So in this last week we, that is me and the 17-18 year old gentlemen I teach, were looking at the Tree of Life vision and Nephi’s interpretation. As you know, our goal is to read the BoM and look for foundational Christian doctrine – hence the title “Christianity 101: BoM Style.” This time we started with that mysterious man who pops up in front of Lehi and declares his intent to lead Lehi to the Tree of Life (1 Ne 8:5-7).
Who is that guy and what is the Bat Signal that brings him out? I vaguely remember reading that someone thought he might be the Holy Spirit, although I can’t remember who or why. Myself, I thought it might be the Spirit because the whole scene reminds me of this passage (Rom 5:3-5 NRS):
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In Lehi’s vision, the Tree of Life and the Water of Life both represent the love of God. And in fact, so important is this symbol that when Nephi’s interlocutor wants to test Nephi’s response to his father’s narrative, he asks Nephi whether or not he believes that his father saw this tree! (1 Ne 11:4) So the man in Lehi’s vision is responsible for linking Lehi to the love of God, which is precisely what Paul suggests is the role of the Holy Spirit.
Who knows? However, the idea that the human condition cannot be set aright without the guidance of the Spirit is pretty common in LDS thought, so it’s good enough to open up a bit of a discussion on what it is that the Holy Spirit does. My question: Given that the Holy Spirit is a communicator, what is the most important message he carries?
I think that a testimony of the love of God is the foundational testimony, and that ideally it grounds all other communication between God and his children. Why? Because in those circumstances in which all other forms of support fail, this testimony tells us we’re not alone. And in fact, it tells us that we are “more than conquers” (Rom 8:38-39):
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Whassup with all those terms in there? Well, if we extend the impression created by the distinction between height and depth, and death and life, it looks like a list of extremes. So it seems that angels and “rulers” are supramundane spiritual beings. Time, with its inherent instability and uncertainty, is personified. And all of this imagery is pressed into service to make the achingly beautiful point that God’s love, like God himself, is greater than Creation, so human extremes are necessarily rendered quotidian in its presence.
I should be accustomed to it by now but it still amazes me that, when I go looking for these foundational ideas of Christianity, I almost always end up with the love of God.
God is love.