The Book of Mormon also teaches the diversity of human response to the perils and hardships of war. Alma 62:41 tells us of the differing impact of prolonged wars on the Nephite people:
But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.For some, it draws them closer to God. Others lose their faith and their hope.
My growing testimony of God as a child was partially rooted in the personal experiences of my father in the midst of the horrors of war. He went into the Korean War as a rebellious non-believer, rejecting and ignoring the faith of his LDS farmer parents. Time after time his life was spared when he knew that he should have been killed. Once while eating lunch he had a prompting that he needed to move. He got up and left, and moments later a shell fell where he had been sitting. Terribly, several good men that had been with him were killed. Why was he spared? He did not know, but that prompting was real. He came out of the endless trauma on the front lines with post traumatic stress disorder, and with faith in the God he had previously ignored. He would change his life and go on a mission, and later share his testimony of God and miracles, even in the midst of horror, with me.
I know of good and intelligent people who cannot accept God because of the horrors of war and the alleged lack of divine intervention. If there was a God, why did He not intervene as millions of Jews were being killed in World War II? But are you sure that there was no intervention? Not from God? What about from those seeking to follow God? Did NOBODY intervene? What about the faithful Dutch sisters who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Nazi? Were they not intervening, and seeking to follow God in so doing? What of the faithful Swedes and others who risked their lives to help Jews escape from the Nazis? Were they not intervening and rescuing many?
Mortality, again, is a messy and terrible place where nature and sin takes its toll. God's work and glory is not in sparing us from sufferings here, but in helping us return to Him. But His tender mercies can be found in many cases, even in the midst of horror, of war, of terminal illness, and the depths of grief. He is there and does not leave us alone, though we may spend months in the darkest abyss. Our response must be to turn closer to Him and listen to His promptings more intently, that we may be able to rescue more and spare them from some of the pains of this difficult life. God's intervention depends, in part, on our willingness to follow.
Update, Jan. 4, 2012: The experiences of Latter-day Saints in war provide an interesting counterpoint to the ancient lessons in the Book of Mormon, where good guys don't always win and the hand of God, however evident, doesn't simply prevent suffering as we would wish. Consider, for example, the gripping personal account of Joseph Banks in one of my favorite books, A Distant Prayer by Joseph Banks and Jerry Borrowman (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2001). Below is a brief passage describing his miraculous survival after his plane was accidentally blown up by a fellow B-17 that dropped its bombs on his plane. He was knocked unconscious for a while after the first bomb struck. Then when he came to,
[I]t took me a few moments to figure out what was going on. . . . I found myself in a tubular section of the fuselage that was open on both ends, spinning in the air as we fell towards the ground four miles below. . . .His survival was miraculous. The tender mercies of God reached out and helped him, just enough, but enough, and he survived. As a result of this miracle, he would be spared from instant death and instead face, uh, months of hell as prisoner in Nazi Germany. Wouldn't a merciful God have just let him die, or spared him from the final fateful mission in the first place, or kept him and the rest of the world out of war? Sure, we can doubt everything and question all the rules of mortality, but he and many others have found the tender mercies of God even in the deepest suffering.
I was relieved to feel that my parachute was in place, but I couldn't use it because I was stuck against the wall of the fuselage, held there by the centrifugal force. . . . I couldn't get out. I'd try to get up only to be forced back against the wall. In desperation I looked down and saw one of my crewmates lying next to me. I reached out and touched him, but he didn't move. Apparently the explosion had killed him. I knew that I had to muster every ounce of energy I had or I would go down to my death in that section of the aircraft. I tried several times, but to no avail. I was just too weak to pull free, and so the only thing I could do was pray. I asked the Lord to please help me get out somehow. I said it out loud, the words choking in my throat, but He heard me anyway.
Suddenly, as clear and as clam as if she was standing right next to me in the living room of our home, I heard the voice of my wife Afton say, "Joe, look down at your legs and you'll see that there's cable holding them. Pull the cable!" That's all she said. I looked around, but couldn't see anyone. Even though I was stunned, I looked down and sure enough there was a cable lying across my legs. I reached down and pulled it with all my might. At first nothing happened, but then I was suddenly sucked out of the fuselage and started freefalling. I later learned that the cable was attached to two pins that held an escape hatch door. When I pulled them loose, the door separated from the fuselage. Talk about incredible. It probably took a second or two for me to get over the shock of being hit by the wind, but then I realized that I was falling backwards through space.
Even in the midst of Satan's ragings on the field of war, one can, if one will, find the occasional but real hand of God, whether it is in the courage of a Dutch woman hiding Jews, or in the miraculous whisper the helped Brother Banks pull the cable that saved his life (the first of many rescuings), or in the voice that told a friend of mine to "Run!" at just the right moment after months of seemingly hopeless prayer when suffering as a prisoner of war, or in the miraculous jamming of a helicopter gun as an LDS serviceman tried to shoot down a fleeing enemy soldier that turned out to be a North Vietnamese woman running with her baby. Is there truly no divine intervention in war?
In yet other scenes of despair, the tender mercies of the Lord can still be found when we are willing to listen to Him and be His instruments, as evidenced by the ministry of Mother Teresa. The more we listen, the more we love, the more we seek to follow Him, the more frequently we will encounter or participate in His tender mercies, though it be in captivity, in the midst of a terminal illness, or surrounded by sorrow unrelieved. We have a work to do now with many souls whose lives and happiness may yet depend on our service and preparation. For what is ahead, we need more faith than ever in that God who gives us life and just enough light to find Him, even in the midst of pain, if we will exercise a particle of faith and offer a touch of gratitude for the blessings we have already received. Ah, yes, gratitude - that is one of the secrets to seeing the hand of God. A topic for another post.