“How Disciples of Christ Live in Times of War and Violence,” Ensign, Sept. 2012, 44–48
We live in a time of widespread war and violence. News sources report incidents of these awful events every day. The Lord’s prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, said, “We have come to the earth in troubled times.”1 He affirms what President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said: “We live in a season when fierce men do terrible and despicable things. We live in a season of war.”2
While sobering, this should not be surprising. The scriptures teach that in the last days Satan will “make war” (Revelation 12:17) with the faithful and that “peace shall be taken from the earth” (D&C 1:35).
God foresaw our day and called the Prophet Joseph Smith to bring forth the Book of Mormon to help us (see D&C 1:17, 29; 45:26). Of the 239 chapters in the Book of Mormon, 174 (73 percent) deal with war, terrorism, murder, political conspiracies, secret combinations, threats, family collusions, and other hostilities.
Why did the Book of Mormon record keepers preserve so many incidents of war? President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) answered, “From the Book of Mormon we learn how disciples of Christ live in times of war.”3 Following are insights that can guide us as we live in troubled times.
Many times in the Book of Mormon, the Lord delivered His disciples if they obeyed His commandments.4 Nephi taught, “The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20). Nephi then recorded how the Lord delivered his father from people who attempted to kill him, delivered his family from the destruction of Jerusalem, delivered him and his brothers from Laban’s murderous attempt, and delivered him when Laman and Lemuel resorted to violence (see 1 Nephi 2:1–3; 3:28–30; 4; 7:16–19; 18:9–23).
Alma told his son Shiblon, “I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions” (Alma 38:5). Mormon also observed that “those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times” (Alma 50:22). Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reaffirmed this principle when he said: “Obedience allows God’s blessings to flow without constraint. He will bless His obedient children with freedom from bondage and misery.”5
The Book of Mormon also shows that even a few righteous people can secure peace and safety for a whole city (see Helaman 13:12–14).
When we forget God, He calls after us. At first He uses merciful means such as personal promptings and prophets. But if we do not respond, He escalates His efforts. At times, He allows wars and violence as part of His last resort to help us return to Him.6
Mormon said, “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him” (Helaman 12:3). War can be a reminder to repent and return to God.
When God’s disciples are required to suffer the effects of war, God provides relief for them. When Alma and his followers were taken captive, they immediately turned to the Lord (see Mosiah 23:27–28), and He promptly answered: “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; … that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:13–14).
Jacob told the pure in heart of his day, “Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction” (Jacob 3:1).
Modern-day prophets confirm this truth. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “While [God] does not always intervene in the course of events, He has promised the faithful peace even in their trials and tribulations.”7
President Benson said, “Even though times become perilous, … if we only trust in God and keep his commandments we need have no fear.”8
While disciples of Christ can be delivered from war, some disciples are called upon to suffer or die to stand as a witness against the wicked. This is a harsh reality not easily accepted or understood. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded us that “the faithful will not be totally immune from the events on this planet.”9 President Hinckley acknowledged that some of us “may even be called on to suffer.”10
The Book of Mormon preserves a few episodes of inhumane abuse and savagery to help us understand why the Lord’s disciples, including prophets as well as innocent women and children, sometimes suffer and die in war. For example, the wicked priests of King Noah bound the prophet Abinadi “and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.” Before dying, Abinadi testified, “If ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day” (Mosiah 17:10, 13).
In another occurrence of torturous murder in the Book of Mormon, the wicked lawyers and judges of Ammonihah burned the wives and children of religious converts. Alma and Amulek were brought to the place of martyrdom and forced to witness this merciless massacre.
“When Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.”
Alma responded, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day” (Alma 14:10–11).
As we mourn the loss of faithful loved ones, the Book of Mormon assures us that they have entered into the rest of the Lord and are happy. Moroni makes this pointed remark, “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 60:13).
After a battle which left the “bodies of many thousands … moldering in heaps upon the face of the earth,” including some faithful disciples of Christ, the Book of Mormon records that the survivors “truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness” (Alma 28:11–12).
The Book of Mormon was brought forth to bless those who live in times of war and violence. The events and teachings recorded therein highlight hope, convey comfort, and provide divine perspective. We learn that obedience to God delivers many, that war can be a call to return to God, and that God provides relief for His disciples who are required to suffer. We also learn that the righteous who are called upon to die during war or violence will stand as a witness against the wicked and that these disciples will enter into the rest of the Lord.
Ultimately, the Book of Mormon teaches us how disciples of Christ can receive peace in their hearts, homes, and nations. It is the eminent instrument to bring us to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.