Twice, early on in the Book of Mormon, we get to study the vision about the Tree of Life—once when Lehi experiences it, and again when Nephi does. Two men, same vision. I’d say that ought to catch our attention and encourage further study.
And, like many of you, I’ve read it umpteen times and vowed to cling to the rod, not to get “side swirled” into dark mists of confusion. But only this time did I have an “aha” moment about the fruit itself.
Symbolism bothers lots of people because it’s not straightforward and easy to grasp. This is, of course, to “conceal and reveal,” keeping precious truths from those unable to live up to higher laws, yet sharing marvelous insights with those ready for them. And yes, it often takes some thought to analyze and figure out what things mean. Many times I’ve been grateful for inspired interpretations from our leaders, filling in the blanks for me as I’ve puzzled over deep symbolism.
But I am also fascinated by the objects chosen. In this case, the tree represents the love of God, giving His Son to atone for our sins. The fruit represents Eternal Life. This is the biggie, the ultimate you can attain in life. We all picture a brilliant, sparkling white tree just laden with glistening, sweet fruit.
But why fruit? If you were going to depict the ultimate glorious gift, there are many breathtaking images to choose from—waterfalls, rainbows, sunsets, galaxies of twinkling stars, serene meadows of endless flowers, pure drifts of snow, glorious music, heavenly fragrances. We could list dozens of incredible symbols that would mean ultimate joy and fulfillment, right?
But think about those other items. Many of them can be seen at a glance. Sounds and smells can be forced upon someone, just as warm sunlight or gentle rain could be showered upon someone without their having to choose it.
For me, it’s a lesson that includes our five senses: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Touch, and Taste. The first four simply happen to us as we go through life. No agency whatsoever is required to round a corner and see a gorgeous view, or to suddenly hear bells ringing from a tower. Smell and touch also merely happen throughout the day whether we are valiant or lazy, righteous or sinful.
Only taste is the one we must actively choose. (This is also why some people have eating disorders—eating is the only area where they feel they can control their life). It’s like the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” We even see it in stubborn toddlers who clamp their lips closed against foods they dislike, and adults who complain that something was “forced down their throat” as children, and thus is automatically bad by definition.
To actually eat—to open our mouths, chew, and swallow—is an act of choice. And this underscores the way to attain Eternal Life. You can’t just make it to the finish line, holding that rod. And you can’t just see it from a distance and acknowledge that it looks pretty good. You must take action entirely on your own, grasp the fruit, open your mouth, bite down, and eat it.
No one else can do this for you. Thus, something delicious is the perfect symbol for Eternal Life. Not only is it a glorious object, but it can only be attained through individual choice. Like a testimony, parents can plead and urge and guide and pray, but their children, like Lehi’s, must forge their own paths and choose to eat or fall away.
And that personal effort is part of the reward. Every one of us who has tasted that fruit has done so of his or her own free will. It means so much more than if someone had simply eaten the fruit in our behalf, or shown us a picture of it. No, to have partaken of the fruit means we chose it, we were valiant, we earned our place. Again, like a testimony, it is ours, a part of us now.
A teacher once told me that the way you know you’ve partaken of the fruit is that you want to share it. What a perfect symbol the Lord chose, to teach us not only the glory of Eternal Life, but the only way to attain it.
Cruise with Joni and her husband, Bob, to Spain, Italy, and France May 12-19, 2012. Double occupancy starting at only $659.00 per person! See jonihilton.com for more information
Joni Hilton has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. Her latest book, "Funeral Potatoes-- The Novel," has just been scheduled for publication this February, by Covenant Communications. She is also the author of the "As the Ward Turns" series, "The Ten-Cow Wives' Club," and "The Power of Prayer." Hilton is a frequent writer for "Music & The Spoken Word," many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.