“….and I, the Lord, would fight their battles.”

This is a guest post from my friend, Scott Stover. I really appreciate his message about how wrongly we romanticize war.


I’ve written on the topic of war before, but I’ve never felt like this before.  My rebellion was triggered by a simple program at our ward Christmas party, which reprised the 2001 Walter Cronkite presentation with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of the famous Christmas truce that occurred in 1914during World War I.  I’ve heard the story several times before, but this time was different.  This time I was struck at a gut level by the sheer evil that is war.  I think my reaction was prompted by the detail that a particular politician in England had the brainstorm to allow classmates and friends to all sign up together, in the same unit.  Enlistments shot up – the army quickly doubled in size, but the end result was that when a particular unit was wiped out, so was an entire generation of young men from that town.  I don’t know why it hit me like it did, but I suddenly felt revulsion at a deep spiritual level, as tears welled up inside me for the promised hope that flickered and then died with each individual death.

You see, every soul is precious in the sight of God, and every life is infinite in its potential for greatness.  Yet, in the interest of religion, borders and coveted resources; to protect the sovereignty of emperors and kings, popes and bankers; man repeatedly engages in blood baths that serve no long-term purpose except to rob children and wives of their fathers and husbands, to destroy property, to promote perpetual enmity between nations and cultures and to assuage the pride and preserve the power and riches of an elite cadre of evil men or women.  The very thought of even one life – perhaps that of a young father with dreams of growing old with his childhood sweetheart and of hours spent in the loving adoration of his grandchildren – being snuffed out violently for the satisfaction of a prideful and power-hungry despot is enough to trigger a tragic indignation in the heart of any good man; yet war brings the deaths of thousands of thousands, with the result that the waste and sorrow of individual tragedy is diluted by the sheer mass of numbers until the concept of murder, with its very personal implications, becomes lost in words like “victory” or “defeat” or “genocide” or “war”.  An act – with a result – that would be atrocious in the eyes of any of us becomes somehow more acceptable because it is done under the auspices of national interest and is labeled a casualty of war.

I must admit that I am as charmed as any man by the spirit of gallantry and courage that accompanies accounts of wars past.  I recently spent the better part of 3 years devouring every book and movie I could find about the American Civil War.  I was fascinated by the sacrifice, the camaraderie, and the commitment to one’s cause (or to one’s brethren).  I could easily have found myself at age 20 galloping off to war, caught up in the fever of God and country, unwilling to be left behind and be thought a coward.  I have spent hours in museums dedicated to the world wars, and one of my dream vacations would be to spend a month touring the battlefields of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  I don’t really understand why this is, but it is, and I’m not alone.

But there’s an ugly reality that underlies the romance of war.  In the story of the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve have eaten of the forbidden fruit, and “discovered” their nakedness, there is a great confrontation between Elohim and Satan.  In Genesis 3:15, the Lord says to Satan:

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

I do not wish to profane the sacred by revealing details about the LDS temple endowment, but anyone who has participated in this ordinance is familiar with the clash between Satan and Elohim that immediately follows this exchange in which Satan menacingly threatens to use the treasures of the earth to bring death and destruction on the posterity of Adam and Eve.  The voice of Satan is largely implied throughout the scriptures with few direct quotes, but in this case his threat is loud, ominous and specific.  It doesn’t take a student of history to realize that he has made good on his threat.

The cunning evil behind Satan’s promise becomes stunningly clear when one read’s General Smedley Butler’s pamphlet, “War is a Racket”.  This piece, written in the period between the two world wars, brilliantly illustrates that war is a power game, solely intended to enrich the rich and subjugate the masses by inducing them in the interest of patriotism to finance the very wars for which they send their sons to die.

This post is not only an expression of my own screaming disgust at the enduring propensity of men and nations to resort to violence and force at the least affront to one’s perceived dignity or need for security.  It is also a plea with my readers to realize that war and the gospel of Jesus Christ are incompatible with each other; we cannot love God and love our neighbor by killing them.

It is a plea to question how readily we dismiss Christ’s teachings from the sermon on the mount:

But I say unto you,  That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  (Matthew 5: 39)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43)

It is a plea to remember that the example of the Anti-Lehi-Nephis, whom I’ve written about before, is included in the Book of Mormon for a reason.  It’s not just a nice story, it’s a type for us to honor in these latter days.  These people loved the Lord so much that they buried their swords lest they give in to their natural instincts and kill again; and they did this in the face of impending attack from their estranged brethren.  Many of us, on the other hand, clamor for pre-emptive wars against peoples that have never attacked anyone in the last 500 years, in the interest of maintaining our standard of living and security.

