I have lately been thinking about how often I hear even people, who basically believe that the BofM is from God, say that they are having a difficult time understanding how all the warfare in the book could be useful in a spiritual sense. It’s sometimes funny how something I’ve sometimes said myself, too, I suddenly realize I’ve at some point understood at least something of it, when I hear it from someone else.
The story of the man we usually call “Captain Moroni” gave me the beginning of the understanding. One day I was thinking of Moroni, and I was thinking how Moroni is such a good example to us, despite being a warrior. Then it hit me. I realized we’re perhaps being told so much about Moroni, for example, so that we can learn a few important principles. I’ll go through a couple of those principles by example. You may be interested in seeing if I have found the same ones you yourself have.
- In Alma 48:11 we read that Moroni was a man of great faith, who did not delight in the shedding of blood (by himself or others), but he did feel that there are times, when even such extreme measures are needed and justified to prevent an even greater evil, which would have been effected, had the freedom of conscience been taken away from the people. Let’s analyze this a bit further:
- He did not wish to continue the bloodshed any further than was absolutely necessary. On occasion, when his troops seemed to have gained the upper hand, he would stop the fight and suggested their attackers surrender and leave their weapons and promise not to attack again, in which case they’d have full guarantees of safety (for example Alma 43:54). Even after continuing the battle in such situation, they would halt again, when certain of the more militant leaders had fallen and he believed the rest might be persuaded to return. This makes the statement more credible–we have both the stated principle and the practise attesting to it. Also stratagems were created so that they achieved goals without any bloodshed.
- If we look at the whole story, we also see that the freedom of conscience was the greatest social value in Moroni’s judgment. However, the wars that were fought in his command were all truly existential, not just about political preference. Also, when such a threat was real, nobody was allowed to feel exempted from the fight. Whenever there was a real danger, Moroni was always willing to put himself in the most dangerous situation.
- Moroni did not allow the Ammonites (people who had repented of their wickedness and covenanted never to shed blood again) to take up the fighting, because he felt that their promise was sacred.
- An aside note, probably made by Mormon, noted about the same Ammonites after their sons, who had been born after their parents had made the covenant not to shed blood and thus did not consider themselves under the same covenant, had been a decisive factor in saving the Nephite freedom, that while they never had been a burden to the Nephites, they now had become a positive asset to them. The Nephites did feel that they had an obligation to protect the people, who were essentially refugees, and whose life was in real danger from the Lamanites.
- The Nephites engaged in something of an “arms race” with the Lamanites at some point. What’s most notable about it, in my opinion, is that almost all of the new developments in their arms were of a defensive and protective nature (without any hint of sarcasm), not designed to create the greatest possible carnage.
If we read the war narratives in the Book of Mormon, we may indeed learn some important principles about when a war might be justified, how the POW’s should be treated and such. Juxtaposed with violence are elements where the Nephites are extremely merciful and willing to trust in a promise by those, who had committed great atrocities. On the other hand, even the Lamanites, who in so many things seem to be synonymic of wickedness, decline a suggestion of peace, saying that they were not willing to give promises they didn’t honestly feel so willing to keep. Finding the gems in this part of the BofM sometimes take time, and especially they require that we actively ponder the stories, and what they teach us.
To be sure, sometimes the important doctrinal ideas in the book are underlined and highlighted, but there are perhaps many more, that are anything but. We should remember that the Book of Mormon was written for the End of Days scene, and thus we should perhaps not compare it with classical storytelling or Bible directly. Naturally the Bible contains such elements, as it is timeless. All of which is not direct evidence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, to be sure–that is not my concern, however. At the same time, we know that much archeological data point to the historicity of the Bible, but in that case, too, the spiritual learning must be done the hard way, by reading, pondering and praying–with time.