Friday, August 31, 2012

Two Trees

The world is at war. Though your life may seem tranquil and at peace, you cannot avoid the fact that you, along with every other entity in this enormous universe of ours, are locked in a vicious battle with all other things. This proposition may seem doubtful, dubious, or even insane to you. But if you doubt me, think of your relationship the last person you interacted with. Whether you love, hate, or don't care about them, it is inescapably true that you are two separate individuals looking out for yourselves. Even if you act with altruism, you are always doing it for a selfish reason (i.e. to feel good, to be saved, or to help yourself follow a code of conduct).This endless conflict between the universe's players, where each manipulates the others for their own gain, happens for a simple reason. It is because, as Lehi said, "there is opposition in all things".

If you're like me, you probably want out of this endless struggle. I personally detest the idea of always having to fend for myself, and I desperately want to reach a state where I am at peace with other things. But that is a tall order. Not only does it seem impossible to eliminate conflict, but we are told that such tranquility wouldn't even be desirable. Continuing the above quote, Lehi says "if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility." Is that it? Are we doomed to choose between endless competition or nothingness? Is there nothing better? Thankfully, I have recently discovered that there is. And the secret to this alternative can be found, funnily enough, in the Garden of Eden.

If you were to walk into this horticultural paradise, you would see two magnificent trees placed smack in the middle - those of life and knowledge. Now, when Adam and Eve were placed there, they were forbidden from eating this second tree's fruit. However, they chose to accept the temptation of a certain snake, a wily serpent who claimed that eating this fruit enabled them to become like God, and ate. Consequently, much suffering came about, for Genesis tells us (and everyday experience testifies) that there is now enmity, pain, and labor. However, all of these things are a result of conflict, for as the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is (at least the perception of) opposition.

By virtue of our human existence, we live in a world where we have all partaken of this fruit. In this world, full of alienation and enmity, we both see and act as if competition and conflict were the way of things. We take offense. We are prideful. We scour the world in search for things that benefit us. This all seems rather grim, and may lead us to give up hope in frustration. But this is rash, for there is another tree.

The Tree of Life has been the goal of the Gospel from the very beginning. Seen by Lehi in his famous vision, this tree serves as a metaphor for that which we strive for: to rest from the endless struggle of life. We all seek after it. And though it may at times seem like a futile pursuit, by following the commandments and clinging to the Word of God, we can taste of its delicious fruit. But here's the key: it would not be possible if we had not tasted of the other fruit first.

Each tree's fruit on its own is incomplete. As we well know, to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil leads to conflict and misery. However, to eat of the other tree's fruit alone leads to just as bad a result. It means having nothing at all! No good or evil, no love or hate, no happiness or misery, never-changing and lasting forever. But if we (when ready) eat of them both, we can achieve a result attainable no way else.

You see, these two trees represent the poles of a spectrum of opposites. If we allow both the fruits of knowledge and life to enter into us, then the contrasting values of opposition and love would combine to become something altogether more. It means that we would no longer see the finite and the infinite as mutually exclusive. We would no longer be exclusively selfish - we would be selfless within our inevitable egoism, loving the other as we love ourselves. But most importantly, conflict would reveal itself as the most glorious harmony, hidden in disguise.