Wednesday, April 21, 2004

God of Battles

Having recently finished reading Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, I was struck by the many references during General Conference to World War II. Nibley was among the first to land on D-Day and took away from his experiences there a firm pacifism that continued throughout his life. The several General Authorities who referred to (and served during) WWII in Conference used it as an analogy to the spiritual warfare we encounter in the world today; apparently they took away a somewhat different lesson. And then last week I received the current issue of Dialogue, which focuses on Mormon approaches to the issues of war and peace. (I haven't finished reading it yet, but Patrick Mason's essay, “The Possibilities of Mormon Peacebuilding,” is excellent.)

What are we to make of God's involvement in or views on war? It is more comforting to think of God as the Prince of Peace, abhorring violence. But he is also identified as the Lord of Hosts (the “hosts” being the armies of Israel). And this is not merely in ancient scripture, either: in modern revelation, God has also said that he will fight the battles for his people.

Is this a tacit acknowledgment of the limits of D&C 121 -- that persuasion may not always be sufficient for those who are too hardened?


  1. Without necessarily commenting on current conflicts, we find that the Lord tolerates some wars so that the wicked can punish the wicked.

      [Comment originally posted by: Michael | Homepage | 04.23.04 - 10:10 am]

  2. Thanks for the visit. :-)

    Yes, I think there are scriptures that support that idea. I don't know how much I like the view of God as punitive; that is, that he desires to see the wicked punished. I tend to interpret this kind of "allowance" in terms of natural consequences.

    But the issue, I think, goes beyond God "tolerating" some wars. It is a question of whether God, himself, is a warlike being who not only tolerates, but is actively involved in, war.

      [Comment originally posted by: Grasshopper | Homepage | 04.23.04 - 12:35 pm]

  3. This may be an irrelevant spin off, but I love games like Risk and/or Axis and Allies not to mention computer games like the Warcraft series or the Lords of the Realm series. There are some lessons of strategy that are hard to be learned outside a war atmosphere. Having said that, I like to think of myself as an advocator of peace but does that mean I have to give up my war games? Does God have war games he likes to play?

      [Comment originally posted by: Bob Caswell | Homepage | 04.24.04 - 2:43 pm]

  4. Along with Bob's comment, I think that war may not be 100 percent bad. What I mean by that is that I think that some good can come even in the context of war. The noble qualities of courage and bravery are perhaps never drawn out and highlighted so much as when people fight against oppressive enemies. That's why movies like Gladiator and Braveheart can inspire and move us (me, at least), even though they are set in bloody contexts where people die.

    So, while war is certainly a terrible thing, maybe it can also be a sort of refiners fire in some cases. Maybe the Lord can direct His people and help them grow from the experience.

      [Comment originally posted by: Logan | Homepage | 04.24.04 - 8:28 pm]

  5. Logan, I believe that God can make good out of evil. In fact, I think that is one of the most marvelous things about God and our divine inheritance. And you are right that certain character traits are brought out more by certain types of opposition.

    But this only makes me wonder, as Melissa did on the T&S thread on Humility & Excellence, whether these character traits are something applicable in God's sphere. Does God need to be brave?

    Of course, we have in Mormonism a much stronger doctrine than just about everybody else of the war in heaven, which continues on earth. It seems, if the same kind of plan is to continue eternally, that it is an eternal war, so perhaps God is warlike when necessary: when confronted with an adversary who will fight to the (spiritual) death.

      [Comment originally posted by: Grasshopper | Homepage | 04.24.04 - 9:48 pm]

  6. Interesting point. I didn't read Melissa's thoughts on humility and excellence (maybe I should), but to the extent that "opposition in all things" applies to God too, I would imagine that He needs some courage sometimes. The war in heaven may be a good example (not that I know enough about the details of that "war" to have any idea).

      [Comment originally posted by: Logan | Homepage | 04.24.04 - 10:39 pm]

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  8. And of course, the idea that God needs to be brave implies something about both his power and his knowledge (cf. Kent Huff's thread over at your blog). If he knows that he has the power to make everything turn out all right (or infallibly knows that it will), then why would he need courage?

      [Comment originally posted by: Grasshopper | Homepage | 04.25.04 - 1:37 am]

  9. Man, I really haven't exercised my mind thinking about all these implications. You and Kent are really blowing my mind about all the possibilities and intricacies of God's nature. Just being way more powerful than we are may not tell the complete story about God's power.

      [Comment originally posted by: Logan | Homepage | 04.25.04 - 9:59 pm]