

  • The basic chronology of the Bible is supported by archaeology but none of the biblical theology is. In fact, anthropological archaeology and non-biblical histories tend to support more progressive views of the Bible. Biblical theology has no better connection to the real world than does Book of Mormon theology. A friend in high school used to sum it up this way: “Bible, Book of Mormon, Aesop’s Fables are all good by me.”

  • Your open disrespect of others’ beliefs garners no respect for your own. While I think a lot of Mormonism is nonsense, I still have more respect for my Mormon ancestors than for the folks who dance with rattlesnakes in church and babble nonsense in “praise” of Jesus. Mormon worship may be boring but at least it’s not foolish.

  • You can visit sites where some of the Harry Potter films were made – doesn’t mean that what the books say happened at Hogwarts is verified history does it?

  • Your approach is different from most Mormons. The Holy Trinity is spread all over the Old and New Testament. Re-read Genesis 1“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

    Who do you think the ‘Spirit of God’ is?

    Rejection of the Holy Trinity tells everyone you are not a Christian organization.

  • No … all religions are not cults. Christians have the responsibility in calling out false teachers.

  • You can tell yourself that but to me that’s an even bigger turn off than the magic rock in the hat story about the “translation” of the Book of Mormon. It’s all hallelujah hocus pocus to claim Jesus wants you to tell other people how badly they suck in your holier-than-thou opinion. Short of Jesus telling me in person that you have that “responsibility,” I say hogwash to the whole notion. That sort of nonsense is why the French coined the term “bigot” 1000 years ago in response to overly zealous religious busybodies who felt “called of God” to stick their noses in other people’s business. Your “responsibility” is just the updated version of religious bigot.

  • And then later in the same chapter, God says “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” Who is “us”? Mormons don’t reject the Trinity, though our term is the Godhead. It’s our first Article of Faith: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” We simply reject the non-biblical doctrine that the Trinity is one in substance.

  • Both good questions but ones that mean squat to a Jack Mormon like me. I have my own views on all that and could care less about your holy roller views of the church’s origins or how the 15 old men cling to religious power as they see it. Anti-Mormon preachers are just as corrupt as the Church they seek to bring down, maybe more so.

  • Is the tale of Moses also fictional? After all, there is the same amount of archaeological evidence for that story.

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