“However far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Lehi’s dream of the tree of life is a symbolic representation of a journey toward God. In 1 Nephi 8, we read of “numberless concourses of people,” wandering in “a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.” Some individuals seek and hold on to a rod of iron, which leads to a tree with fruit that brings sublime joy to those who eat it.
We are also introduced to other groups of people who, for various reasons, are described as “lost.”
Some “who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.” Others “after they had tasted of the fruit … were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.” And another group, who never sought the path, “were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost.”
We may perceive a sense of finality in the scriptural account as if these people missed their opportunity to make it to the tree, and that was the end of it. This can be discouraging, especially if we see ourselves or someone we love as among the wandering, falling, or lost.
But if we examine the context, as well as remember the infinite reach of God’s love and the role of the Savior, Lehi’s dream can actually be a hopeful message for people who may seem lost and for those who love them.
Consider the Context
Because the scriptural account goes into detail about those who are “lost,” it may seem overly focused on the negative. Why such an emphasis? Perhaps we should consider the circumstances in which the dream was received and recorded.
First, this dream was given to a prophet, a father, and a founder of a civilization. In all these capacities, Lehi was concerned about his sons, Laman and Lemuel, who were drifting away from their faith and family, with looming consequences. The dream was a vivid warning that Lehi could show them—
it was a baseline from which Lehi could present a more hopeful alternative.
Second, the account that we read in 1 Nephi chapter 8 was recorded by Nephi, not Lehi himself, many years after the dream occurred.
“The small plates [including 1 Nephi] should be understood as having been written after the death of Lehi, after the separation of Nephi from his brothers Laman and Lemuel, after the small Nephite party knew of the life-threatening animosity of the Lamanites against them.” (See “When Did Nephi Write the Small Plates.”)
This timing may help explain the focus on those who “were lost.” By the time Nephi was recording his father’s dream, he had experienced first-hand the effects of his brothers’ poor choices: contention, persecution, and suffering.
Undoubtedly, Laman and Lemuel felt lost to Nephi. As a prophet and father himself, Nephi’s record was a somber retrospective on how that came to be, and also an affirmation that it could have turned out differently.
God’s Love is Always There
With the context in mind, how can we find inspiration and hope for those who feel lost right now? One approach is to consider that “coming to the tree” isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime, linear experience.
There is more to Lehi’s dream than we are given in 1 Nephi 8. For example, Nephi’s retelling in 1 Nephi 11 includes details about the “meaning of the tree which [his] father saw”:
“...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...and the most joyous to the soul.”
The tree represents God’s love. But what does that mean for those who are struggling on their journey?
Sister Susan H. Porter has taught, “Sometimes we mistakenly think that we can feel God’s love only after we have followed the iron rod and partaken of the fruit. God’s love, however, not only is received by those who come to the tree but is the very power that motivates us to seek that tree.”
God’s love, however, not only is received by those who come to the tree but is the very power that motivates us to seek that tree.”
What a hopeful thought--that the love of God can “shed itself abroad” in our hearts, no matter how lost we feel.
As President Thomas S. Monson said, “God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.” The tree and its fruit can be accessed over and over again throughout our lives, and the more we turn our focus to Him, the more we can recognize and receive the love that is always present.
Remember the Savior
While the image of lost multitudes might stand out in our minds as we study Lehi’s dream, we must remember the Savior and the hope He provides.
Elder Neil L. Anderson explained, “The precious fruit symbolizes the wondrous blessings of the Savior’s incomparable Atonement … and no one who honestly desires it is denied. If you have been without the fruit of the tree for some time, please know that the Savior’s arms are always outstretched to you.”
The Atonement is a crucial piece of Lehi’s dream, and no matter where we see ourselves or our loved ones, we should see the Savior there too. With this view, Lehi’s dream can be a source of encouragement. We can partake of the fruit of the tree anytime the love of God and the power of the Atonement are working in our lives.
It is not just the grand finale for those who never got lost; it is nourishment and healing throughout the journey.
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