He Will Deliver Us:
Christ-Centered Counsel After Combat
Longing to Look Forward
I wrote this a year or two ago and now it seems more appropriate than ever to reflect again and redirect it to the Marines of Task Force Tarawa, especially those of us of Regimental Combat Team 2.
It is hard to believe that it has been over a decade since Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company rolled through the dusty streets of An Nasiriya, Iraq on March 23, 2003. Eleven of Jessica’s fellow soldiers were killed that morning, five were captured and a dozen more injured. Lynch was critically injured, and made the news. At the end of the day eighteen fellow Marines perished and dozens others were wounded. Certainly hundreds of Marines were irrecoverably changed forever.
Most Americans would probably not remember this day and many have probably forgotten already but when the young lady’s name above comes up, we are easily reminded. As many of you know, my tank and platoon was involved in the so-called “dramatic rescue operation” of Jessica Lynch after a week of long days, long nights, a lot of losses around us and to top it off ice cold rain and mud which added to the melodrama of the time. Though our entire company escaped unscathed I cannot help but think we were all in some way changed and impressed upon by the regret that we may have been able to do more, save more, avoid deaths etc, if only we had done something different, were in a different place at a different time, or simply had tanks and equipment that weren’t hanger queens (Marine talk for something that is needing repairs more often than it is actually functioning).
I will probably never go a year without reflecting on this deployment and that nasty little armpit of Iraq we called “The Naz”…But as the years go by, and by God’s grace, I have found that it is and was all part of God’s greater plan. I have come to realize that as God has allowed this time of my life to become more of a memory instead of the identifying factor that made me who I am, that is my time as a Marine who happened to go to Iraq, I have been able to understand biblically that there are instances where diagnosis of PTSD, Depression, and other post-deployment issues that traumatize people really have a great way of diagnosing one’s depth and health of their faith. Scripture is silent to these specific diseases, as certainly there was no psychiatrist in Galilee. Even so, the Bible has story upon story of people suffering, and wondering possessed by unshakable demons and burdens that only Christ could liberate them from. I pray that God truly uses me to help someone someday who is overcome by guilt, regret or anger over life’s experiences and how they seem to play through their mind over and over all of the would have, could have, or should have scenarios and rest in the fact there is a great relief, a glorious hope in one biblical and existential fact. Scripture has outlined the perfect plan and approach to replace these burdens with joy and hope, by the very author himself. The author of life and the scripture about which I speak of is a sovereign, just, holy, merciful and gracious Father who seeks to redeem his creation for His glory and will use even these circumstances in forgettable places by forgettable people to accomplish His plan.
Now many of us are fathers and husbands, with many of us in new careers and some are growing older in The Corps. We have lost some since we returned home and some have seen their battles were only beginning on this side of the Atlantic. I know every one of us remembers the boredom, the drenching cold rain, the stink of Sumer cigarettes and the weird accents of the locals saying “thank you Mr. Bush” and “Cigar? Pepsi?” We struggle to remember, if only vaguely, what life was like before we crossed through the breach in Iraq.
Oh, how I long to look forward again. How I long to be able to sleep much less wake up and look forward to a day without the pain of first looking back. Will we ever really move on? Will we ever be able to release the burden we carry of the lives of our brothers that didn’t make it back?
In a sense, we never will. I know I won’t. That is the very essence of the term “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” But I pray that we realize that we must.
May we rest our weary hearts knowing it is not our burden, but it was God’s plan. To Him be glory and honor and power forever. Amen.
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) put out by the American Psychiatric Association, one would be diagnosed with a mental disorder if a person experienced at least one stressor such as exposure to or experience of death, threatened death, actual or serious injury or sexual trauma. One does not need to be physically present to obtain this diagnosis, but merely learn of this occurrence to a loved one if it is violent, or multiple exposures to indirect aversive details of the events such as those experienced by first responders and many support and medical personnel in the military.
The DSM has woefully fallen short of diagnosing the root cause of the symptoms veterans may present that leads to the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a mental disorder. Since the human life is a psychosomatic being, that is, both human body and soul, in order to properly diagnose and treat the veteran, one must seek to uncover both bodily and spiritual issues that present symptoms that meet the indicatives of a PTSD diagnosis. If one fails to address the drivers behind the physical manifestations one will not truly heal from PTSD, but will merely manage symptoms.
The properly ministered Word of God is sufficient to heal the whole Christian suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress because it is viewed, at its very core, a spiritual issue that must be healed so that the physical manifestations may be resolved and not a mental disorder in the medical sense.
