Wealth and the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life vision in 1 Nephi 8 is one of the most oft-cited passages of The Book of Mormon, due to its powerful symbolism and scope. Basically, the good will persevere hardships to arrive at a tree of life, where they partake of the fruit. Of those who partake of the fruit – associated with keeping covenants, doing good, having faith – some remain at the tree and others become ashamed and wander off.

They become ashamed in large part due to the mocking from people who chose not to endure the path to the tree of life, but instead sought to travel through mists and hazards to a “great and spacious building”. Those are the only adjectives directly associated with the building, implying a vast palace-like structure, such as an inhabitant of Jerusalem would be familiar with. The people in the building are assumed to be wicked because they mock those who strove to arrive at the tree of life – but their wickedness is confirmed with the statement that “their manner of dress was exceedingly fine.”

The wickedness is directly connected with the wealth. People who fall victim to the mists and hazards are not the ones making a mockery of the righteous. They may have had wicked intentions, but their impact is not affecting others in a spiritual way, it would seem. But the evil that grows out of a lust for the things of the world, that is the evil that makes direct attacks on those who choose to be righteous. And it is known by the fine apparel of the people making the attacks.

The great and spacious building houses all the greatness of the world; those in the building are masters of the militaries, governments, and concentrations of wealth in the world. They know that many seek after their false treasures. They mock those who seek after enduring treasures in heaven. While we know of people who are good servants in government and business, it is important to call out the differences between them and the wicked: look at who remembers the poor and who seeks to increase the benefits given to the wealthy. Look at who seeks to place oppressed minorities on equal footing with their oppressors and who seeks to maintain or extend that oppression. Look at businesspeople obsessed with the welfare of their employees and those who are obsessed with their profits.

There is no commuting between the tree and the building. Recall Jeremiah’s condemnation of the temple being full of robbers when the wealthy were in it. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” goes all the way back to Joshua and Moses. Christ taught one cannot serve both God and mammon, and mammon is not some Middle Eastern deity. Mammon is earthly wealth, and is the foe of the righteous. The love of money is the root of all evil, and that is clearly stated in the vision of the tree of life in 1 Nephi 8.

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