I write this to you who have been in combat. You who have stepped into a world of people who cannot understand life as you now see it. You have seen violence beyond what most can bear. You have experienced loss and grief in great measure. You who carry the emotional weight of your experiences alone—and it’s a weight that sometimes threatens to crush you. I write this to you who have suffered from PTSD.
I write to you because I believe you need hope, and for all that I lack, hope is the one thing I do have. Hope is a gift to be received. The one who offers it, gives it out freely. Hope lives, and holds his hand out to you, and I pray that after you’ve read this, you have met him.
I am motivated to write to you because, in a sense, your burden is my burden. I have countless friends and family members in the armed forces, including two siblings, one of whom served in elite units. I will never understand your personal experience, and I don’t pretend to. But I do understand some of it—I have witnessed the shape of your suffering before; I know its form and its effect. I know you bear burdens others can’t see. And I know they’re heavier than any physical burden you’ve ever carried. I have spent late nights crying over suffering like yours, over the kinds of things you’ve seen.
So, what do I have to say?
I want to lead you to hope, first by helping you understand that your hopelessness is not a dysfunction. I want you to know that your “new” perspective informed by your intense suffering through combat isn’t a disoriented view of the world; it’s an accurate one.
Then I want to lead you into the first step towards hope—believing you’re not helpless. Hope exists, despite your inability thus far to find it, and despite the world’s failure to deliver it.
Then I want to tell you give you that hope.
New Perspective Informed by Combat
So first, your hopelessness is not a dysfunction.
If you have experienced combat, you see comfort differently now. Maybe people wonder why you can’t enjoy things you used to. Maybe people wish you would “snap-out-of-it” and return to the present “world” of peace and safety, rather than living in fear, regret, anger, or tension.
I want you to abandon the false accusation that you’re “not okay” and that you need to shed the perspective you gained in combat. You have the right perspective now. Let me explain.
I sat on a bench in North Carolina, on vacation with my brother. I’m sure you have met people like him, knowing your field of work. He’s the most mentally tough person I know, has a tender heart when it most counts, is a physical specimen, always wanted to be an “army man” and made it farther than our family ever imagined.
As he got out his wallet so we could purchase our coffee, I saw that his backpack was full of unrecognizable objects. “What’s all that in there?” I said.
“A tourniquet, medical tape, my gun, an extra mag, and gauze,” he replied.
In this place? On vacation? I thought. The look on my face warranted his next comment.
“When you’ve had people trying to kill you every day, you will think about the world differently.”
I sure did. I looked at my brother differently too. I saw that he never left that country but always carried his overseas experiences with him, literally. His ongoing emotional distress had leaked, and it pained me.
At the same time, I knew he wasn’t crazy. He saw the world more clearly than I did.
There was quite a long stretch after deployment when he was not himself. You could tell he was angry under the surface, his responses more tense, his ability to enjoy home and comfort destroyed by visions no one could understand. Maybe this describes you too.
Maybe you have suffered more than my brother, or your dose of hell traumatized you more than you can imagine—I don’t know.
I do know that most people don’t get what’s going on in your life. You may be experiencing things behind closed doors, and between your ears that no one else can fathom, access, or share. You live in a world no one else can enter.
But for you, it’s the real world. What the rest of the world, family, and friends can’t see is that that unseen world you live in is more real than the life many of us are living; you’re honest about the world we live in.
Terrorists, trauma, and tourniquets exist. Best friends die. Kids are killed. Selfishness and power turn men into monsters. The problem is that you’ve seen more of reality than everyone else in your life. You have seen real pain, real people dying, real suffering.
You see the world as it really is—full of pain and evil. You see people as they really are—capable of great evil. You see yourself as you really are—unable to claim innocence, bearing regret and guilt of varying degree.
You’re not disillusioned. The rest of us are—anesthetized by comfort. You just experienced a higher dose of clarity than a human heart can cope with.
We Don’t Know How to Handle Serious Suffering
Because you come home to people who have known little suffering compared to yours, their solutions aren’t enough. You are awake to realities that the rest of us silence by comfort and pleasure, that leave us numb to the most important questions in life—why so much suffering? What’s the point? How do I deal with this pain?
Life is filled with horror and wickedness and bloodshed and evil. But you’re war-torn because none of us knows how to stare these things down so close and come out alright. The pain is too great. And nothing can silence the pain without simultaneously destroying you. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Rage. These “solutions” only add their own baggage to your load.
So how do you handle such serious suffering? How do you come away whole after staring at hell?
