Opposition in all things


The concept of opposition in Mormonism is an important one. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11), wrote the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi. This post is an exploration of the concept of opposition and the role it plays within Mormon beliefs.

2 Nephi 11
The idea is almost entirely based on a passage from 2 Nephi.

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so...righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.[1] 12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God. 13 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 2:11-13)

Why opposition?
If there were no opposition “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11). The key words are “brought to pass.” Opposition enables things to happen and allows people to become holy or miserable, good or bad, righteous or wicked. But ultimately, opposition is how God achieves a given end.

Opposition is also necessary for existence. “All things must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11). That statement is a little vague but seems to convey the notion that all things are part of a greater whole,[2] that this connectedness permits our very existence and the existence of all things--more on this later. If something were to be created which had no opposition, it would have no purpose (2 Nephi 2:12). And if God brings anything into existence that has no purpose he has no wisdom.

I shall adopt the following terminology. If there is “one thing” and “another thing” in opposition to it, these make up an oppositional pair. One element of an oppositional pair is an oppositional. The opposition of an oppositional is the other element of the pair. For example, good and evil make up an oppositional pair. Good is an oppositional, and is the opposition of evil.

The compound-in-one idea implies that opposition can be experienced on many levels. “If it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility” (2 Nephi 2:11). The argument is a hypothetical “if it should be” argument. In reality the “one body” is made of several parts and is therefore not dead, and is capable of comprehending life and death, corruption and incorruption, happiness and misery, and sense and insensibility. Lehi makes this point by illustrating the consequences of a universe without connections, where things are not part of “a compound in one”:

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. (v. 13)

The above passage illustrates that there are connections between elements of different oppositional pairs. For example these two oppositional pairs: righteousness and wickedness; and also, happiness and misery. If there is no righteousness there is no happiness, and if there is no wickedness there is no misery. Because the two pairs are connected we can say this: if there is no obedience and disobedience there is no righteousness and wickedness; if there is no righteousness and wickedness there is no happiness and misery; if there is no happiness and misery there is no reward and punishment.

A lot of this is common sense. We experience at one time pleasure, at another time pain; and we may comprehend both good and evil. Our difficult experiences can bring success and appreciation, or failure and disillusionment. And our understanding of right and wrong strongly affects our happiness and misery.[3]

A large part of human understanding is knowing opposition: good opposing evil, pleasure opposing pain, light opposing darkness. But it is also understanding the connections between pairs.

What is opposition?
Opposition includes the idea of opposites.[4] For example “the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life” (2 Nephi 2:15), which may be thought of as opposite in two ways. First, the forbidden fruit brings mortality and death but the tree of life brings eternal life (Moses 4:25). Second, “the one [is] sweet and the other [is] bitter” (2 Nephi 2:15).[5]

Opposition can also include things that are not strictly opposite. The tree of life bestows eternal life on those who partake of its fruit, while the forbidden fruit bestows a knowledge of good and evil, which is not a bad thing and is not the opposite of eternal life. Another level of opposition between the tree of life and the forbidden fruit is that Adam had two choose between the two, and by choosing the forbidden fruit the tree of life was excluded as a choice--at least during mortality. This kind of opposition is like saying, “You can have a white car or a black car, but not both. You must choose.”

The meaning of opposition includes opposites, contrariety, one thing over against another, competition, exclusionary choices, etc. From Lehi’s discourse it is clear that opposition tends to come in pairs; but opposition can also come in degrees: stronger temptation, weaker temptation; a stronger desire to do right, a weaker desire to do evil. Hence Jacob says, “the good may overcome the evil” (Jacob 5:59) and Lehi says that it is possible to “perish from that which is good” (2 Nephi 2:5).

One oppositional cannot be properly known or understood without encountering its opposition. Without knowledge of both we have “no joy, for [we] knew no misery,” and do “no good, for [we] knew no sin” (2 Nephi 2:23). Opposition should not be taken to imply that individuals must do good or they can’t do evil; or that they must do wrong in order to do right. The existence of good and evil permits us to recognize goodness and horror in the world. Without goodness we could never understand, for example, the evil of the holocaust. But without the existence of evil we cannot comprehend the righteousness of Christ. Opposition does not mean that good cannot exist without evil; what is means is a person cannot become good or evil, or even comprehend good and evil, without it.

