WHY DID GOD DO THIS TO ME?
This is a foundation question and underpins many of the challenges that veterans face. When something bad happens it’s almost instinctive to ask why did this happen to me? Perhaps it’s because we think that if we understand the reason behind our pain, then it will make the pain easier. For people with a faith or spiritual belief this can be particularly hard as they will often go one step further and ask why did God do this to them? The implication here being that God did something to them or allowed something to happen to them which was for their growth or as a part of some journey or perhaps even as a punishment.
We do not know the mind of God but there are two ways we can look at this. The first is to understand that that God doesn’t seek or plan to hurts us. Whatever your conception of God or a creator or a higher guiding force or presence in the world it shouldn’t not be based on the idea of planned punishment or suffering. God only wants the best for us and no more want us to suffer than any father wants his children to suffer. Ultimately the things that we see, we do or are done to us are at the hand of man, perhaps even our own hand.
If that is true then why does God not stop the hand of man or indeed to stop you from doing it? Perhaps the answer here lies in the both wonderful and terrible gift of ‘free will’. Humans can decide to act and react in ways that animals cannot conceive. We are the only creature on earth that does this. We make a choice to do act and we make the choice of how we react. If our actions in war or conflict harm others or we are witness to an action we have the choice both before and after the event as to how we live, repent, forgive, grow and believe.
Maybe the answer here does not lie so much in why but rather how? You don’t need an explanation; it actually won’t help. What you need is comfort and support. How you recover from a spiritual would such as this lies in refection and repentance/forgiveness. Refection about what happened, why it happened and what was your part. Maybe you were solely responsible for what happened but maybe you weren’t and finding an honest balance to that question is critical. Whatever you were responsible for, own it but also accept that no matter how bad it was if your seek forgiveness and you repent it will be freely and lovingly given. Forgive yourself and forgive others. This won’t be easy or necessarily quick but a lack of forgiveness is a very heavy and useless load to carry in your pack. You have far to go and you don’t have room for such dead weight.
WHY DOES GOD HURT THE INNOCENT?
All too often the most innocent and vulnerable have been injured or killed either by misadventure or a part of some deliberate action to instil terror and fear. Whether by accident or design it is pure evil. Ok, fine so why doesn’t God stop this? God did not create evil and suffering. Now, it’s true that he did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But God doesn’t hurt the innocent, man does. Certainly God can do anything but sin has a consequence that must be paid. It is in that transaction that the truth lies as the greater the sin the greater the eventual good
Frustratingly this payment may not be as obvious or as quick as would like. It would be nice if the bad guys got caught and punished straight away but sometimes they don’t. Note, what I just said, straight away. We all know that it our past catches up with you, we’ve all seen the news stories where 90 year old Nazi concentration camp guards are being put on trial. How and when God chooses to punish is ultimately up to him and in that sense you should trust in that justice and work on what you can do.
If that means that you do your duty to contribute to the capture of the bad guys, then do it with all of your might. Of course it might not be that obvious. Parent with all of your might too. Bring your children up to join the vast majority of the good people who help and protect the innocent. Work mightily to contribute to the society you live in. Live mightily so that others see you as an example of good. Being a soldier doesn’t mean you need sword. A gentle hand, word or deed toward the innocent is mightier than the cruellest act.
WHY DOESN'T GOD ANSWER MY PRAYERS OR, AT LEAST, SEND ME A SIGN?
If you’ve ever had the experience of praying for something and receiving no clear answer, it’s natural to wonder whether or not God heard the prayer in the first place. Did He ignore the prayer? Should God’s silence be taken as a “No” answer? There are two problems here, time and acknowledgment.
We live in a world where most questions can be answered in a few mouse clicks. It’s a commonly accepted test in the world of software design that if an application doesn’t respond within the first 10 seconds of it being clicked on that people move on to another one. Human spirituality and our relationship with our creator doesn’t work that way. God plays the ‘long game’ and like any good parent doesn’t necessarily give us what we want but what we need. We may not get it straight away either but when we need it. That can be frustrating and it does require great patience. The most important thing for you to remember as you wait is that you will be answered and God will provide what you need.