In order to demonstrate this, this book will examine research and sources from Veterans Affairs studies, military chaplains, medical and psychological experts as well as multiple theologians and biblical counselors. First we will identify what are and may cause the symptoms presented as post-traumatic stress. Secondly as detailed in Dr. Ed Welch’s book, Blame it on the Brain?, we will examine the experience and effects of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress to discern what is of physical and spiritual nature and determine how and why Scripture is the only source of true healing for the veteran suffering from combat stress. Thirdly, we will seek to understand why at its basic worldview level the psychological symptoms, diagnostic methodology and treatment being championed today is not sufficient to heal the whole veteran as well as the various theological issues that are present with the physical symptoms. Lastly, based on the various symptoms, experiences, theological and worldview foundations that are presented, the word of truth as seen in the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be applied to these various areas to show that scripture is indeed sufficient and necessary to heal the whole Christian veteran after surviving a traumatic event.
Causes and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress
In the book After The War Zone, Doctors Laurie B. Slone and Matthew J. Friedman frame the Post-Traumatic Stress within what is called the emotional cycle of deployment for military personnel. This cycle is comprised of three phases beginning with the pre-deployment phase that brings in excitement, anxiety, fear, attempting to plan for family to continue life in the absence of the one deploying and the dreadful task of planning for not coming home. The second phase is what occurs during the actual deployment. The deployment phase for the military person will worry about the well-being of their loved ones. They will be overwhelmed with homesickness and anger that they cannot remedy the fear and worry of their loved ones back home. All of these emotions are considered whether or not they have experienced combat yet. Now once in country, the person will experience physically demanding changes in climate, work pace and hours, diet, and repetition and boredom. This mundane repetitious existence coupled with the climate and culture changes is exhausting enough, but then the combat troop begins to witness or encounter the effects of war. They may witness one or more friends close by die from enemy contact, improvised explosive device, or a casualty of fratricide. The intense feeling of fear due to combat causes heightened adrenaline and fight or flight reactions constantly. When these changes are thrust upon a person they grow immensely close and loyal to their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. And if anything happens to these people one will be affected deeply. Lastly, within the deployment phase there are a wide range of expectations and emotions that one might experience when anticipating their return home.
Finally, there is a post-deployment stage that all experience which begins with a honeymoon celebration phase and then a time of readjustment and renegotiation of life expectations of this world and the reality that the world one returns too is far less intense and for that matter, may feel as if it is different and petty compared to the rigors of deployed life.
Post-Traumatic Stress is what occurs after the return home and a period of adjustment has occurred but significantly different feelings and emotional reactions to otherwise normal living has been greatly affected by one’s experience in combat. Because the anatomical and physiological changes that occur resulting from traumatic brain injury, one must acknowledge the effects that may have on a person’s psychiatric symptoms or personality.
How combat veterans move beyond the honeymoon and adjustment phase can present vastly different symptoms resulting from what seems to be differing worldviews that exist during different periods of war. Vietnam veterans have fared far worse and progress from the deployment and post-deployment phases into what seems to be a fatalist worldview which exacerbates feelings of post-traumatic stress and may not manifest themselves until years later.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress
Upon the return home, the most common feelings experienced by the veteran are isolation or abandonment, irritability or anger, hyper-alertness and grief or survivors guilt. The person may experience trouble concentrating, unwanted memories, and nervousness and anxiety and withdrawn feelings of emotional detachment.
It is important to identify the various behaviors, feelings and dispositions of the person that seem to be related to the post-traumatic stress. This is where biblical counseling agrees with psychology, both need to identify root causes that are made manifest in various symptoms. To the Christian there is no feeling or behavior that is not connected to the heart. The counselor may begin with a basic understanding of the person’s physical well-being the counselor may ask question about what feelings are present when they are angry. They may ask what the circumstances are and perceived provocations whether physical, internal or external that provoke their anger.
If we are to understand that anger towards someone as at its very root is the sin of murder, then we must seek to understand the motive. For the Christian all motives should be Godward, so we must understand what it is that this person desires so much that they are willing to murder for it in their hearts.
According to the Combat Trauma Healing Manual, it is important to draw out cognitive understandings of reality as it pertains to the trauma by remembering the events and constructing them mentally. This simply means helping the Christian veteran understand what happened to me and how am I reacting to it, followed by helping them to describe the feelings associated with the trauma and finally redeeming or empowering the veteran through the word of God, the Holy Spirit, Prayer, Christian Community, and Effort.
For the veteran who feels isolated and abandoned, the counselor will have to help them reconstruct in their minds what their expectations were and contrasting that with the Kingdom of God by asking why they feel abandoned and by whom. Secondly, the counselor may help them most by helping them identify themselves as a child of God.
The same goes for grief and survivors guilt. The counselor will need to help them discern what it is that brings about the feeling of guilt and thereby either enabling the veteran to identify a sin to confess and be forgiven of or realize that God, in His sovereignty, ordained such events and thus the sin is not theirs to own. God’s sovereignty overrules their action or inaction; they merely lack resting in the sovereignty control of God. The counselor will have to ask why they feel responsible. The counselor will help them construct the events and point to God’s sovereign hand in all of it in order to show that God’s sovereignty trumps their retrospective or hypothetical actions. The counselor will then point to the One who takes that burden and casts it upon his shoulders and in turn offers them rest. The One is Christ.
