Lehi had a clear message for his son Jacob: The adversity and the afflictions we experience in life don’t have to drag us down. They can lift us up.
Lehi acknowledged that Jacob had faced many trials but assured him that God would “consecrate [those] afflictions to [his] gain” (2 Nephi 2:1-2). He described a dilemma we all face: we are governed by law, but we have all run afoul of the law. “By the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off.” But he explained that, through the redemption offered by the Holy Messiah, we could be saved ( (2 Nephi 2:5-6).
Then, he turned his attention to our first parents: Adam and Eve. They faced a difficult decision in the Garden of Eden which was represented by two trees:
- The tree of knowledge of good and evil
- The tree of life
“It must needs be there was an opposition,” said Lehi; “even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Nephi 2:15).
The two trees were, in fact, in opposition to each other. The main consequence of eating the fruit of the first tree was death. And after Adam and Eve partook of that fruit, the tree of life was no longer available to them (Genesis 2:17, Genesis 3:22-24).
But what did Lehi mean with his two opposing adjectives? Which of the two trees produced fruit that was sweet, and which was bitter?
Based on the order of the adjectives, it looks like he is saying that the fruit of the tree of life was bitter and that the forbidden fruit was sweet. But Lehi had previously described to his sons a dream in which he ate a fruit which was “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted” (1 Nephi 8:11). His son Nephi later identified that tree as “a representation of the tree of life” (1 Nephi 15:21-22). Later in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma also described the fruit of the tree of life as “sweet above all that is sweet” (Alma 32:40-42).
And what about the forbidden fruit? In the biblical account, Eve saw that it was “good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes,” and “to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). But just because it was tempting and desirable doesn’t mean it wasn’t bitter. As Lehi explained, both options had some appeal: “Man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16). So, in Lehi’s account, the devil explains the attraction of this fruit to Eve: “Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (2 Nephi 2:17). Eve, and then Adam, chose the fruit which gave them knowledge but which also introduced pain, suffering, and ultimately death into the world—a bitter fruit indeed!
But perhaps the bitterness was tempered somewhat by their recognition that these unpleasant consequences were giving them the very knowledge they had sought. As Eve later explained, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). As Lehi explained—and this seems to be his central message—without misery there can be no happiness; without the possibility of sin, there can be no righteousness (2 Nephi 2:11, 23).
Yes, our first parents chose the bitter fruit. Yes, they introduced unpleasant outcomes which affect us all. But all of this is part of our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children:
All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:24-25).
Today, I will remember that adversity and afflictions are an important part of our mortal experience, and that they can be beneficial. I will remember that the choice of a bitter fruit in the Garden of Eden led to our current mortal experience—an experience which includes pain, afflictions, and sorrow, but which, with the assistance of our Savior, can lead us ultimately to the joy and the sweetness of eternal life.