September 27th, 2006

The Tree of Life—Individual and Communal

Tree of Life

(Cross posted at the Book of Mormon symposium at Straight and Narrow)

The Tree of Life is a symbol familiar to all who have read the Book of Mormon. Nephi learned from an angel that the tree in his father’s vision represents the love of God. The vision shows a tree bearing white fruit, with a single path leading up to it, for all to navigate in order to approach the tree.

The Tree of Life in Lehi and Nephi’s vision is one of two types presented in the Book of Mormon. This specific version is the communal Tree of Life where all may come and partake. Once Lehi himself had partaken of the fruit, his immediate reaction was to invite his family to do the same.

And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.
And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit. (1 Ne. 8:12,15)

The tree in this instance is a single tree from which everybody may partake of the fruit. Also representative of Christ’s atonement, a profound manifestation of God’s love, one sees the symbolic association of “coming” to a central location. We are counseled to come unto Christ, where all may partake of the heavenly gift. As all may come unto the communal Tree of Life, so may we all come unto Christ, our only Savior, to partake of his salvation.

The other type of the Tree of Life we see in the Book of Mormon is the individual tree. This version is found in Alma 32, where Alma discusses planting the seed of faith, that it may begin to grow into the tree of life.

And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.
But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you. (Alma 32:40,41,43)

I learn from this comparison how individual and personal the atonement can be. While he suffered the sins of all mankind, he suffered for my sins, and that fact alone endears him to me. While I can tread the path with everybody else, and arrive at a central tree to share the fruit and its joy with those I love, I can also have my own tree, planted deep within me. Resulting from the laborious care of nurturing my seed of faith, I am rewarded with a personal and individual tree to be enjoyed alone. Instead of sharing communal fruit from a central tree, I can plant seeds from my tree in other people, so that they too may one day see the tree of life grow within themselves.

Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (Alma 5:33,34)

God’s love (and the manifestation of it through his Son’s atonement) is both communalistic and individualistic. We feel it universally, knowing that he is no respecter of persons, and loves all of His children. Yet at the same time we know that he knows us personally; he knows our names, our cares, our worries, and doubts, and He, the Master Gardner, will assist us in nurturing and pruning our own tree.

One Response to “The Tree of Life—Individual and Communal”

  1. Jon Grant
    April 21, 2007 at 1:24 pm #

    I gave a sacrament meeting talk last year on this very topic: the Tree of Life and our own individual trees. I should send it to you. Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts and love the symbolism of the tree.

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