Treating with Truth
Both physical and heart symptoms must be understood by the counselor and the symptoms that are related to the heart must be addressed by Scripture. According to Paul Tripp, in order to affect heart change counselors must be instruments of change by adhering to the four elements of biblical ministry. The four elements of Love, Know, Speak and Do are vitally important to the counselor of the veteran living with post-traumatic stress. Through this process the counselor will discern the physical symptoms from the spiritual, engage the isolated veteran in relationship becoming intimately aware of the person and their physical and relational character that enables the counselor to know their heart, speak the truth of scripture into the heart, and challenge them to live in light of the biblical truth.
Discerning the Physical Symptoms from the Spiritual
Elyse Fitzpatrick and Laura Hendrickson, M.D, maintain that there is a connection between the physical symptoms and heart and thus it is important that the counselor understand that the heart influences and body and the body influences the heart.
As the counselor attempts to discern what heart issue may lie behind the frequent onset of physical panic and racing heart, the counselor must understand that the body has been trained to react to the situation cognitively and the perceived truth that influences that cognitive process may be unbiblical or sinful. Welch observes “If the inner person yields to sin, then bodily passions will rule the entire person, and Satan has accomplished a king of anthropological reversal: the body will control the heart rather than the heart control the body.”
Assurance and Freedom in Christ
Of all the resources out there for my fellow veterans struggling to find relief after war, There is only one true resolution and that is assurance and freedom in Christ. Freedom from fear of the unknown, freedom from the guilt for their actions at war, freedom to commit to a relationship and to be loved, and freedom from the guilt of their reactions as they face the reality that their life has changed after they experienced terrible things.
William Bridge in A Lifting Up for the Downcast said “a man that lacks the assurance of God’s love, and of his interest in Christ, is fit neither to receive mercy from God, nor to make return of love and praise to God as he should.” He goes on to say lack of assurance leads to the misinterpretation of the mercies offered to him and that lack of assurance affords to many conversations with Satan. The veteran who lacks assurance has doubts, which is conversation with Satan, and then The Evil One bears false witness that he is not a child of God.This is ultimately where the combat continues. Veterans must be reminded of the sheer truth and power of God and the complete ruination of the power of death and guilt in Christ so that while their physical body may still show the effects of war, their hearts will wear the crown of victory.
The promises of God must be a reinforced and assured that they are true by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jeremiah Burroughs once said “God gives a man an eye to see the love of God in every affliction and as well as in prosperity.” And this eye looks upon what Christ has endured. The Christian who bears guilt must be reminded to fixate upon the finished work of our Great High Priest. Geerhardus Vos said that through the priesthood of Christ in the book of Hebrews, the “the eternal covenant becomes religious ideal, since as a mere means to an end could not be eternal…and what is true of the covenant is true of the priesthood through which the believer attains the goal of all religion.” The goal attained is “through the Priest the people enter representatively into the safe sanctuary of perfect communion with God.” Through the work of Christ and the Priestly office that God is satisfied and through which He may allow veterans suffering from guilt, fear, anxiety, anger and moral trauma to be reconciled to God. The goal of the priesthood throughout Scripture is to satisfy God so that He would allow our uninhibited communion with Him. It is because who Jesus is as the Eternal Word and Son of God, that the covenants are fulfilled in Him, and through Him that God is satisfied and man is graciously reconciled. Through the work of Christ and the reconciliation accomplished from it, veterans are forgiven for their anger.
Through the union with Jesus Christ and therefore perfect communion with God, veterans are never abandoned or isolated but in eternal communion and community with other believers. Through the atoning work of Christ all guilt and burdens are cast upon Jesus who bears the yoke and makes their burden is light. It is the Great High Priest who is also the Shepherd who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)
Christ-Centered Counsel After Combat
There are veterans in churches all over America and the world. Currently there are an estimated 23 million veterans living in the United States and as time progresses the largest majority of those will be veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan whom have witnessed a high rate of multiple deployments, unorthodox warfare and significant combat exposure. This simply means churches across the United States have almost a 100% probability of having one or more of these men or women in their congregations. Secular psychology and in particular those associated with veterans and military have widely acknowledged the existence and problem of post-traumatic stress. Though our purpose, methods, and ultimate end may differ, they widely acknowledge the need for pastoral counseling to help veterans and their families heal their souls and yet it is almost absent among discussions in evangelical circles.
