The movie Saving Private Ryan vividly portrayed the trauma, pain and suffering associated with war. Many soldiers experience battle fatigue from the constant physical, emotional and psychological pressures of combat. In World War I this condition was called shell shock—it was thought to be an organic condition. In the psychology book titled “Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life,” 5th edition by James C. Coleman, there is a section dealing with “Traumatic Reactions to Combat.” Notice the following from page 186 (all the quotes in this article will be taken from this book): “Most of these men were suffering instead from the general combat situation with its physical fatigue, ever-present threat of death or mutilation, and severe psychological shocks. During World War II, traumatic reaction to combat passed through a numb of classification such as ‘operational fatigue’ and ‘war neuroses,’ before finally being termed ‘combat fatigue’ or ‘combat exhaustion.’”
In World War II 10 percent of the men in combat developed battle fatigue. Slightly over 10 million men were accepted for military service in the United States. Out of that number 1,363,000 were given a medical discharge. Approximately 530,000, or 39 percent, were for neuropsychiatric disorders. This was the single greatest loss of manpower during that great conflict. It also accounts for the greatest loss of membership in the church of God community. Many have experienced spiritual battle fatigue.
Our modern history shows that one third of the membership of the church have left for various reasons. Many have become “weary in well doing” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 2 Thessalonians 3:13But you, brothers, be not weary in well doing.
American King James Version×). We have all gone through shell shock since the 1995 events surrounding apostasy in the church. Many are still suffering from the trauma of that experience. It is expressed in many ways—including a lack of trust, commitment, loyalty and faith. Many have become fatigued and exhausted and want to be left alone. They want peace—no more fighting or confusion.
“Common symptoms among combat troops were dejection, weariness, hypersensitivity, sleep disturbances, and tremors. In air-corps personnel…the more typical symptoms were anxiety, frequently with accompanying dejection and depression, phobias toward combat missions, irritability, tension, and startle reaction” (page 187). How well I remember experiencing the same symptoms when the Church was going through its crisis—the inability to sleep, tension, shaking inside, nightmares, emotional hurt, pain, and disbelief. We felt betrayed, deceived and used. Notice this quote from page 188: “In the majority of cases they followed a stereo typed pattern: ‘I just can’t take it any more…. I just couldn’t control myself.’” The Bible reveals that as Christians we are in a spiritual battle for our eternal lives. Satan wants us to quit and give up. He wants us to stop fighting.
The Scriptures explain that we are Christian soldiers. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 2 Timothy 2:3-4 3 You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4 No man that wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier.
American King James Version×we read the following: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (emphasis mine throughout).
The Christian life is not always easy—there are hardships we must endure. We strive to please our commander, Jesus Christ. First Timothy 6:12 shows that we are to “fight the good fight of faith.” We are in a spiritual battle daily with Satan. We must also do battle against the society around us and the pulls and passions of our own nature. When Paul looked back on his life he stated that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 2 Timothy 4:7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
American King James Version×). Paul also exhorted Timothy to “wage the good warfare” in 1 Timothy 1:18 1 Timothy 1:18This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare;
American King James Version×. In verses 19-20 Paul lists some of the spiritual battle casualties of the first century. None of us want to become victims of spiritual battle fatigue.
How do you prevent spiritual battle fatigue? How do we help one another as we go through the battles of life? What can we do to prevent others and ourselves from becoming casualties?
James C. Coleman, in his book on psychology, explains that there were four attitudes and approaches that helped the combat soldier resist combat exhaustion and fatigue. These approaches can help us also in our spiritual battles.
Clarity and Acceptability of War Goals
In World War II there was no doubt as to who the enemy was, and why we had entered the war. We realized that the well being of our country was at stake. Contrast this with what occurred in the Vietnam War. The average soldier did not know why we were in the war. We were not trying to win the war—just contain the Vietcong. The morale of the military was extremely low. “In general, the more concretely and realistically war goals can be integrated into the values of the individual in terms of ‘his stake’ in the war and the worth and importance of what he is doing, the greater will be their supportive effort on him…. Time and again men who have felt strongly about the rightness of their cause and its vital importance to themselves and their loved ones have shown incredible endurance, bravery, and personal sacrifice under combat conditions” (page 195).
