Updated: Mar 26, 2021
Tom Lea’s iconic World War II painting portrays the haunting look of “The Thousand Yard Stare.” It is the stunned look of “Shell Shock.”
Maybe you have felt like the soldier in this painting? I have. I have also known countless shell-shocked Christians who have felt like this in the depths of their souls. They acquired the look after years of spiritual abuse, church legalism, heavy-handed authority and the unrelenting demands of performance-driven Christianity. I call it, “Post Traumatic Church Disorder (PTCD)” or “Spiritual Shell Shock.” Like PTSD, it is an invisible wounding of the heart and soul. These are the wounds that come from spiritual abuse, church legalism, church censorship, controlling leadership, betrayal, injustice, offense and rejection. Though this condition is seldom talked about, it has affected multitudes of believers.
You may be one of many who have survived a “church war”, a church spilt or the petty infighting of church politics. Maybe you’ve been through the church meat-grinder and have the spiritual scars to prove it. You may be a casualty of an abusive system or controlling leader. You may be one of many who have been manipulated by the herd mentality, purpose-driven leaders, heavy-handed leadership and self‑serving agendas. These have left many feeling dazed, disoriented, and wounded.
This condition is more prevalent than you may think. I’ve known many over the last 52 years. In fact, it never fails to amaze me just how many former “church‑goers” suffer from the lingering effects of “Post Traumatic Church Disorder”. Maybe you are one of the “walking wounded” who’ve been systematically abused, coerced and manipulated by a church system or church leader who were guilty of using people to further their vision or lubricate their agendas ‑ often in “the name of God.”
The landscape is littered with legions of church casualties who have been used up, chewed up and spit out by spiritual systems and self‑serving leaders. Many have been used up and burned out by performance-driven systems that demanded that you run faster, jump higher and shout louder. This “wounding” coming from fellow brethren and from the household of faith is the most grievous of all because it wounds our very soul and spirit. Like the wounded man in the “Parable of The Good Samaritan” they too have been callously discarded by the roadside of life by those we trusted. And once discarded, they too, are often ignored and shunned by their religious brethren just as the priest and Levite shunned the wounded man in the parable.
The spiritual abuse that Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers serves as a powerful lesson of God’s ability to redeem something positive out of the abuse we suffered. Joseph was able to say to them years later; “you meant it for evil …but God meant it for good” because, despite the hurt, abuse and injustice, he had learned that God can work it all together to for our good and the fulfillment of His divine purpose for our life.
So too, God can redeem all the hurt, abuse and betrayal we have experienced to equip us for his service ‑ to redeem triumph out of our trauma ‑ to birth in us heartfelt compassion, empathy, understanding, and love for others who have suffered as well. We also learn of His faithfulness to us and His unconditional love for us. Yes, my hurting friend, others may have wounded you out of maliciousness, selfishness, petty jealousy or sheer ignorance but God can redeem it all for good if you’ll let Him.