How did Lehi know that the fruit was desirable to make one happy? Usually in dreams we just know things; we know the context or the background that makes the dream sensible. Is that what it was? What about in life? Why do some of us simply know how to be happy and others don’t? Why are some of us intuitively drawn to the “things of God” while others aren’t? Why do some react to the great theophanic events in the way that Nephi did and others react like Laman and Lemuel? Nephi makes it out to be a choice, a choice to pray and seek after personal revelation. Perhaps that was true in his case. But it seems so commonly a kind of instinct with no agency behind it. And yet: there it is before us all, a fruit desirable to make us happy.
What does it mean that it is desirable to make one happy? Does it mean that it’s a good fruit to eat if you want to be happy? Or, reading ahead and seeing that among other things the fruit represents the love of God, is it that the fruit desires for us to be happy?
I like the epistemic progression inherent in verses 9-12. Lehi doesn’t know everything, and it’s only through experiencing the fruit that he comes to know. He begins with knowledge of the link to happiness, but only upon tasting does he come to know its sweetness, its undiluted purity; and only after continuing to partake does he finally realize that his soul is filled with exceeding joy.
If we can expand moments into years, and insert the soon to come mists of darkness—by the way, it was recently suggested to me that we ought not read the dream in linear fashion, but rather as the components of the journey we’re always on (and this struck me as profoundly right)—so recognizing the mists of darkness we trudge through in between each bite of the fruit—then this epistemic progression is instantiated in marriage and our other long-term, intimate relationships. It’s education. It’s having children. It’s everything lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy and of good report. And here is the great secret often lost upon our generation of instant gratification and mass proliferation of superficial indulgence—our age of what Nietzsche calls “brief habits.” There is a kind of good, a kind of happiness, a kind of exceeding joy that we do not obtain in moments or days or months, or even years. Here is discipleship, across decades.
Being perhaps overly cognizant of the lack of women in the Book of Mormon, and particularly their absence from Nephi’s narrative, I’m incredibly grateful for Lehi. And grateful that Nephi loved his father enough to quote from Lehi’s record. And so we have their dialogue during the absence of their sons to get the plates; and we have Lehi’s account of his dream. I don’t imagine that 6th century BCE families were much if anything like our theological ideal today. But nor do I think our ideal of love and commitment is ever entirely absent from cultures where two individuals share their lives and sexuality for the duration of their lives. These tiny glimpses that we get seem to attest to the fact that Lehi was conscientious of and loved his wife. His mind in this dream is not merely focused on his sons. Rather, Sariah is the first person he sees when he looks up, desiring to share the fruit of happiness.