Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Post-Traumatic Faith" column in Christianity Today

The new issue of Christianity Today arrived this afternoon, and in it I noticed a column by Patrick Stone titled "Post Traumatic Faith: Understanding the plight of Christians who have killed in combat."

Stone describes a terrible incident during a tour of Vietnam 30 years ago and the scars such incidents left on vererans of all wars--including the current conflict in Iraq. Stone says:

"A truth that does not receive enough attention is that killing in combat is the begining of a long journey for most soldiers. At the moment of killing, a soldier may experience relief, excitement, rage, sickness, sadness, exuberance, numbness, or even satisfaction.

"It is in the years that follow that the decision of an instant works itself out within the life of the individual. The vestiges of these intense memories play out in the dreams, marriage, parenting, and work relationships of a former soldier."

The column reminded me of my father, who returned from World War II in 1945 after helping liberate one of the Nazis' concentration camps with Gen. Patton's Third Army. He wasn't able to attend our church for the rest of his life--except when my mom made him. We asked him during his final illness if he believed in God, and he aswered, "I guess I believe in God. I've seen Satan."

I'll try to remember these veterans in my prayers more often from now on.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith


Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Mason, my print copy of CT has probably arrived and is waiting in Kentucky for me to read when June and I return in a few weeks. You can be sure that I'll read it carefully. Your telling us about your father's difficulty in participating in the church's worship ought give all of us deep pause to reflect on the terrible consequences of war; and, I'm sure, fills God with immeasureable compassion for those who have undergone its horrors and experience the shock it sends within our mental and spiritual lives. Your mention of your father's last words gives me cause to remember my own father's last words. Just before he died, he prayed over and over this one word: "Forgive." My father's last years were both happy and sad ones. After my mother died, dad's life went to pieces; he was dreadfully screwed up (yes, even though he had been a Lutheran pastor for over forty years). Twice he decided to remarry and twice backed out. Then he did remarry and within a month found himself in need of divorce. You can imagine the embarassment and shame he felt--all at about the age of seventy! He simply was unable to make good decisions. Then some friends introduced him to a wonderful women (and a Lutheran, to boot!) from Pennsylvania. They eventually married and lived together for fifteen years, happily, the "best years," he once told me. But the memories of his needing a divorce haunted him, and he felt he had somehow marked himself with a kind of curse. Lutherans, if spite of their great emphasis on grace, can also carry a good deal of guilt; such was the case of my father. He needed absolute absolution and never quite got it this side of heaven, asking God for it while dying. He certainly want God's mercy, and I wonder about his dying. Simul justus et peccator, Luther said: we are always at the same time (simultaneously) saints and sinners. I wish, however, that my father had felt himself a saint by God's grace, more confident in mercy already given long ago in his life. He died well, as I believe your father did too; after all, in dying we simply collapse into the Great Mercy. In my prayers today I'm asking God to blanket your father with His love for the sake of Christ's witness and resurrection.

Thursday, 27 April, 2006  

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