This post is a plea to heed the warning that we all have received concerning the philosophies of men – philosophies that would teach us we are justified in killing when our property, or even our freedom, is in jeopardy.  Christ did not teach this, the scriptures do not teach this.  It is a plea to love our Savior by trusting in His promises of protection and in his commandments as stated in D&C 98:22–38:

 And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;

But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you.

And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundred fold.

And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold; And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out.

And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.

And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands; And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles. And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.

And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord; Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.

And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

This scripture is not cryptic, it is not equivocal , and it is not ancient; but it is consistent with Christ’s other teachings, and it does fly in the face of those justifications that are based on the wars of the Israelites against the Canaanites and Philistines as described in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Chronicles and Kings.  Which message is the Lord’s intended message to us?  I know the answer…….do you?

This post is finally an emotional and heart-felt plea to recognize that we have been and are being lied to – by our neighbors who are deceived by the philosophies of men; by politicians who are ignorant of the promise that lies over this land for those who honor the Lord; by world leaders who are ignorantly doing the bidding of their leaders, who themselves are doing the bidding of Satan himself.  Satan promised, and he has delivered.

Can we change the corruption of truth that is so pervasive in the literature and attitudes of the world?  Probably not.  Can we dissolve the great socio-political lie that Satan has so successfully established throughout this world?  Not by ourselves.  No, this change must take place in the hearts of individuals, and it must begin with those of us who have been given the light of truth more clearly than any people since the post-resurrection Nephites.  This change must come because we know the Lord, because we trust Him, and because we choose to obey him at all costs, even at the cost of our lives if necessary.  It is up to us to decide whether we will build up the Kingdom of God, or remain in de facto covenant with those who would tear it down.  Those who accept this great task will be rewarded beyond their ability to comprehend.

25 thoughts on ““….and I, the Lord, would fight their battles.”

  1. I used to romanticize war in the sense that it represents a descent into the extremes of human experience, and Joseph Smith said, “you must reach into and contemplate the darkest abyss.” I wanted to go to war to see what I was capable of, on a spiritual level, to test the limits of my strength and faith, and refine the metal of my soul under the greatest of trials.

    But now I believe that was quite naive. Yes, trials can help us grow. But some trials don’t help anyone grow. They just screw you up. I think you are right that war represents, even on an eternal scale, a total waste, a racket.

  2. Nate, I was in the last year of the lottery when the draft was ended (1972) and therefore missed Vietnam by one year. I’ve often wondered if I somehow missed finding out what kind of “man” I was. Then I slap myself and some back to my senses.

  3. As the child of a military social worker, war has been a part of my life more than many. I grew up surrounded by families bereft both temporarily and permanently. Being observant, I have reason to understand the cost.

    I agree with what is said here, though I don’t think it is complete. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis are not the only example of how to deal with war. Turning the other cheek is good, but don’t forget that they took a covenant to lay down their weapons because they could not wield them without becoming bloodthirsty. Rather than become extinct, they fled to the Nephites. Without the willingness of the Nephites, and later the stripling warriors, to fight, there would have been no righteous people to receive Christ, and no Book of Mormon.

    The key is not necessarily to never wage war, but to wage it defensively, and to recognize it as a necessary tragedy in order to defend. There is a great evil in wanton war, but a great good in defending righteousness.

    This concept also applies to personal life. When I divorced my ex, it was at the command of God, with a sorrowing heart at the necessity, not with joy or anger. It isn’t romantic, but such war takes courage. Please don’t dismiss the need to defend oneself while you are pointing out the evils of war for greed our power.

  4. I echo SilverRain’s comments. Sometimes war is necessary. As the Book of Mormon beautifully illustrates in significant portions.

    I have yet to meet any truly bloodthirsty folks in my military service thus far. We don’t view ourselves as warmongers but we do know that we have a job to do and it is usually unpleasant.

    Having said that, there is nothing wrong with condemning war in strong terms, as you did. You have the moral right to make that stand. I won’t glorify war, but I’m not going to take a view that is it always wrong under every circumstance.

    One day, we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruninghooks, and not learn war anymore. But I personally don’t believe that will happen until after the Second Advent, when Christ himself will order and direct what remains after Armageddon, etc.

  5. Thank you for your comments and insights, Silver Rain. I grew up in a military family, also, although I was never close to the death that accompanies war. Concerning defensive war, may I refer you to an article on my personal blog: http://scottstover.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/war-politics-and-the-book-of-mormon-a-letter-to-my-friend/ (you’ll probably have to copy and paste the URL). You know, in this article I was driven emotionally to reject all war – even defensive war – in the interest of trusting our savior. Intellectually, I know you are right. Emotionally…..well, this article was largely driven by emotion. Intellectually, I have not reconciled my emotion with the need for defending righteousness, and even more important, defending the innocent. Emotionally, it all sickens me, and I don’t think we can ever fully defeat Satan with force (and make no mistake – War is of Satan). He can only be defeated with faith in the power of love.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately. War sickens me, and weighs on my mind. This comment is not address to anyone in this thread, but rather to some friends I’ve seen conversing about this elsewhere. Consider the following two sentences:

    (1) War is horror, but sometimes justified.
    (2) War is horror, even when it’s justified.

