As I wrote yesterday, we need to forgive others in order to be forgiven by God. That’s because an unforgiving heart is unable to receive God’s healing power.
But what should we do when we, or the people we are responsible for, are in danger? How can we protect and defend ourselves and them without becoming bitter and unforgiving?
The Book of Mormon contains a number of stories in which people have to deal with unkindness, abuse, and even threats on their lives. Sometimes, they simply endure the abuse. In other situations, they are able to escape to a place of safety. On some occasions, they fight to defend themselves and and their families. Here are some of those stories:
Nephi: Look Unto God
Nephi traveled in the wilderness with his family, including two abusive older brothers. Laman and Lemuel beat him with sticks, tied him up at least twice, and verbally abused him and their parents regularly. At least two other brothers, Sam and Jacob, were also victims of their attacks. Nephi likely wouldn’t have survived their journey to the promised land without repeated divine intervention. On one occasion, when he was bound with cords on a ship, he tells us, “I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions” (1 Nephi 18:16).
When the family arrived in the promised land, they stayed together until the death of their father. Eventually, the threats escalated, and the Lord told Nephi to take the people who were sympathetic to him and “flee into the wilderness,” where they could live in peace (2 Nephi 5:5).
Zeniff: Don’t Be Naive
Hundreds of years later, a descendant of Nephi tried to establish a colony among the descendants of Laman and Lemuel, who were now known as the Lamanites. As a spy, Zeniff had seen the Lamanite people up close, and he didn’t think they were as bad as everyone had told him. In his history, he refers to himself as “over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers” (Mosiah 9:3). His idealism caused him to ignore warning signs that the king of the Lamanites might not be trustworthy. Years later, he recognized that the king had given them land with the express purpose of bringing them into bondage (Mosiah 9:10).
As a result of Zeniff’s poor decisions, the people whom he had led were now in serious danger. They fought many battles with the neighboring Lamanites. Eventually, during the reign of his grandson, Limhi, they were conquered and had to serve in bondage before escaping from their captors.
The Sons of Mosiah: Bear Your Afflictions with Patience
Unlike Zeniff, the sons of King Mosiah traveled to the land of the Lamanites with their eyes wide open. They knew the dangers they faced, and they were prepared to face them. When they asked their father permission to go, he was hesitant to grant their request. However, when he prayed about it, the Lord told him to let them go. The Lord promised to deliver them out of the hands of the Lamanites (Mosiah 28:5-8).
He fulfilled that promise, but Mosiah’s sons still endured significant persecution, including being “cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon [their] cheeks; and…stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison” (Alma 26:29). When they became discouraged, God gave them the following guidance and assurance: “Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success” (Alma 26:27). In the end, they were delivered from everything they had suffered, and they were instrumental in the conversion of many Lamanites to the gospel.
The Anti-Nephi-Lehies: Bury Your Weapons
The Lamanites who were converted because of the sons of Mosiah were determined to avoid falling into their former ways. They had previously been a violent people, and their conversion to the gospel was a significant change. In order to symbolize the permanence of their new life, they collectively buried their weapons in the ground, promising that they would die before they raised a weapon to harm another person again (Alma 24:17-18).
Many of them did give up their lives when they were attacked by some of the unconverted Lamanites. Some of their attackers were impressed with their courage and conviction, and many joined them. However, the attacks continued, and the Lord told Ammon (one of the sons of Mosiah) to lead them to the land of the Nephites, where they would be safe (Alma 27:12).
Moroni: Defend Your Family
Captain Moroni led the Nephite armies in defending their nation against a Lamanite invasion. He believed that he was standing on firm moral ground, because the Lord had said, “Ye shall defend your families, even unto bloodshed” (Alma 43:47).
But Moroni didn’t delight in bloodshed (Alma 48:11, Alma 55:19). He deliberately structured his strategies in a way that minimized the loss of life on both sides. His goal was to defend his people, not to exact revenge, and not to cause unnecessary pain to the enemy.
Moroni was clear about his motives: “I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country” (Alma 60:36). After the war, Moroni “retired to his own house that he might spend the remainder of his days in peace” (Alma 62:43).
I see the following principles in these stories:
- Always rely upon God. He can deliver you from persecution.
- Be clear-eyed about the danger you face, and don’t ignore warning signs that other people may not be trustworthy.
- Sometimes it is best to endure persecution humbly and patiently.
- Sometimes it is best to escape from a bad situation and find a place where you and your loved ones can be safe.
- Sometimes it is necessary to fight to defend yourself. But when that time comes, it is still important to love your enemies, to care about their welfare, and to avoid causing unnecessary suffering.
Today I will be grateful for the guidance we receive from the Book of Mormon about how to deal with unkindness from others. I will remember that God wants me to love all people, and that He also wants me to protect and defend the people I am responsible for. I will look to Him for guidance, so that I will know when it is appropriate to endure suffering, when it is best to get away from a bad situation, and when it is necessary to fight.