The differences of physical impacts of traumatic stress have been separated from spiritual impacts. All of the spiritual effects after traumatic stress find their remedy in Christ through the application of his Holy Word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Through Christ-centered counsel after combat, the angry find their desire in the glory of God and where they fall short they find their forgiveness in Christ. The grieving will find their hope in the New Creation where there will be no war. The grieving will identify with Christ who identified with them when he wept. The fearful will find respite in Christ, their rock. The fearful will rest in the provision of God who keeps them, even as they sleep. The guilty will find cleansing restoration in Christ and comfort in the sovereign control of an all-powerful and ever present God who commands even the seas to be still.
Pastors need to prepare themselves and their congregations for suffering and victory, faith and forgiveness by boldly proclaiming the whole counsel of Scripture and reaffirming what the Apostle Paul affirmed in 2 Corinthians even after his own trauma, He will deliver us. Congregations must be willing and ready to minister to families while they are deployed and when veterans return so that they can pray for each other, listen and care for one another, and provide Christian love and community to what will seem like an isolated existence. For the church this is not a question of if part of the body will suffer after traumatic experiences but have they already or how soon. Even so, He will deliver us.
Adsit, Chris. The Combat Trauma Healing Manual: Christ-centered Solutions for Combat Trauma. Newport News: Military Ministry Press, 2008.
American Psychiatric Association. National Center for PTSD. June 3, 2013. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp (accessed October 26, 2013).
Bridge, William. A Lifting Up for the Downcast. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2001.
Brock, Rita Nakashima. and Lettini, Gabriella. Soul Repair. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
Burroughs, Jeremiah. “Learning to Be Content.” In Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering, by Nancy Guthrie, 161-167. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
Eyrich, Howard and Fitzpatrick, Elyse. “The Diagnosis and Treatment of Idols of the Heart.” In Christ Centered Biblical Counseling, by James Macdonald. Eugene: Harvest House, 2013.
Fitzpatrick, Elyse and Hendrickson, Laura, M.D. Will Medicine Stop the Pain: Finding God’s healing for depression, anxiety & other troubling emotions. Chicago: Moody, 2006.
Paulson, Daryl S. and Krippner, Stanley. Haunted by Combat: Understanding PTSD in War Veterans Including Women, Reservists, and Those Coming Back from Iraq. Westport: Praeger Security International, 2007.
Slone, Laurie B. PhD and Friedman, Matthew J., MD, PhD. After the War Zone: A Practical Guide for Returning Troops and Their Families. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008.
Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.
Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002.
“Veterans Affairs.” VA.GOV. April 2013. http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/quickfacts/Population_slideshow.pdf (accessed October 12, 2013).
Vos, Geerhardus. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation. Phliadelphia: P&R Publishing, 1980.
Welch, Edward T. Blame It on the Brain. Phillipsburg: P&R, 1998.
American Psychiatric Association. National Center for PTSD. June 3, 2013. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp (accessed October 26, 2013).
 Welch, Edward T. Blame it on the Brain. (Phillipsburg, P&R. 1998) 27.
 Slone, Laurie B. and Friedman, Matthew J., After the War Zone.(Philadelphia, DeCapo Books, 2008), 4-15.
 Fitzpatrick, Elyse and Hendrickson, M.D., Laura. Will Medicine Stop the Pain?(Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2006), 168-170.
 Paulson, Daryl and Krippner, Stanley. Haunted by Combat: Understanding PTSD in War veterans including Women, Reservists and Those Coming Back from Iraq. (Westport, Praeger Security International, 2007), 46.
 Slone and Friedman, 67-8.
 Eyrich, Howard and Fitzpatrick, Elyse. “The Diagnosis and Treatment of Idols of the Heart.” In Christ Centered Biblical Counseling, ed. James Macdonald. (Eugene, Harvest House, 2013), 340.
 Adsit, Chris, The Combat Trauma Healing Manual: Christ Centered Solutions for Combat Trauma. (Newport News, Military Ministry Press, 2008), 31-35.
 Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemers Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. (Phillipsburg, P&R, 2002), 110.
 Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson, 125.
 Welch, 40.
 Bridge, William. A Lifting Up for the Downcast. (Carlisle, Banner of Truth, 2001), 129.
 Burroughs, Jeremiah, “Learning to Be Content” in Be Still My Soul, ed. Guthrie, Nancy. (Wheaton, Crossway, 2010), 164.
 Vos, Geerhardus. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, (Phillipsburg, P&R, 1980), 137.
 Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ. (Downers Grove, IVP, 2006), 124.
 “Veterans Affairs.” VA.GOV. April 2013. http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/quickfacts/Population_slideshow.pdf (accessed October 12, 2013).
 One of the most popular books available today dealing with the human soul and PTSD is affiliated with the Universalist and Unitarian Church, which is in no similar to evangelical theology. See Brock, Rita Nakashima. and Lettini, Gabriella, Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. (Boston, Beacon Press, 2012), 99.