by Darla Isackson
Strange, that it took fiction to get me in touch with the reality of war. War has always been so repugnant to me, even at a distance, that I avoided thinking about it, reading about it or watching movies about it. Close up I have always suspected it is the nearest thing to hell on earth. I’ve never reconciled myself to its realities or figured out why, after thousands of years of history, people haven’t found more humane methods to resolve problems. I have been thinking about the war in Iraq, however. How can I not think about it? Ironically, the challenges our servicemen and women are facing there are vividly real to me because of fiction I’ve read in the last couple of years. In the recovery period after my car wreck, I read Dean Hughes Children of the Promise series. By enmeshing me in the life of the Thomas family in the days of WW II, the author tricked me into reading about the realities of war. Before I knew it, I had walked with Wally, a prisoner of war, on the Bataan death march and in forced labor camps, seeing too vividly the horror all around him. I had experienced with Gene the terror of combat, the reality of death; I had heard the thoughts and felt the feelings of Alex, a returned missionary assigned to return to Germany as an enemy of the people he had taught and loved. I lived Alex’s conflicts and trials of the soul when he was honor bound to kill. When I watch the war news now, I cannot stay detached. A man in uniform is not some robot, he is somebody’s son, sweetheart, father–a Wally or an Alex or a Gene or a Ron Young–and my heart aches for him. I grieve with the families who lose loved ones, for the families who wait and watch and agonize when their loved ones are taken as POW’s. I am haunted by the faces of Iraqi women and children in the news–people who have had few times of peace in their won land. I grieve for the disunity in our country and the world, for all the “taking sides.” It is so easy to forget that it is not who is right that counts, but what is right–and that sometimes only God himself knows for certain what that is. Perhaps this is a time of great testing–whether we will keep or break the commandment “Judge not that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, 3 Nephi 14:1) How can we sit and judge this situation when the best informed among us knows so little?
Battlegrounds of the Soul
I’m convinced that the desert of Iraq is not the battleground where the Lord would have me focus my energies and my concerns. There is absolutely nothing I can do to bring a peaceful end to the fighting in Iraq. I can pray my heart out, and I will, but the Lord allows mankind the consequences of their choices, and we are witnessing some of those consequences.
I’ve always loved the song “Let There Be Peace On Earth, and Let it Begin with Me.” While I have no control over the fighting in Iraq, I do have control over the level of peace in my own life and heart. When I experience inner turmoil, do I contribute to the general level of turmoil on this planet? Will any peace I create on my internal landscape contribute to peace on earth? I know peace can only come one heart at a time.
The enemies I must fight and subdue in order to have inner peace are the ones that reside in my thoughts, in my heart, in my soul.
I have been spared, so far in my life
From fighting external enemies.
No foreign troops have marched on the soil of my state,
No bombs have been dropped on my city,
No flesh and blood enemy has done me physical harm
Or jailed me for my beliefs.
I am free to turn my strength
Toward deadly enemies of spirit–
fear, resentment, anger, bitterness, pride, envy
Spiritual termites that eat away sanity and serenity
and sap my spiritual strength.
Each of those enemies will be examined in Part Two.
The Example of the Anti-Nephi Lehies
Because of my aversion to war, I confess that I used to skip the “war chapters” in the Book of Mormon and question their value in my life. Now I’ve come to believe that the Lord expects me to apply the principles found there (the “Thus we see’s”), to the battles of my mind and heart and soul. These lessons are universal because every person breathing on this planet engages daily in battles between truth and error, light and darkness.
Another piece of fiction, Anne Perry’s Tathea offered me thought provoking words on war that have application to my internal battles:
“Do you want to fight for what is true so the wisdom and the light can belong to anyone who wants it? He said with sharp urgency. “Remember, there is no middle ground. We are either for God or we are for Asmodeus. We are for the light, the beauty, the good, or we are for darkness, pain, and bondage. There is no place between, only the illusion of it, and that too is a creation of the enemy, the eternal lie, that you can win without battle, reap without cost, triumph without courage or pain.” ( p. 268)
I know “we are all enlisted till the conflict is o’re” (Hymn # 250). I know the battle between good and evil is real and that I cannot shirk from my own battles; I want the courage to stand up and be counted. However, the one battle I want to be forever out of is fighting against God or His truth. Since I am such a peace-loving soul, the Book of Mormon people who inspire me the most are those who chose not to fight God anymore. In the book of Alma we read of Lamanites in seven lands and cities being converted to Christ and calling themselves the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. They rejoiced in Christ, were visited by angels, and“They did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God anymore.” (Alma 23:7) I’ve pondered that wording: “they did not fight against God anymore.” Technically, their wars were waged against each other, not God. But perhaps they had learned that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Some of our young men today may be called to be stripling warriors in the fight against evil, but I’m grateful that I can choose to follow the example of the Anti-Nephi Lehies. Alma 24:19 continues their story.“And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they . . . buried their weapons of war, for peace.”
