It’s Just War

April 21, 2007

By HP 

Probably the definitive Mormon treatise on war is in Doctrine and Covenants 98:33-38.  In it, the Lord frankly says that no-one ought to attack another nation unless the Lord so commands.  Then he commands us, when a country attacks our nations, to sue for peace.  If they reject the standard of peace, try, try again.  Once they have rejected peace three times, then you may take your grievances before the Lord.  Then, if he so commands, you may attack your attacker and the Lord will fight your battles for you.

What this means is even defensive wars are dependent on the Lord’s will for justification.  Even if we are attacked in our homeland, we must seek God’s approval and do all that we can to avoid war.  This is a powerful doctrine.

Of course, the leaders of our countries are often not LDS and don’t need to follow these commands.  We are encouraged to support our political leaders in the Twelfth Article of Faith and, generally, this has been taken to mean that we ought to be patriotic within our nations and, when appropriate or mandated, we may volunteer for work in the nation’s armed forces.  Once one is in the armed forces, one has relatively little choice regarding who, where, and why one kills people.  Superiors simply place you in spots where the options are kill or be killed and let the survival instinct take over.

The other thing that we learn from D&C 98:33-38 is that there is a possibility that God might ask us to fight a war.  This possibility is hard to reconcile with our ideas of a loving Heavenly Father.  We tend to believe that a loving Heavenly Father wants us to not suffer or to not die.  However, these concerns, so important to us, seem to be relatively unimportant to God.

In Stephen King’s book Desperation, he describes God as cruel.  In some ways, I have to agree.  There is so much unjustified suffering and death in the world.  The innocent are almost regularly slaughtered or corrupted.  There doesn’t appear to be any good reason for it.  In pondering this, I think it is helpful to remember what God’s goal for us is.  He wants us back with Him.  That is his only goal.  Our suffering and grief then are meant to be tools to return us to Him.  So, if God is cruel in allowing the world to give us pain, it is motivated by the hope that the cruelty will turn our hearts to Him (ultimately the message of Desperation is that God is cruel, but he loves us).

The sorrow of war is, in God’s mind, that so many people die without the opportunity to repent of their sins.  When the good and righteous die, I don’t believe that this much troubles God, as they are just returning to him.  It is the loss of the unrepentant that he mourns.  In any case, the frequency of genuine holy war seems pretty low.  Most violence for humans is self-generated and self-serving.  These acts of war are never approved by God.

So war is bad, especially for the wicked, which is ironic, because they are the ones who usually rely on it.  We really are our own worse enemies.


  1. HP,

    Is it “It’s Just War” or did you mean “It’s a just war.” I think that had the leadership of the Union and Confederate Armies read Doctrine and Covenants 98, perhaps there might not have been a Battle of Manassas, Antietam, or Gettysburg. Whever catastrophes occur or when Church members are asked to do something difficult, we are told, “God’s ways are not man’s.” Well the same could be true when we do something particularly unholy, “Man’s ways are not God’s” Abraham Lincoln said in his Second Inauguration in 1865 that “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

    The God of the Old Testament is not a nice God. He orders the destruction of the pagan tribes living in the Holy Land. During the Exodus, the penalty for many infractions was death. Working on the Sabbath was punishable by death. Higher Law or Lesser Law be damned, stoning someone for working on the sabbath is barbaric by any means but the world is not perfect and people are often punished for seemingly stupid things. But they are also punished by their own actions. War is so complex that until the Bush Administration a war of preemption was never a possibility for America.

    I think yeah, we reap what we sow in the end and that we should never be confident that God is on our side but rather try to be on God’s side and the right side.

  2. “The sorrow of war is, in God’s mind, that so many people die without the opportunity to repent of their sins. ”


  3. In Stephen King’s book Desperation, he describes God as cruel. In some ways, I have to agree. There is so much unjustified suffering and death in the world.

    As if God causes it. We do it to ourselves. We were sent to this world so we could show God what it is we really want. Evidently, we don’t really want peace or a Zion society. If we wanted one, we’d make one, and God would be more than happy to help us build it. We’d rather have our reality TV and our consumer society. We’d rather take advantage of our fellow man because of his words and dig pits for our neighbors (2 Ne 28:8).


  4. I think you have taken some of the responsibility away from human nature. While I believe that God had a hand in all things, I think that the choices we ultimately make are truly our own choices and God has to stand aside so the consequences of certain actions are felt.

    The beauty and tragedy of agency is that, like you said, we really are our own worst enemies…

  5. maybe “stand aside” was a poor choice of words…I was just meaning that God allows us to make those poor choices and suffer the consequences as they are.

    alright…I’m done now.

  6. I will second Ronan’s skepticism that to God, the only real sorrow of war is that people die without repenting. Surely that’s part of it, but cutting good lives short seems like something that would lead to sorrow and seeing the depravity that accompanies war would also lead to sorrow.

    I understand what you mean when you say that His plan is to have us return to him, but it seems overly simplistic to imply that what we do here is meaningless as long as we are all caught up on our repentance before we die. Maybe that is because to me, repentance is a process rather than an on / off switch. Or maybe the reason this seems overly simplistic is because to me it seems as if only an unjust God would punish someone merely because her life was cut short by someone else. By that reasoning, someone who would have repented whose life is cut short will be treated differently than someone who lived long enough to repent. I prefer to believe that God knows us better than that and treats us justly.

  7. Yikes, I should have replied to all these a while ago. Sorry for the delay,
    It was a reference to the possibility of “Just War” although I wasn’t making a statement about our current debacle. Sometimes, for some reason, God demands war and, if we believe that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, we need a way to wrap our mind around it.

    Mark, JP, and Christian,
    I agree that we are our own worst enemies and that the devil usually doesn’t have to make us do it. That said, agency and all it implies is a gift from God and I am not sure that he wouldn’t take it away if it didn’t better suit his purposes. If nothing else, I believe in a God who is active in the world and, therefore, I believe that he sometimes intervenes on behalf of people. Which implies he could do it more often.

    I don’t understand repentance as something that it is possible to get “caught up” in. It is a lifelong process. I think that God wants us to do it and that if we are unwilling to do it the easy way, he will provide us with the hard way. I think that repenting in this life is part of the easy way, but that may be just me.

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