Of course that waiting would be made a whole lot easier if God gave you some acknowledgement or a “message received… wait out”. When you were in uniform and you called for a resupply or for fire support or an evacuation you expected it to be there straight away or at least to receive an acknowledgement, a “wilco” or “roger out” and an “ETA”. God doesn’t have to “wilco” and you can accept that he has already chosen to do that. You may not receive a sign or it maybe not as obvious as you think. Some people do get a moment of absolute clarity when the voice of God is clear but for many of us there is no obvious burning bush. Just listen and watch as it might come in small and unexpected ways from people circumstances you weren’t necessarily expecting but meets what God understands you need and when you need it.
WILL GOD FORGIVE ME FOR WHAT I FEEL/HAVE DONE?
Many veterans live with terrible and all-consuming guilt. Guilt with what they have done or didn’t do. This guilt can be utterly debilitating and can eventually consume all of your life. The funny thing is that in many cases that guilt is a self-imposed punishment. Short of some legal process that ‘condemns’ you under law for a crime in the majority of cases you are your only judge, jury and executioner. In the vast majority of cases your country, your family and your mates don’t condemn you. That might not make it any less real but it fits with this broader idea of taking a very hard and honest look at what happened and making a clear and sensible decision about what was actually your ‘fault’ and what was beyond your control. Knowing what is and what is not your responsibility makes the forgiveness a smaller process. You see the first step the three steps of forgiveness is actually you forgiving yourself.
The second step in forgiveness is God’s forgiveness. That’s the easy bit, all you have to do is ask. Understand what you are actually responsible for and then plainly and simply ask for God’s forgiveness. You can do it on your knees in church or at home on the lounge. God isn’t interested in those sort of details but in a simple, honest and complete submission of the facts, followed by acceptance and I’m sorry. Here’s something think about as you are preparing this – God already knows what you are about to ask forgiveness for but needs you to ask it so that you understand what you are doing. The good news is that no matter how clumsily or elegantly you do this so long as it is an open and full confession, forgiveness is guaranteed! There aren’t too many things in life that are guaranteed but this is one of them!
The final step is a little harder. You now have to accept that God has forgiven you. It’s a circle really. It starts with you understanding what you are actually responsible for and then seeking forgiveness. Once granted you have to close the link and accept that you have been forgiven. That doesn’t mean that it can be all forgotten, some things will take longer than others and you can’ necessarily rush them. But you can now lay down some of the burden that you have been carrying in God’s forgiveness.
WAS THE EVENT AN ACT OF GOD'S WILL?
Sadly, many service personnel witness horrible events and those events can sometimes become the foundations of life long mental illness. In many cases it can seem that the event and its consequences are almost arbitrary. A poorly targeted airstrike destroys a school or innocent women and children become ‘collateral damage’ in a firefight or the round that should have hit you hits your friend. When these events occur usually well-meaning people will remark “oh but that was an act of God” as if to say it’s no one’s fault, it was beyond human control. The concept is even enshrined in law as “Force Majeure” or an unavoidable and uncontrollable superior event. The implication is that if it is no one’s fault it must be Gods. It’s an interesting fact that people who do not believe or question the role of a God are quiet happy to blame him!
But is that fair? It could be argued that the poorly targeted airstrike was human incompetence and that ‘collateral damage’ in a firefight was because evil people sought to use the innocent as a shield. Again, if you can accept that the great creator or spirit does not wish us ill or harm, then maybe the answer lies in the consequences of men and their actions. Of course some questions cannot be so easily dismissed. You may never know why the round that should have hit you hits your friend but maybe the answer actually lies in what happens next? Try to see God in the response and not the moment. Does an event cause people to rethink a strategy or an approach? Does the damage force reflection that people so enmeshed in violence and conflict cannot see? If the innocent die look not to the manner of their suffering but ask what did they live and what did they bring to this world that can and should be carried on. Most importantly stop and think, what is God’s will for me in this? Remember, God would not have done this or placed you in this position as a punishment, test or for anything other than a possible purpose.