Today I begin a series on 'moral injury' and how to heal it. A moral injury produces deep wounds to the soul of a person. A moral injury is like a deep bruise in our emotions, and like a physical bruise located where no one can see it, produces a deep pain that is always in the background of all we do, hindering our ability to function.
A moral injury is...
A moral injury is an injury to a person's established moral standards. Moral standards help define us, providing a framework of understanding through which we function with others in life and society, and how we understand God. For a Christian, our view of God is interwoven within the fabric of our moral standards so that life makes sense. When we receive a moral injury we feel God let us down, God is somehow to blame and yet is also somehow the answer.
So an injury to our moral framework shakes us to our core of who and what we are. We don't know the rules any longer and emotionally wander in a dry desert feeling like we don't belong anywhere and that we are different from everyone else and God becomes distant and suspect. The very fabric of who we are has been shattered by the assault on our moral framework.
Its first use was in the military, where young men and women are required to do horrible things to other people, and those actions assault their moral standards, causing deep injury to their soul. Their world-view has been shattered. They did things or saw things that weren't video games or a movie - they saw and participated in real horror - or had a horror inflicted upon them. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or in my words, "a severe stress to the soul appearing after, and as a result of a traumatic event one witnesses or participates", is not just for soldiers.
A moral injury is a betrayal of what is morally right by someone or some thing who holds authority over that person or that situation.
If a child is sexually molested, that shatters their moral world - that relative, that friend, that neighbor, that stranger - violated every moral structure the child held, in what they thought previously to be a safe and secure world. They have suffered a moral injury, a deep wound in their soul. It shatters who they are, leaving them confused, hurt, ashamed, even wrongly believing they caused or deserved it. They are left with no framework in their soul that defines love or how to function in life. So they find things to take them out of the world they no longer recognize.
Addictions to sex, substance abuse, and other things often occur as they attempt to rebuild some form of moral structure, with depression and hopelessness often the unfortunate result as they discover none of those things can heal and rebuild who they are and why they are on planet earth. As a whole, the church offers little help.
Our churches are filled with people carrying 'moral injuries'. This is in part because we are told to forgive the person who hurt us, ignore our God-given sense of right and wrong, the need for accountability, the need for an apology from the perpetrator, and are made to feel like we're supposed to be happy about it all.
But our moral framework was violated, and we are angry, hurt, confused by what the church says, and wanting justice! So the average Christian is conflicted, feeling on the one hand they are to love God the Father, but on the other hand not trusting Him because if He is the way most churches present Him, then He is perverted and sadistic. (Fortunately, He is not that way at all)
The situations that cause moral injury can change, but the results are basically the same. For instance:
A boss yells at and demeans a subordinate, attacking not just their work, but them as a person and their worth and value as a human being. Making it personal when it is uncalled for is a moral injury - a deep and abiding bruise, more widespread in the soul than the cut of a single sharp rebuke. It is not quickly healed because that employee's sense of right and wrong within the company and work relationships has been shattered by the boss. That is a moral injury.
Or perhaps it is a health care or emergency responder who knows what is the right thing to do, but rules and regulations or the will of the hospital or doctor they work for demand they violate their morals, resulting in a patient's death or receiving less quality care that they should have received. But they obey their bosses, resulting in a moral injury to their soul. Their sense of moral framework of what it means to be in health care and why they went into health care is shattered by budgets or illogical rules or cruel bosses...they have suffered a moral injury.
A moral injury produces in the person...
Any moral injury may cause these things in a person: Long term emotional pain, anger, shame, guilt, and even being disgusted and/or hating themselves, depression and thoughts of suicide, all of leaves a person with no answers; not knowing how to be healed of the pain in their soul caused first by that deep moral injury.
There is healing, for one of the foundational prophecies of Jesus, found in Isaiah 42:3, says Messiah 'will not break an already bruised reed, nor extinguish a barely burning wick', referring to His tender care for those injured in their emotions, morals, and souls. Jesus invited those heavily burdened and weary of the load to come to Him and He will give them rest - but where is that actually seen in churches? How is the relief from the burdens walked out?
Depending on the translation, somewhere between 40% to 70% of Psalms deal with anger, injustice, injury to the soul, and mourning, describing intensely personal processes required to work through moral injury.
Jesus doesn't extinguish the fire of a person's barely burning wick, nor cut off a bruised plant stem of a soul, but how does He lead each person into a personal healing of the soul? How does one restore a moral structure that was destroyed?
Next week - the gateway into the process of healing the moral injury. Until then, blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at email@example.com