The Other Side of the Tree of Life

February 3-9, 2020

2 Nephi 1:13 “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal GULF of misery and woe.”

Today, I want to talk just a little bit about gulfs. I followed the footnotes for “gulf” around for a while to make a list of all the scriptures that were associated with the word. Here are the verses I found. Make sure to take a second to read them! After I made the list of scriptures, I wrote a small summary about what each verse taught me about this symbol, “gulf.”

2 Nephi 1:13 the eternal gulf of misery and woe

1 Nephi 12:18 Yea a great gulf divideth them, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God

1 Nephi 15:28 an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life (love of God)

Luke 16:26 a great gulf that doesn’t let the rich man (who has died) pass towards heaven

Alma 26:20 His great mercy brought them over the everlasting gulf of death and misery

Helaman 3:29 the word of God cuts through the snares of the devil and leads a man across the gulf of misery

It all seems pretty straightforward here, nothing too fancy. The definition of a gulf is a deep ravine, chasm, or abyss, and obviously this particular symbol is just a bunch of misery, woe, and separation from God.

Exceeeeeeeeeeept. Then I looked a little closer at 1 Nephi 12:18. The great gulf is the word of the justice of the Eternal God.

I wrote it off a little bit because objects can often have different symbolisms depending on the story they are attached to, and these symbols all seem to allude to Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. However, these specific verses were all tied together in the footnotes. If the symbolism in 1 Nephi 12:18 (word of God) is “different” than the symbols in all the other verses (misery and woe), then why are they all connected? 

I don’t think I’ve ever been taught that the word of God and misery were synonymous, but I didn’t mind early morning seminary. Lame joke. Bear with me. 

Anyway, in Helaman, it says the word of God leads people OVER the gulf; it doesn’t say that the word of God IS the gulf. Confusing, right? Or at least, that’s how I felt.

Sometimes, I love little moments of confusion because it means that there’s something deeper there that I haven’t grasped yet. I’ve come to understand that whenever I find things that don’t quite line up or seem just a little bit off, there are layers that I haven’t yet discovered.

Okay, since our “discrepancy” is in 1 Nephi 12:18, let’s take a closer look at that specific verse. What is this verse truly saying? What does the gulf symbolize in this verse?

When I looked at the verse a second time, I realized that I was mistaken the first time.

1 Nephi 12:18 “And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God…”

It’s not really saying that the gulf is the word of God. It’s saying the gulf also symbolizes God’s word of justice. The definition of justice is “morally fair treatment.” Let’s draw from Mosiah to understand why justice was pulled into the same symbolism as misery and woe.

Mosiah 2:38 Therefore if that man repenteth no, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God (Hey look! This helps us refer back to Luke 16:26: The rich man who died and couldn’t cross the gulf!), the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.”

We do not want the justice that we deserve. Every one of us has fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve all been separated from the tree of life by the gulf because we decided to go into the fun-looking building of pride and vanity. 

We all have a pretty good idea of how we’re supposed to get back to the tree, but let’s go back to this symbolism and see if there’s anything more that we can learn.

In the verse in Helaman, we learn that it is the word of God that wakes us up when we’ve entered into the great and spacious building. “…whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God…which shall cut asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil…” Hooray! We’ve stood up from our party in the spacious building and looked around. We’ve realized that no one there is actually happy though they sure put on a good show that they are. We feel empty and remember that the tree of life was much more fulfilling. Now what? We run out onto the balcony where everyone is yelling at the people eating the fruit, and our heart sinks when we see the gulf that separates us from the tree. How are we supposed to get across that thing?

Helaman 3:29 “…whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God…(and it will) lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery…”

We notice a bridge that crosses over the gulf. We feel a small glimmer of hope, but that gulf is really wide and really deep. If you look too long at it, you start to feel a little dizzy and your plans feel a little slippery. So you fix your gaze back on that bridge.

Let’s talk about this bridge and gulf for a minute. The gulf is not only misery and woe, but it is the justice of God. Who built the bridge? How did it get across a gulf like that?

That’s right; Christ did it. 

Christ descended below into the great deep gulf and built the bridge across. He felt the pain of that gulf, and He created a way for you to return without being consumed by it. 

Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19 “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink-Nevertheless…I finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

We didn’t have the power to make the bridge ourselves. Christ did because He never entered the building. He voluntarily chose to perform the atonement, and He paid justice.

Alma 26:19-20 “…why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us…?…Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over the everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.”

So you have now left the building. It’s a little scary facing that gulf, but you move towards the bridge, and it seems pretty sturdy. That bridge, the word of God (Helaman 3:29), seems solid enough to carry you across. 

And here’s one of the most beautiful parts. As you cross over the gulf, holding on to the bridge built by the Savior, you may have to face the gulf and look at it, but you do not have to descend into like He did.

Doctrine and Covenants 19:17 “But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;”

As you start to cross over back towards the tree, do not stop on the bridge. Christ didn’t build half a bridge. He didn’t build a bridge so that you could spend unnecessary amounts of time staring into the abyss. He built it to bring you back. So keep walking with gratitude, and walk all the way back to the tree. Christ built  the bridge so that you could feel God’s love again.

The interesting thing is that when you get across, you have to hold fast to the iron rod in order to stay there (That’s right, the word of God again). You may stumble as you walk, but it will keep you on the path.

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