One of the most famous and talked about sections in the first book of Nephi is Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life along with Nephi’s subsequent vision and explanation of what his father saw. We speak about this vision a lot, and rightly so, as there is so very much to learn from it. This time, however, I noticed a few things that we have been missing or getting wrong.
In every picture or representation of the vision that I have seen, there is a straight path with a straight rod next to it, when the scripture says, “I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood.” The two homophones, straight and strait, have very different definitions and we should really stop confusing the two. We keep thinking of the path as straight, picturing a road that has no curves, bends or even hills. One can very clearly see the end from the beginning. A strait, on the other hand is a difficult situation, such as “dire straits,” or when speaking of a path, one might think of a narrow passage of water, such as the Bering Strait or the Strait of Magellan. The path is tight, constricting, and difficult to navigate. I think the use of the word strait in this vision is purposeful and far more accurate.
The path to the tree of life is not straightforward. We want to think that it is. Make the right covenants, check the right boxes, just be obedient and stop wandering. In 2nd Nephi, chapter 4, Nephi prays and asks God to make his paths straight, and don’t we all want that. A simple path with no surprises and a clear destination. But Nephi saw the vision and he knows the path is strait. The purpose of those covenants is to connect you with the Holy Ghost, the purpose of those commandments is to teach you to receive revelation and seek the Spirit. The Spirit will help you navigate. The scriptures are your map and guide, but your path is still difficult. Your situation will require you to listen to your navigator and follow the bends and turns. You won’t always see the end from the beginning.
Thinking of the path this way has also helped me to correct my interpretation of the iron rod, which is stated to be the word of God. We talk about it as if that means a list of the commandments we follow, but to me that is the title of revelation. Commandments are contained within revelations, but there is so much more. Perhaps, even more important are the personal commandments and directions we receive through revelation. In order to get through the mists of darkness and stay on a strait path, I have to receive revelation and do what the Spirit tells me to do, which will not necessarily be what the Spirit told Joe, or Bob, or Mary. The scriptures will help me learn how to connect with the Spirit and interpret the promptings and directions, but I still need to be getting my own directions.
I worry for those that think the path is straight and that “hold to the rod” means “just do what I told you to do” because they also then misinterpret the large and spacious building which represents the pride of the world. I’ve heard some people speak of their position on the path with a lot of pride and mocking towards those people in the building, and isn’t that a bit ironic and hypocritical? In the vision, the people in the building are mocking those at the tree. In real life, I’ve seen a lot of people at the tree point their mocking fingers at the building not realizing that they are just as consumed with pride as those they attempt to scorn.
There have definitely been times when I’ve felt pressure from friends to do things that weren’t aligned with my beliefs. I did hold on to that vision of myself at the tree and think, if they mock me, it won’t matter because I’m eating fruit that is more precious than anything they could offer. The allegory is helpful when you’re trying to visualize yourself working towards a desired goal and not falling for discouragement from people that don’t understand what you’re doing. I’ve also learned that my real friends do not mock me even if they hold different beliefs. If I’m truly partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life—the love of God—I won’t mock them either. Let’s be careful not to crush the tree with our own building of pride.
This is easier to do when you remember that you are walking on a strait path you need constant revelation to navigate. You have to stay humble; you have to keep listening, and the invitation for others to join you must always remain open.