The Bible Tells Us Where to Find Hope
You know where to find your chaplain. You have Bibles at your disposal—little camo printed paperbacks. But not everyone sees the Bible as a source of hope.
A lot of people view the Bible as a book for those who think life just isn’t that hard, people who “have it all together.” But there’s a reason this book is still around.
No book is more bloodstained and soaked in tears. There is no place you can find on earth more honest about pain than within its pages. The first book of it is R rated, like the things you’ve seen, because it tells our history in truth. Murder, rape, dysfunctional families, it’s all there. It tells how we got to terrorists, tourniquets, and trauma.
And it says that you’re right—you’re so right—the world was not supposed to be this way.
The Bible says that God—the real true God—feels the same kind of rage that you do about it all. In fact, he’s angry every day (Psalm 7:11). He hates evil. The Bible tells the story of what God has done to deal with evil—both the evil within you that you cannot overcome and the evil you’ve witnessed that you cannot escape.
So, what did God do about evil?
How God Dealt with Evil
God did something to rescue us from the evil within—he took the punishment for our crimes on himself. And on him hung all the emotional distress of every man or woman to ever believe in him. He suffered God’s wrath for us.
At the center of the Bible’s story is a cross—one of the worst inventions of human torture, the product of a wicked generation. On it hangs God himself, because he is full of compassion (Psalm 78:38). Has your heart ever melted because you could not spare someone from destruction? That reflex is mercy, and it comes from God Almighty. He feels that way towards you. He wanted to save you from the destruction coming your way.
The cross shows us that humanity is soaked in evil, helpless and weak underneath all our boasts, and it took the Son of God stepping off his throne and clothing himself in human flesh to suffer in our place for us to be saved from it.
He suffered for your consequential decisions, regrets, crimes, sharp words.
God also acted to save us from the evil outside of us. He also suffered for you. He wanted you to belong to him, to be whole again, immune to the destructive power of pain.
For at the cross, God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ triumphed over all evil. No, we don’t see or experience this reality completely yet (Hebrews 2:8). But God doesn’t deal with all of us immediately.
There’s a real hell for those who don’t accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness—for God must punish evil, whether on the cross or for eternity. The horror and carnage and darkness your eyes have seen are also seen by the Lord (Exodus 34:7), and he hates it more than you do. The awful things you’ve seen will be called to account by the Creator of life and his world. And if you could see his judgment, you would probably plead for mercy on your enemies.
If you were to read the prophetic books in the Old Testament, about God’s judgment on Assyria, Babylon, and even his own Jewish people as recorded in the book of Lamentations, you’d understand that God never leaves evil unpunished (read Nahum!). Nations lie buried in the dust because God silenced their sinful culture.
God dealt with evil at the cross and promises to deal with the rest at the end—which may be here sooner than we think if we take the Bible seriously.
The Lord Jesus left his own home to come fight our war, to face evil himself and stare death down. He gave his life for us, for you. He died the death we should have died (John 3:16), so that if we accept his free offer of forgiveness, death might lose its hold on us.
But he also rose from the dead to give you new life and a purpose.
Many soldiers leave behind any sense of identity when they leave the service. War uses to fill life and now the vacuum of its absence threatens to consume and destroy you.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, he offers those who trust him a new identity. He gives us a band of brothers—the church, other believers to walk and fight with us through life. Death can’t pull these brothers apart. We only ever say, “see ya later,” because God has prepared a home for all his soldiers in a new heavens and new earth when the war on evil is finally won.
Jesus gives those who believe in him his own righteousness as a uniform. All our past sins are over and done with, and he sees us as his friends not his enemy. He creates in us a new heart that no longer complies under the authority of sin and evil and death, but under his loving rule (Ezekiel 36:26). He makes us agents of his goodness in our broken and dying world. All we must do is believe—accept the free gift (Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9; Acts 16:37).
I wish I could introduce you to Jesus. We think of him so poorly because we make up our own idea about him rather than hearing what he has to say about himself. He’s described in the Bible as a warrior (Revelation 19:11-21).
He’s the Justice you long for. He’s the Comfort you seek but cannot obtain. He’s the Strong Man that endured the fight when you gave up. He’s the Healing for your memory. He’s the brother ready to bear your burdens. He’s the Home you cannot find. He’s the Peace all our wars can’t touch (Proverbs 18:24; Hebrews 2:11; Matthew 11:28; Psalm 90:1; Isaiah 9:6; John 14:27). He is our hope. And the Bible is where we find him.
Other things have not worked for you, would you please open it? Ask him to meet you there.