Kinds of opposition
There are many kinds of opposition. Here are a few.

Exclusionary Opposition: One thing cannot come to pass without a counter choice; a choice must be made which excludes another possibility. Adam chose the forbidden fruit to the exclusion of the tree of life: “I, the Lord God, will send him forth from the Garden of Eden” (Moses 4:28-29). And we are told to “choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh” (2 Nephi 2:28-29). We are told, “choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15), and “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).

Opposition in consequences: Our choices can bring freedom or captivity, or happiness or misery. “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). “And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery” (2 Nephi 2:13).

Parasitic opposition: This kind of opposition is realized in the fact that wickedness can be brought about because righteousness exists. Satan cannot tempt us to break a commandment until God gives a commandment. If God gives us the ability to love, then Satan can pervert our love. Though God gives us sorrow that we might have joy, Satan desires to turn sorrow into eternal misery. And our probation (2 Nephi 2:21) gives us time to repent, but it also gives Satan time to tempt us.

Assigned, or affixed, opposition: This is very similar to opposition in consequence. Rewards and punishments are affixed as consequences to our actions. “Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement” (2 Nephi 2:10). And, “the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). And, “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment…affixed opposite to the plan of happiness” (Alma 42:16).

Spiritual opposition: Righteousness opposing wickedness; flesh against the spirit. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17). “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). God entices people to do good and the Devil entices people to do evil.

Since there is opposition in all things the list is endless.

The ending of opposition?
One role that opposition plays in God’s plan is to “bring to pass” an end. Though some opposition is uncreated and eternal--such as good and evil [6]. Other forms of opposition will end--after all, “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Lehi exhorted his son to choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” (2 Nephi 2:28-29; italics mine). Temptation will also end: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10). And the righteous “are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never–ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41; italics mine).

Because opposition is not exclusively good vs. evil, it can continue in the eternal worlds. Even God must deal with the reality of opposition--otherwise the plan of salvation would not exist. Also, oppositional pairs and the connections between pairs cannot be entirely overcome. Without which “there is no God…[and] all things must have vanished away” (2 Nephi 2:13).

Opposition and agency
The word “agency” can mean free to move, to exert effort, or exercise will. It also means decision making. The law of agency carries with it accountability and responsibility: if another person is my agent then he has the power to make binding decisions for me. God said, “I gave unto [man] that he should be an agent unto himself” (D&C 29:35). And, “every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (D&C 101:78). Thus we are responsible for our choices which can have eternal consequences.

For agency to exist there must be choices and consequences, as well as enticements. Agency began in the garden of Eden. God created the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The one opposing the other. Then God gave Adam and Eve two commandments: (1) don’t eat the forbidden fruit because you will die (Gen. 2:11), and (2) have children (Gen. 1:28). Although two commandments, a choice, and consequences are necessary for agency, they are not sufficient. Thus Lehi says, “man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16). So God permitted the Devil to tempt Adam and Eve. They now have two commandments, a choice, consequences, and enticement. Thus God says, “in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency” (Moses 7:32); and, “it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves” (D&C 29:39). Though Adam and Eve could be enticed, they did not have knowledge of good and evil. Consequently they did have agency, but not moral agency.[7]

Eve was the first to partake of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6; 1 Tim. 2:14; 2 Cor. 11:3), with the consequence of being cast out of the garden.[8] Adam is now faced with a dilemma, an oppositional pair, a real meaningful choice: refuse the forbidden fruit to obey God’s first commandment (don’t partake of the forbidden fruit) or take the forbidden fruit to obey the second (multiply and replenish the earth). While a choice between commandments seems like a circumstance that God could not allow, I believe that such things can and do happen--real life can be ugly and messy. Adam chose to obey the higher law and stayed with his wife.[9] Which brings us to one of the most famous verses in Mormonism: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Consequently we live in a fallen world of good and evil, and our choices can have eternal consequences.[10]

