As a young kid I enjoyed reading the war chapters of the Book of Mormon. They were interesting, full of great military heroes to emulate: Captain Moroni, the Stripling Warriors, Teancum with his awesome javelin heart-piercing skills. And since my name is David I enjoyed reading his story in the Old Testament, his fight against Goliath and how they sang “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands.” There is something about young boys that draws them to fighting and war. Give any six-year-old a stick and it immediately becomes a sword and a gun and whatever else he needs to go fight the bad guys and win.
But, I also grew up in Seattle, Washington, which tends to lean just a little to the liberal side of things. I got called a hippie for most of my high school career, I love John Lennon and his anti-war demonstrations that he was involved with in the late 1960s and 1970s.. Most of my friends in high school went to protests against the Iraq War every weekend in downtown Seattle. I went once to a musical gathering where people came to sing protest songs and spread their concern about the validity of the war. It was interesting.
And so, last night as I watched my Twitter feed and Facebook wall explode with posts and comments about Osama Bin Laden I was torn between two opinions. On the one hand I am proud of the U.S. military and its allies for what they have accomplished, and I am more than a little appalled at the jubilation that has resulted from this one death.
As I understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe that God weeps for every death, for every lost soul. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” (D&C 18:10-11). I do understand that this man did many atrocious things, and perhaps the world is better now that he is dead, but I find it hard to celebrate a death, any death, with this understanding of the gospel.
As one of my friends tweeted last night, “Yep. I’m pretty sure Nephi didn’t go home and crack open a keg after killing Laban.” And to that I would add, neither did Captain Moroni or the Stripling Warriors. In fact we read in Alma 48:23, “Now, they were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not all — they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, unprepared to meet their God.”
I have no problem with the military; my parents both served in the USAF. I understand and respect the necessity of having an armed military in this world in which we live. But, I would hope that our military personnel, especially those who are LDS, approach war in the same way that Moroni and the Stripling Warriors did. We should not delight in death, but I also do not believe we should avoid it completely. That may sound un-Christian of me, but I have read my Bible and my Book of Mormon, and I have long pondered the questions that many have about God’s acceptance of and complicity in death and killing.
I think there are certain occasions when God allows death, when he allows killing despite his own commandments and his own aversion to destroying that life which he has created. As we read in 1 Nephi, when Nephi is commanded to kill Laban, “The Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should and perish in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:13). I believe that God allows this occasionally because he understands the nature of death.
One the one hand, God, as the Eternal Father and Creator, does not condone killing, but he knows that death is not the end of the soul. There is life after the death of this mortal body, and there still exists the possibility for repentance after death. The scriptures teach that it is better to repent and come unto Christ in this life, but that opportunity still exists in the eternal world. In D&C 138:58-59, “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the House of God, And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.”
Death is not the end of the soul, but life is so precious that it should be preserved whenever it can be. That is the understanding that I have from reading the holy scriptures and from the words of the prophets. I am proud of the US military for achieving what is being hailed as a major victory in the War on Terror, but I do not believe that any death should be celebrated, for all life is sacred.