We, as Christian soldiers, must have our goals clearly in mind. Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×states that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” These goals have never changed. Our ultimate goal is to be a spirit member of the family of God through the resurrection—to be born again. Sometimes the kingdom of God can seem vague and off in the distant future. As we struggle with daily living, it is hard to continue to focus on the future and our calling. Notice the following quote from page 195: “[I]n the actual combat situation the soldier’s concern about the political goals of the war is somewhat remote; he is fighting for survival. Perhaps this is the reason why distant ideas , such as democracy, were the first to go in the personality decompensation associated with prolonged combat.” If we are not careful we can go for days without thinking about our ultimate goal, and forgetting to pray and study diligently.
It was proven that in actual combat short-term goals provided the impetus for soldiers to carry on. “The pursuit of short-range military objectives appears, in general, to cause less stress than the pursuit of long-range ones, where there always seems to be another hill or town to take” (page 196). We likewise should break down our pursuit of the kingdom of God into daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals. The kingdom can seem unattainable, but a daily goal of more effective prayer is attainable. Soldiers in battle must take one hill or city at a time as they march across a country. We should tackle one weakness, fault or habit at a time. Remember that overcoming means “to conquer, to carry off the victory, or come off victorious” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon).
1. Another supportive factor in battle is the buddy system. “The ‘buddy system’ in which the individual is encouraged to develop a close personal relationship with another member of his unit, often provides needed emotional support” (pages 195-196). There are times that we all need encouragement and help from others to lift us up. Spiritually speaking we should not be an island to ourselves. Notice what Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
American King James Version×: “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone ? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
2. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.
American King James Version×Paul states that God comforts and encourages us in all our trials so that we might be able to do the same for others. We all help each other adjust to battle conditions. The raw recruit (babe in Christ) may need special attention. United may still have others from our former association attend with us. Don’t be critical of them, but welcome them and make them feel a part of our local battle unit (local congregation).
Identification With Our Battle Unit
The second factor that aided combat soldiers in dealing with combat fatigue was group identification. “It has been found particularly important to maintain good group identification in combat troops. The soldier who is unable to identify himself with or take pride in his group lacks the feeling of ‘we-ness’ that is a highly supportive factor in maintaining stress tolerance. Lacking this, he stands alone, psychologically isolated and less able to withstand combat stress. In fact, the stronger the sense of group identification, the less chance that the soldier will crack up in combat” (page 195).
In the spiritual battle of the last four years Satan has done a good job of isolating Christian soldiers. He believes in the philosophy of divide and conquer. We cannot be a religious independent or loner. If we are, Satan will pick us off one at a time. Many today do not want to have anything to do with a church organization. But commitment is a biblical principle taught throughout the Scriptures. In the heat of battle you want as many of your buddies as possible engaged in the fray. There is strength in unity. None of us want to become separate and unconnected to a greater work.
Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
American King James Version×and 28:19-20 are still in the Scriptures. We collectively have an obligation to preach the gospel to the world. One soldier can accomplish some on his own, but a whole army can accomplish more when they work together.
“In cases of combat exhaustion, the soldier often returns to his unit with feelings of apprehension that his unit will not accept him or have confidence in him in the future…. If the group does accept him, he is likely to make a satisfactory readjustment to further combat; if it does not, he is highly vulnerable to subsequent breakdown. In general, group identification and acceptance appear to be highly important in maintaining his appropriate role behavior” (page 195).
Many people are still wrestling with where to attend services. Those who may join us later must be made to feel accepted. Statements such as “It is about time you showed up” or “What took you so long?” will only drive them away. This principle also applies to someone who has been suspended or disfellowshipped. When they are invited back we should welcome them with open arms (2 Corinthians 2:6-8 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
7 So that contrariwise you ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
8 Why I beseech you that you would confirm your love toward him.
American King James Version×). They should feel needed and wanted.
Esprit de Corps
“Closely related to group identification is the matter of esprit de corps, the morale of the group as a whole. The spirit of the group seems to be contagious. When the group is generally optimistic and confident prior to battle, the individual is also apt to show good morale. It the unit has a reputation for efficiency in battle, the individual soldier is challenged to exhibit his maximum effort and efficiency” (page 195). Clearly, our attitude and approach can have a very positive or negative affect on others around us.
Notice in Deuteronomy 20:1-8 Deuteronomy 20:1-8 1 When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses, and chariots, and a people more than you, be not afraid of them: for the LORD your God is with you, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
2 And it shall be, when you are come near to the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people,
3 And shall say to them, Hear, O Israel, you approach this day to battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be you terrified because of them;
4 For the LORD your God is he that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
5 And the officers shall speak to the people, saying, What man is there that has built a new house, and has not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.
6 And what man is he that has planted a vineyard, and has not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.
7 And what man is there that has betrothed a wife, and has not taken her? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.
8 And the officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return to his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.