All God’s commandments are important. But some are more important than others. If faced with a choice we should always obey the higher law. If God says, “don’t jump in front of speeding cars because they can kill you.” Then fine, don’t jump in front of speeding cars. But if you jump in front of a speeding car to push a child from its path you have done a virtuous thing; though you might still suffer the consequences, i.e. broken bones, maybe even death. God’s law must be fulfilled. This is similar to Adam and Eve’s choice. Even in their innocence they recognized the higher law and chose family and moral agency, along with mortality and death. After being expelled from the garden, Eve proclaimed, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).[11]

The converse-event to the fall would be Adam and Eve keeping God’s first commandment forever, never to eat the forbidden fruit.[12] The Book of Mormon is clear on this point: “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin” (2 Nephi 2:22-23). And if something has no opposition “it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God” (2 Nephi 2:12).

As such, the fall of man was part of God’s eternal plan for the progression of his children. Eve saw that the tree was “to be desired to make one wise.” After Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit “the eyes of them both were opened.” This expression conveys the idea that they learned what had been unknown to them. According to LDS beliefs this is a good thing. As David said, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psa. 119:18).

Final Thoughts
All of this goes back to the idea of opposition, what it can do, and why it is important. Adam and Eve were placed in a perfect garden. They experienced no discomfort or pain--physical, mental, or emotional. Though the paradise of Eden sounds really nice to us, we know what it’s like not to have it. And we can imagine how easier life would be if we did. Our first parents did not have this perspective.

This brings up another point. Were Adam and Eve happy in Eden? Before they ate of the forbidden fruit they had no knowledge of good and evil, thus no happiness or misery. “If they never…have [the] bitter they could not know the sweet” (D&C 29:39). Without knowledge of good and evil they couldn’t even know the goodness of God, and the joy which that knowledge brings.

Because having agency means an inevitable fall, God the Father has provided a Savior for us in His Son Jesus Christ, that we may receive forgiveness of our sins. Our mortality then becomes a time of probation for us. And those who are willing to receive what God offers may one day enter into the paradise of God and partake of the tree of life forever (Rev. 2:7; 22:2,14).



End Notes--------------------------------------------------------
[1] It seems strange to say “it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death.” But here “dead” and “death” are not the same thing. If a mortal body is alive it also has the possibility of death. But if something is isolated from all opposition then it cannot have life or the possibility of death. For example, if a car battery is dead it can be recharged. This is possible because there are chemicals in the battery that permit this to happen. If the battery cannot interact with its surroundings it can neither act nor be acted upon, and in this sense it is “as dead”, “having no life neither death.”

[2] The meaning of the “compound in one” statement in 2 Nephi 3:11 is not clear. The most common interpretation is that “compound in one” means that all things would become blended together and be indistinguishable from one another--that is, without any opposition.

So 2 Nephi 2:11 would read something like this:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore [To continue the “if not so” argument], all things must needs be [would have to be] a compound in one [blended together, having no distinctions]; wherefore [this being the case], if it [the compound] should be one body [have no distinctions, i.e. be without opposition] it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. (2 Nephi 2:11)

The “compound in one” can also be interpreted to mean that all things are connected together and part of a larger whole. So the “one” object is a compound made of smaller parts.

So verse 13 would read like this:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore [Consequently, because the previous statement would imply a senseless universe], all things must needs be [must be] a compound in one [connected together as a compound]; wherefore, if it [the compound] should be one body [have only one part] it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

I favor the second interpretation. There is no point in presenting my arguments as to why--the above illustrates my reasons. But the differences should not be exaggerated. The correctness of either makes little difference to the arguments. The idea that all truth is part of a greater whole is well established and need not depend on 2 Nephi 2:11. And the conclusion that without opposition “all things” would blend together and become indistinguishable from one another is obviously correct.

[3] Contradiction is not a form of opposition.

