2 Nephi 3:1, 3 — LeGrand Baker — ‘the wilderness of mine afflictions’
2 Nephi 3:1,3
1 And now I speak unto you, Joseph, my last-born. Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions; yea, in the days of my greatest sorrow did thy mother bear thee….
3 And now, Joseph, my last-born, whom I have brought out of the wilderness of mine afflictions,…
Lehi says it twice the same way, “the wilderness of mine afflictions.” Neither time does he say, “my afflictions in the wilderness.”
Chauncey Riddle told me once that he had never met a truly spiritual person who had not suffered a great deal in this life. I believe he is correct. It is not the suffering, but the way one grows from it, that defines the person. There is an ancient Chinese proverb, “The same heat which melts the butter, boils the egg.
Consider just a few examples:
Abraham was despised by his father’s family, and placed on an Egyptian altar to be sacrificed. His wives jangled so much he had to send one away. He had been promised a son and heir, but he was a very old and disappointed man before the boy was born, then some years later, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own beloved son.
Isaiah received a call at the Council in Heaven (Isaiah 6:1-12), then lived long enough to see its promises fulfilled. They were not happy promises. Isaiah’s best friend’s son ascend to the throne of Judah, turned from the Lord to worship Baal, and finely stretch Isaiah out on a table and sawed him in two.
The Saviour’s pain was unspeakable. He experienced in only a few short hours all my sorrows, all my sins, and all my physical pains and maladies, not only mine but those of every other creature in all eternity.
Joseph Smith not only lived with continual persecution, but also with the constant threat of being killed. About 30 years ago I wrote a short paper published in the Improvement Era (June 1969, 10-15) which showed that Joseph went through much of his life knowing that someday he would be murdered.
Lehi’s wilderness of affliction was not unusual for prophets — nor for anyone else, for that matter.
Nephi wrote to teach, not to confuse; so if he quotes his father about a wilderness, then he must already have told us what that wilderness was. There are two wildernesses which Nephi describes in some detail. The first was the wilderness in which Lehi and his family were physically afflicted, the desert, the hunger and thirst, the children in rebellion. The second wilderness was the one Lehi saw in his vision, the lonely, dreary, darkened place through which he walked as held to the iron rod.
I believe that, except for specific and well defined exceptions, the Lord does not teach one about other people. For example the endowment I experience in the temple is my personal autobiography. It is only mine. For you, it is also only yours. But it is never ours. For me, it is the private, intensely personal story about MY eternal relationship with the Saviour. For you, it is your private, intensely personal story, about YOUR eternal relationship with the Saviour. For me it is not a story about someone else, into which I may peek and become privy to its most sacred details. Because the things which are most sacred about the temple endowment are the experiences one has with the Holy Ghost who teaches one what the story says about oneself.
Our temple service may be understood as a generic story of everyone, just as Isaiah 6, D&C 76, and Lehi’s Tree of Life vision may be understood that same way. As such they are valuable, but they become priceless when the Spirit uses them to teach one about oneself.
If what I have just written is true, then Lehi’s Tree of Life vision, was for and about Lehi. It was a prophecy of the way his life would be, preparing him for the wilderness of his affliction, promising him the fruit of the tree of life at the end of his journey. Now, as I read these first chapters of Second Nephi, I find Lehi’s testimony that the promises made to him were fulfilled in his lifetime. He waded through much sorrow, and I suspect much pain. Nonetheless, he could humbly testify,
15 But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love. (2 Nephi 1:15)
The explanation of why there is, and must be, all that unhappiness is found when the Lord said to Joseph,
7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
9 Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever. (D&C 122:7-9)
The last verse I just quoted is as important to our discussion as the first. Before each of us came to the earth, the Lord made immutable covenants guaranteeing our eternal success if we would choose to have success. And, I believe, guaranteeing that each of us would have the necessary experiences to prepare us for that success. Knowing this, feeling sometimes as Job and Isaiah felt, in my heart I echo Isaiah’s words: “Lord, how long?” And I am comforted by the words of a Psalm.
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be:
yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace(Psalm 37:10-11).