I saw a really wonderful photo of a soldier recently. It’s the last photo of a series by Scott Nelson for a New York Times article on US soldiers in Iraq. The soldier, Specialist Paul Goodyear, is wearing a headband with a quote from the King James Version of the Bible.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. (Psalm 91:1-2)
This soldier has it right. No one needs God’s protection more than soldiers in combat. They’re faced with challenges that strain their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resources to the breaking point. And they’re expected to just suck it up and obediently carry out the missions that their leaders ask them to do–no questions, no challenges, no whining or complaining, and frequently, no breaks. And across the centuries, soldiers have met that challenge.
But doing battle has a very high price, both for the soldier and for the nations that war against each other. In the effort to win freedom or liberty for future generations, the soldier endures the prospect of a lifetime of psychological bondage and pain as a consequence of his or her combat experience.
There’s plenty of evidence that the conflicts between a soldier’s values and the realities of war are creating long term psychological, psychiatric, emotional, social, and spiritual wounds in thousands of soldiers, in combat and after they come home. Scientists tell us that the trauma isn’t unique to any one conflict or generation. Medical science over the centuries has labeled the psychological effects of war on its participants as “shell shock”, “combat fatigue” and “post traumatic stress disorder.”
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.), Author of On Combat, briefing soldiers on what to expect as they transitioned to their missions in Iraq, warned them that:
“…what I want you to understand is this. On any given day, World War I, World War II and Korea— on any given day, we had more psychiatric casualties than all the ones killed by the enemy…”
Conflict also has a long term effect on the people of war-torn countries. Civilians, including children, carry lifetime scars from living amid the violence and terrors of war. War generates terrible fruit–in the lives of its survivors and their families, and in the social and political structures of future citizens. Warring nations pass war’s twisted legacy down to their children and children’s children for generations, sanctioning their nationalistic hatreds and perpetuating racial, ethnic, territorial, and social conflict.
Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the effects of war on our soldiers and our our nations, and of the evil fruit of the ongoing violence we as humans afflict on each other in the name of God, freedom, liberty, and justice, I’ve been driven to spend a lot more face time with the Lord , pleading with Him for help being a useful disciple, servant, and intercessor in the middle of these monumental dragons–war, violence, suffering, and sin. It’s a daunting responsibility.
How do I–as one disciple–heal, deliver, restore, befriend, and pray for my brothers and sisters in pain, no matter which side of the conflict they’re embracing? It’s clear I can’t make a difference by myself–alone my efforts are only slightly better than useless. Without His help, I can do nothing.
Being a faithful disciple under fire takes a stronger, more accepting, more understanding heart than I can muster on my own. So I’m asking the Lord to give me His heart, and the courage to act as I see Him acting.
I am the LORD All-Powerful. So don’t depend on your own power or strength, but on my Spirit. (Zechaniah 4:6b)