[4] Taking the word opposition to mean “opposite” is a restricted definition. The article “Opposition” from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism reads, “In his account of the Fall of Adam, Lehi teaches that the philosophy of opposites is at the heart of the plan of redemption.” Though the article makes several good points, I believe that the word opposition should be favored over the word opposites. If Lehi had wanted to use the word opposites he would have used it; or if the concept he was explaining meant opposites then Joseph Smith would have translated it as such.

[5] A definition of opposite is not necessary to illustrate the concept of opposition. To me the word “opposite” is more like “up is the opposite of down”, “hot is the opposite of cold”, or “to the left is the opposite of to the right”. They are different manifestations of the same kind: opposite in orientation, temperature, or direction. While “the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Nephi 2:15) may be thought of as opposite, they are not of the same kind. But, than again, I'm not a philosopher.

[6] While God’s plan creates opportunity for Satan to act, evil is not something created by God. Satan is the author of all sin (Hel. 6:30).

[7] Depending on how the word is used, agency may or may not include moral accountability. If a choice is made with a knowledge of good and evil then the possibility of sin exists.

[8] In Mormon beliefs transgression is the breaking of a commandment: a willful, accidental, or innocent transgression of the law. Sin may occur only with knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve’s transgression was not sin because they had no knowledge of good and evil (D&C 20:20; Rom. 5:14; 2 Nephi 22:2).

[9] Some disagree with the idea that Adam knowingly obeyed a higher law. However, I believe that Adam did know what he was doing for the following reasons. First, LDS temple ceremony makes it very clear that Adam was not deceived, that he knew perfectly well what he was doing when he partook of the forbidden fruit; he must have therefore realized there was a higher purpose involved. Second, Lehi says, “Adam fell that men might be” (2 Nephi 2:25). To me this sounds like Adam partook of the forbidden fruit with the intention that “men might be.” Third, Apostle George Q. Cannon said it very plainly,

We are told by Lehi in the Book of Mormon, Adam fell that man might be; and men are that they may have joy. Adam saw that the partner that had been given him by the Father had broken the law, and that there would be an eternal separation between them unless he also broke the law and partook of the forbidden fruit. He did so with his eyes fully open, aware of all the consequences which would follow, in order to remain with his partner. If he had not fallen, man would not have been. (George Q. Cannon, May 10 1891, Collected Discourses, Vol. II)

Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Council of the Twelve Apostles said that this is based on higher law. He said in General Conference,

As we advance toward perfection, there will be higher laws revealed to our understanding and benefit that will replace those of a lower order. This truth was first taught to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, when the Lord gave them two choices: (1) not to partake of the forbidden fruit; and (2) to multiply and replenish the earth, which choices call for obedience to a lesser law or a higher one. They chose to fulfill the higher law. (General Conference, 1 April 1967)

Also Apostle John A. Widtsoe,

It became necessary for Adam and Eve to step down, as it were, to become subject to the conditions of earth, including death. This was in essence the breaking of a law; but the necessary breaking of a lesser law to conform to a higher law: that unborn spirits might come to earth and with their mortal bodies learn the lessons of mortality. (Widtsoe, John A, Joseph Smith--Seeker After Truth, Prophet of God, 1951, p. 159).

This means that Adam was fully capable of recognizing the higher law. After they partook of the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve did experience feelings of guilt for breaking a commandment. And they were still somewhat in a child like state. So when they were confronted with their actions they passed the blame: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (ESV, Gen. 3:12-13).

[10] For agency to exist two commandments are necessary (but not sufficient). If there were only one commandment, “don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” then the choice would be to take or not to take. Such a choice would be easy: if I break a commandment I will be punished, so I obey. But with two oppositional commandments it becomes possible to consider the consequences of one over the consequences of the other.

[11] We are to be like God. As God said, “the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3:22). Had Adam and Eve then eaten from the tree of life they would have become even more like God, “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” But living forever in a state of transgression is more like the second death (Alma 12:32). So God, for the benefit of Adam and Eve, drove them out, and “placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).

[12] For Adam and Eve not to fall they would have to refrain from the forbidden fruit for all eternity. However, with Satan tempting them it was only a matter of time before one of them partook of the forbidden fruit--his odds of success increase with each attempt. The fall was unavoidable.


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