    Both these sentences express that sometimes fighting in war is justified, and both these sentences express the fact that even in those moments, war is still a horror. Semantically, those sentences are the same. However, I much prefer the affective connotations of the second sentence over the first sentence.

    The first sentence feels like a defense of war. The second feels like a regret for war. And I prefer a society that is horrified by war (even if they sometimes engage in it for self-defense) than a society that seeks to justify or rationalize it (while giving lip-service to its horrors).

  7. In summary, I always cringe a little at “yes, but…” responses to articles like this. While we probably all acknowledge that those who fight in genuine self-defense are likely blameless before God, I wish we didn’t have to be so quick to defend war in order to acknowledge this fact. I wish we could let that fact be simply presumed in discussions like this, and solemnly, without caveats, agree that regardless of such times, war is horror and, at its roots, authored by the adversary himself.

  8. LDS Philosopher,
    Interesting thoughts, provoking more thoughts. (Isn’t that what this is all about?). Your comments about war being justified prompt me to ask, “justified by whom?” – by man, or by God. In a way, I guess the article is a round about way of asking the question, “When is war justified, or is it ever justified?”. I honestly don’t know the answer, because even if I answer the question philosophically one way, I have to ask myself if I’m capable enough and committed enough to the philosophical answer that I would submit myself to the sword as did the Anti-Lehi-Nephites. Do I have the faith to trust that the Lord will protect me if I follow a completely pacifist course of action?

  9. The Church has never asked its members to be pacifists.

    I applaud anyone who dedicates him or herself to pacifism as a philosophical endeavor.

    However, coming up with broad statements of principles that are based on an appeal to emotionalism instead of rationality is not the way to go about it.

    Ldsphilosopher, nobody here “defends war”. We simply acknowledge its existence and the historical reality that sometimes it is waged whether we like it or not.

    Is war horror? Absolutely.

    How does marrying the concept of “letting the Lord fight our battles” mesh with “the Lord helps those who help themselves”?

    If a band of thugs come down my street, do I consign my family to an ugly fate or do I defend my hearth, wife, family, and home? What would you *really* do in that situation?

    Answer that question before judging people that actually participate in the profession of national defense.

  10. Considering that I felt judged, perhaps. I’m not angry at all, please don’t think that. I totally get where you are coming from. It’s ok to call war all the strong words we can come up with: horror, crime, evil, etc.

    But having been involved in certain operations where people got destroyed, people who were hell bent on destroying innocent folks, I guess I just have a different perspective.

    I applaud and respect the Gandhi’s and Mother Teresa’s of the world. But I am not one of those, nor are the extreme vast majority of us.

  11. Michael, if you re-read my comments, you’ll see that I’m not arguing with you.

    All I’m saying is: (1) war is an unqualified horror, even in those moments when we are right to fight, and (2) I cringe when I hear anyone respond with something that sounds like, “yes, but…”, because I don’t think that’s necessary. We all agree (or should agree) that self-defense is not forbidden by God. That can be an unspoken presumption. We can claim that all war is the spawn of evil, and shudder with the horror of it, and regret its very existence, without adding unnecessary qualifications.

    Scott, people are right that there are other examples that one can use in the Book of Mormon that provides justification for self-defense. For example, “And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed.” (Alma 43:47). There’s no need to dismiss the possibility of honest, righteous self-defense in order to speak to the unqualified horrors of war. The Book of Mormon is, in many ways, an anti-war tract. It’s there to remind us of where war leads us. It’s there to warn us against waging it. It’s there to condemn those who agitate for, start, or perpetuate war, or those who silently assent to those who do. It speaks quite bold against preemptive war and all that it entails. But in all that, it doesn’t ever condemn those who defend themselves. I think that neither should we.

    The issue here, I think, is defensiveness. When I say, “War is an unqualified horror” (and we should all agree that it is, no matter how right we are in fighting), people feel the need to qualify the statement—because they feel as if it taints everybody who’s ever fought in war. But that reaction is unnecessary.

    Like I said, I prefer a society that is constantly horrified by war (even if they sometimes engage in it for self-defense) than a society that seeks to justify or rationalize it.

