Nephi cast lots to determine God’s will. Bruce R. McConkie famously suggested we do the same.
I must have had those two in mind when I read a puzzling description of Captain Moroni’s first Lamanite campaign. The Lamanites were sneaking around through the wilderness. Moroni tracked them:
And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem; therefore, he found by his spies which course the Lamanites were to take . . . and ambushed them.
This is all very strange. The modern reader, like me, thinks of wars as either unjust or just. If a war is just you fight in every way you can, if a war is unjust you do not fight at all. Moroni and his chronicler seem to make a similar distinction between just and unjust (or perhaps between clearly just and ambiguous) wars but were willing to fight in them all. It’s only that in the just wars you didn’t have to play fair. Did the last Nephites lose their battles because their generals Mormon and Moroni refused to use strategems? I read all this and asked myself why.
The answer I came up with is that Captain Moroni and the Nephites saw warfare as a form of casting lots. When their cause was just they fought to win. Conversely, if they had doubts on whose side justice lay, they fought fair and eschewed strategem, so God could better choose the right.
The medievals thought too that God chose the winner when they arranged for trial by combat. Abraham Lincoln at times saw the Civil War as an appeal to God to choose one side or another. Perhaps the games on the Meso-American ball court were also. Our games too, for all I know.
Tom Wolfe believes, or else I misread The Right Stuff, that we humans have an urge to believe in champions and trials by combat. He says America adored its astronauts because, well, because they were willing to make their lives into a divinatory offering; and because they succeeded, because God did not take their lives, they were living proof that divine favor hadn’t left us; and because they brought us proof of God’s favor–because they were vessels of his approval in a way–they must have been pretty saintly themselves.
I don’t know what to think. I do like astronauts, but Wolfe makes it all sound so anthropological. Do I really want to see divine pleasure or disgust in everything? I will admit, though, that I am a football fan. In my secret heart I pray over the BYU Cougars. When I see the team stumble through vicissitudes and iniquities–Mr. Gordon S. mentions the latest–I can’t help feel that retribution is coming, or that if we win it will be because those players who remain have cleansed themselves.