American King James Version×the instruction God gave to Israel when they went to war. God encouraged them not to be afraid because “the LORD your God is with you.” Jesus Christ has not forsaken us—He is still the commander-in-chief and actively leads the church. Next, certain reasons were given for excusing men from battle that could be summarized as “divided loyalty.” Notice verse 8: “The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.’”
3. It is not wrong to be positive and optimistic about the work of God and the United Church of God. Negative attitudes can demoralize others. “On the other hand, when the unit is demoralized or has a history of defeats and a high loss of personnel, the individual is likely to succumb more easily to anxiety and panic” (page 195). We have the classic example in Deuteronomy 1:28-31 Deuteronomy 1:28-31 28 Where shall we go up? our brothers have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.
29 Then I said to you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them.
30 The LORD your God which goes before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes;
31 And in the wilderness, where you have seen how that the LORD your God bore you, as a man does bear his son, in all the way that you went, until you came into this place.
American King James Version×of how the spies discouraged the hearts of the Israelites by their negative reports. It is easy to be negative and cynical about the Church. Do we understand how this can undermine the morale of those we come in contact with? Some have never gotten over what happened to them in the past. This can only lead to resentment and bitterness. Can we forgive and move on, or will we continue to be trapped in the past?
Notice what our hatred and righteous indignation should be directed against. “Finally, hatred of the enemy appears to be a factor that tends to raise the combat soldier’s stress tolerance” (page 196). Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
American King James Version×shows that Satan and his demons are our enemiesnot humans. We should hate sin, hate gossip, hate the devil’s methods, and hate division and factions. We should love all peopleespecially the brotherhood.
Quality of Leadership
The fourth factor for dealing with battle stress is the quality of leadership. “Confidence in military leaders is also of vital importance. When the soldier respects his leaders, his confidence in their judgment and ability, and can accept them as relatively strong father or brother figures, his morale and resistance to stress are bolstered” (page 195). Ephesians 1:20 Ephesians 1:20Which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
American King James Version×explains that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. This is the best leadership possible. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us to the end of the age. With His guidance and help we know that we will win the battle and be in God’s kingdom.
The real problem is that our confidence in humans has been shaken. We have felt deceived and betrayed by some of our leaders in the past. Consequently, some have said that they will never be under any government again. Brethren, we should realize that God has not left us without leaders even on the human level today. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 18 For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.
19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.
American King James Version×: “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”
4. God has allowed problems in the church to demonstrate which leaders are approved and which are disapproved. We have been very disappointed because many of our leaders have failed the test.
The Greek word for “approved” is dokimos . Notice the definition that is given in the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon: “In the ancient world there was no banking system as we know it today, and no paper money. All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into moulds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than eighty laws were passed in Athens, to stop the practice of shaving down the coins then in circulation. But some money changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money. They were men of honor who put only genuine full weighted money into circulation. Such men were called “dokimos” or “approved.”
5. This aptly describes the faith of the ministry and membership of the church. We would not accept or teach a counterfeit doctrine. We are people of honor and integrity. The ministry has been placed in the church by God to provide leadership and oversight, to guide and teach, and to be helpers of our joy. Those who have been faithful should be given honor and respectjust as every faithful member of the church should likewise be honored and respected. The ministry should not be condemned and not be trusted because some ministers have not been faithful. One third of the angels rebelled, but two thirds remained faithful. We don’t lump the faithful angels in with the unfaithful.
Those suffering battle fatigue had a high rate of recovery. However, how quickly treatment was administered to them was very important. “In World War II, many men were able to return to combat after a night or two of such relief. Soldiers whose symptoms proved resistant to such treatment were evacuated to medical facilities behind the lines. It was found, however, that the farther the soldier was removed from the combat area, the less likely he was able to return to battle. Removal to an interior zone seemed to encourage the maintenance of symptoms and a reluctance to return to his unit. During the first combat engagements of American forces in North Africa, combat exhaustion cases were transported to base hospitals hundreds of miles behind the battle lines; under these conditions less than 10 percent of the soldiers were able to return to duty…. In contrast, approximately 60 percent of those treated immediately within fifteen to twenty miles of the front lines were sent back to combat duty, and apparently the majority readjusted successfully” (page 196).
The longer a person stays away from church, the harder it is for him to return. It is important to maintain contact with our friends who may not be attending with us. We have a responsibility to show love and concern without proselytizing.
There are times that we all go through trials and endure hardship. We become discouraged and weary. We should seek help immediately. One of the biggest helps in these situations is a close friend.
Brethren don’t allow battle fatigue to undermine you! UN