2 Nephi 2 is one of the most challenging and one of the most insightful chapters in the Book of Mormon. I have been reflecting on the messages of 2 Nephi 2 and trying to understand what Lehi wanted to say to me.

These are my feelings about this matter of opposition and being free to act and choose:

Kahil Gibran in his book The Prophet said this:


Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
      And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
      And how else can it be?
      The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
      Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
      And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
      When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
      When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
      Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”      But I say unto you, they are inseparable. (From The Prophet: Joy and Sorrow)

I think of that idea often when I read 2nd Nephi.  If we have never experienced misery, we cannot know what happiness is.  We can only understand things in the context of things they are not.  Thus, if there is no wickedness, then there is no such thing as happiness.  No corruption?  Then no incorruption.  Thus (in the language of 2 Nephi 2:10) you must experience something opposite of happiness, or you will never experience happiness.  This is the problem with an Edenic existence like the one alluded to in 2 Nephi 2:23.  Without the Fall, Adam and Eve “would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.”

Thus, everything, to be experienced and understood “must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11).  The only way you can know how good it feels when the pain stops is if the pain somehow, somewhere starts.  Pain and less pain and no pain are all locations on the same continuum, as are wickedness and holiness, good and bad, even sense and insensibility.  In such a case, the world would have “been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation” (2 Nephi 2:12). A world that remains a Garden of Eden forever is essentially a wasted world.

To drive this point to its logical conclusion, Lehi observes

And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin.  If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness.  And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.  And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery.  And if these things are not there is no God.  And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away (2 Nephi 2:13).

Lehi shows us with remarkable clarity just what it all means to us.  There is a God.  He is the Creator (“Without him was not anything made that was made” [John 1:3]). And he created two kinds of things: things that could act in the midst of the choices made available by this opposition, and things to be acted upon

Men were made to act, but I am intrigued by the ferocious manner in which Lucifer has attacked this truth.  So many people in our day want to blame all of their actions on things beyond their control.

If there is one lament I cannot abide and I hear it from adults as well as students it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouragement, that is one that discourages me. Though not a swearing man, I am always sorely tempted to try my hand when hearing that. Please spare me your speeches about “That’s just the way I am.” I’ve heard that from too many people who wanted to sin and call it psychology. And I use the word sin again to cover a vast range of habits, some seemingly innocent enough, which nevertheless bring discouragement and doubt and despair (Jeffrey R. Holland, “For Times of Trouble,” New Era, Oct. 1980, 11).

This is also a lament that Lehi would not have tolerated. One great purpose of the fall and the atonement was to make men free to act independently.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall.  And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given (2 Nephi 2:26).

Jacob spoke of the same thing.  He might have been reflecting on what he had learned from his father.

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life (2 Nephi 10:23).

Thus, again quoting from Elder Holland:

You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. That’s another Satanic sucker?punch that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say “I’ll change,” and mean it. Of course, there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend, indeed you had better spend, the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. Even if you have serious amends to make, it is not likely that you would qualify for the term “the vilest of sinners” which is Mormon’s phrase in describing these young men. Yet as Alma recounts his own experience in the 36th chapter of the book which bears his name, it appears to have been as instantaneous as it was stunning (Holland).

Alma taught this to the awful people of Ammonihah:

<p style="margin: 0in 0.

5in 0.0001pt;”>Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good (Alma 12:31).

Finally, Samuel the Lamanite preached this doctrine.  He points out that because we are free to act and not to be acted upon, our eternal rewards will be those we choose.  There will be no opportunity and no cause to blame anyone else for what we make of ourselves.

And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free (Helaman 14:30).

I am certain that Lehi did not mean to teach us to rejoice in our interactions with sorrow and misery and insensibility. But he did mean to help us realize that we should rejoice in a world where such things are possible. The opportunity for opposition is a divinely instituted principle, as much a part of the quest for exaltation as flesh and agency.

Our prayers ought to often contain heartfelt expressions of gratitude that

“Men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.  And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil . . . (2 Nephi 2:27).