And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents. (2 Nephi 2:21)
Here Lehi is explaining the probationary period of life to his son Jacob. I was reading that last bit and it kind of rubbed me wrong: “for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents.”
It sounds like what he says is all parents’ transgressions cause their children to be lost spiritually. But I don’t think that’s what he means.
Actually, what I think Lehi was trying to say is that all men are lost, and the account of our first parents’ Fall (Adam and Eve) is the tool God uses to show us this.
The account of the Fall shows a commandment being given, the commandment being broken through the enticing of Satan, the shame of guilt, the confrontation over the commandment, and the consequences of spiritual death. (Of course, in the temple we also get the providence of a Savior, additional commandments to keep, and the promise of being reclaimed from the Fall.)
Without an account of God directly confronting people over their sin and giving consequences, how would we know sin is offensive to God and that He punishes? The thing that gives the story such power is that it makes a direct confrontation by God over sin a real possibility. It is a type and shadow of judgment and also a type of the experience we have when we yield to Satan’s temptations. We know what yielding feels like. We see the guilt is real, whether one yields by one’s self or yields because of other people’s enticing.
When we read Adam and Eve are confronted over eating the fruit, we know God would also confront us over our sins and there is no hiding them. When we read of Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden of Eden as consequence of their sin, we know we face real consequences for our sins that have a real impact on us and make things hard.
And the rest of the Bible gives us plenty of types of God’s efforts to reclaim people from their sin, types to teach us to believe in Christ as the Savior of the world who would intercede for us.
So, because of the story of the Fall we know to expect to be confronted by God over our sins, whether in this life or in the afterlife. And in the time we have before then, we can repent through faith in Christ to save us.