  12. Part of my reaction is probably an attempt to “lean against the wind.” I don’t think we have “too many pacifists” amongst our midsts. Rather, we have too many people who seem indifferent to or callous towards the horrors of war. So why not emphasize those horrors? Why must we temper that message with the “yes, but…” claim that, on very rare occasions, we need to fight to protect ourselves—something that usually isn’t in dispute?

  13. I am absolutely certain that what we have in common (meaning those of us posting on this essay) far exceeds what minor differences or nuances we might feel with respect to this issue. I appreciate these kinds of conversations; there is no harm in broaching difficult topics. Food for thought is very much appreciated.

  14. Michael – I’m not one of those either. I can only aspire to such heights. But by aspiring, I think I get closer than if I don’t. I’ve also never even SEEN a person who was killed violently. I am aware of my limited perspective, but have no desire to change it. I understand that if you felt judged, then it doesn’t matter much what my intent was.

  15. I guess I also think that by presenting the extreme point of view – pacifism – perhaps I might help bring us back to the middle. As has already been said both in the article and the comments, we just seem to accept it, and it goes right by. War is war, and those of us who have never experienced it, and perhaps those who have, tend to tune it out because it isn’t our reality. And I’m sure we’ll all agree that we are far to quick to jump on the bandwagon when our leaders start playing the patriotism card. Not saying that’s true of any individual, but of far too many in our society and in our church. War, to most of us, is like a video game or a history lesson. It’s not real. Michael – it sounds like you do not fit into that category. I’m sorry that you ever had to experience what you did.

  16. The Book of Mormon actually speaks of how folks were “hardened” due to the protracted nature of the Lamanite wars in the later Alma chapters. There was a definite consequence despite the wars being defensive from the Nephite perspective. So it’s good to talk about these things.

    I agree that war seems much like a video game these days. And in fact, the video game aspect has taken over much of military killing now, since we can kill from much further distances and watch the destruction unfold on our computer screens. We know it’s real but it seems sanitized because we don’t smell the blood and guts.

  17. Perhaps the reason I say, “yes, but…” is because despite my natural inclinations, I have personally been called upon to fight a war, so to speak. I have been commanded of the Lord to take a stand in a way I never thought I could. Was it horror? Undeniably. Was it also righteous? Yes, because it was commanded. Granted, I have never been asked by God to take a life. But scripture makes it clear that this is on the table. And in my own small way, I know what it is like to be asked something like that.

    Additionally, my lineage had been specifically called to be defenders of the Kingdom, warriors called to create a safe place for the beloved of the Lord. In a world where there are enemies, someone must sacrifice themselves to protect so that others can keep their hands clean. It is better to be humbly thankful of those people than harshly judgmental.

    We cannot hope to be a disciple if we are not pliant to the Spirit. We must understand that any one of us could be called to do the unthinkable. No one knows better the horrors of war than those who have been forced to wage it against their desire. It is luxury to believe that you will never have to face it, just because you find it abhorrent. And so, while condemnation of THE LOVE of war is unmitigated good, blanket condemnation of war itself must also be tempered, as it is tempered in scripture, with acknowledgment of the courage and righteousness of those who hate war, but are willing to engage in it at God’s command. Otherwise, one is reaching beyond the mark, using absolute language when the Lord Himself has not.

    Of course, it is your prerogative to do so. Just don’t be surprised when some who would otherwise agree are put off by your words.

  18. “We are all enlisted til the conflict is o’er
    Happy are we…
    Happy are we…
    Soldiers in the army
    There’s a bright crown in store
    We shall win and wear it by and by”

  19. “Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men. Courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men. Mistrust and caution. It must be so.”

  20. Silver Rain, Thank you for your thoughts. It’s really ok with me that people disagree. Something that I didn’t make clear enough in the article is my awareness of my own weakness. My purpose, which I obviously left open a little too much to interpretation, was to 1) share the experience and insight that I had during that moment at the ward party and 2) to present the thoughts that I expounded as a counterpoint to acceptance of war that far too many, by my observance, indulge in. It seems to me (and everyone who responded to this article seems to be an exception) that far too many people unthinkingly accept the teachings of the world and the preaching of our leaders – the propaganda that we must fight in order to protect freedom, when in actuality we are destroying freedom by playing into Satan’s hands. My intent was not to suggest that this is the answer, but to present the other extreme in order to make people think. It worked, but I doubt that any of those in these comments really needed to be reminded.

  21. I would clarify another thing about the article – which is that my intent was to point out the source of wars, that it is the designs of evil an conspiring men, serving their own purposes at the expense of those who finance and those who fight. They do not fight, but they benefit. They rarely suffer, but we, the innocent, do. It is as clear a manifestation as we have of Satan’s plan, and if we don’t recognize that, we will be sucked into to believing HIS lies. Based on these comments, I didn’t do a good enough job of highlight that point.

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