Do I Have Weapons I Should Bury?
What are the internal “weapons of war” that I can and should bury? What “weapons” do I use when I create contention instead of peace in my relationships? In what ways do I fight against God (in opposition to my true desires to love and serve Him)? Any “weapon” I use against myself or my fellowmen I also use against God. (I can never forget that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”) Here I will attempt only to identify possible weapons. Part two will discuss ways to bury them in order to find peace with God, in our relationships, and with ourselves.
I learned to liken this scripture about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies unto myself when perusing the manual He Did Deliver Me from Bondage (hereafter referred to as HDDM.) The author Colleen Harrison said, “The weapons of our rebellion against God are our weaknesses or character defects. When we become willing to lay them down before the Lord, then we cease fighting against His will for us. ” (HDDM p. 51, fifth edition.)
“Anything that takes me away from God is a weapon against Him. Anything that hardens my heart takes me away from God. In 1 Nephi 15:3 we read ‘and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.’ When we turn away from the Lord we are easy prey to resentment, fear and anger–the things that harden our hearts. As they increase, our heart is hardened even more, we turn away from God even more, and a spiritually deadly cycle is set up. ” (Colleen Harrison HDDM p. 50)
I had to think long and hard about these ideas. If resentment, fear, and anger are the things that harden my heart, and take me away from the Lord, are they not the enemies of my soul? Are they not the “weapons” I use against Him–the weapons I need to bury?
Am I fighting against God if I
- Harden my heart towards Him for any reason
- Fail to acknowledge His hand in all things
- Do not trust His promises
- Use doubt as an excuse not to keep a commandment
- Am unforgiving
- Refuse to acknowledge my worth as His child
- Hide my candle beneath a bushel instead of letting my light shine
- Worry and obsess over other people’s faults
- Worry about what might happen in this world of chaos
- Blame God for my adversities and refuse to learn from them
- Get depressed when things don’t go my way
- Coerce my children to live the commandments
- Am bitter about disappointments
- Resent others who do not follow my script
- Resort to anger as a control tool
The Pride Element
President Benson labeled pride “enmity toward God.” The dictionary defines enmity as “a state or feeling of hatred or hostility.” Since pride is the universal sin, I am not in any way exempt. I must carefully examine any thought or action motivated by pride. Is there an element of pride in every idea in the list above? Is pride the weapon I must bury first and foremost? How can I recognize pride and why does pride cause me to “fight against God” when my only desire is to love Him?
Of all God’s creations, only mankind is capable of pride because only mankind is given the agency to set himself at cross purposes with God. Only a person formed in the express image of God can choose to obey or not obey, and only such a person is capable of the preposterous position of thinking him or herself wiser than God. Does a bird programmed with the God-given instinct to fly South in the winter to preserve its life ever ponder the matter and determine of its own will and choice that it simply doesn’t want to fly South? When the very dust of the earth is commanded of God does it ever say, “Oh, let me think about this for awhile. That may not be what I want to do?” Yet haven’t I engaged in just such thinking?
It is not just in abject rebellion that people fight against God. Rebellion is not a natural part of my nature, but I have determined that any time I fear or doubt or worry, I am distancing myself from God, not trusting Him, and so in a way fighting against Him. When I get into anger or resentment, am I not saying, “God, my will is not being done, and I don’t like it!”
In the end, it will not matter what I know about the gospel, but what I do with what I know. Even gospel knowledge can be used either as a weapon against other people or as a healing balm to heal their wounds. I can abuse my children with my knowledge–beating up on them for every imperfection, or I can exemplify the Savior’s love in their life. It doesn’t matter what I know, but who I am. And even more important–whose I am. Unless I bury all my weapons of internal war and give my life over to the Savior, in the end it will not matter what else I have given it to.
Watch for Part Two
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