Over the last 15 years my father, Pastor Luis Scott, has been thinking about and refining the idea that God desires for all of his children to experience spiritual healing and live in spiritual health. While there may be some who use similar language, the concepts that took shape in my father’s book and have been manifested in day-to-day ministry at our church are truly unique. I have come to this conclusion for two main reasons. First, we have heard so many who have learned about spiritual injuries tell us about the impact this understanding of spiritual health has had. Second, we have continued to refine the concepts and those who claim some awareness of the words we use do not really understand the conceptual framework that we are using in our conversations about spiritual health. In short, we believe that what we are doing is unique and we humbly embrace this as a calling and a great responsibility we must guard.
Reconciliation is a Messy Business
We have come to realize that this process of helping people identify and heal from their spiritual injuries takes time and effort if it is going to be done well. That is why we have made a conscious choice to enter into people’s lives and walk with them. We tell our members and our leaders that reconciliation is not just a fad in our church. Reconciliation is not just a word we use to sound spiritually enlightened. We believe in reconciling the world to God. We believe that we have been given a ministry of reconciliation for our city and region in particular, but also to the whole world. But, we have to start where we are. Therefore, we have embraced the messy business of taking the Gospel to those who need it and bringing the hurting to the Great Physician!
What this means is that, in theory, every church should be working to make 3 John 1:2 a reality in the lives of every believer. While this is a goal for many, there are very few who have the tools necessary to make it happen practically in people’s lives. Just look at what John tells his readers.
2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
As I reflect on this verse and the relatively new language of spiritual health that we share at our church, I am struck by the way that John connects the vitality of our physical “prosperity”1 and our non-physical (i.e., spiritual) well-being. There is a link, and that link begins with our souls prospering. The phrase “just as” helps us to see that John desires our souls to be the primary concern. We should work to keep our souls healthy because when we do, the physical challenges of life will not cause our spiritual lives to waver.
Spiritual Health is a Journey
When I arrived at Ambassadors I was already familiar with the language of spiritual health and spiritual injuries. However, as I have spent more time discussing these concepts with my father and members of my church, my awareness of their power and purpose has increased. As in all things, my experiences have shaped how I interact with the concepts, but I have found my ability to recognize and articulate the principles of spiritual health sharpened as well.
I could have chosen to define spiritual health in this post, but I find that spiritual health is a state that is experienced differently because our injuries are different. Therefore, I have found that by defining what spiritual injuries are I am able to help people understand what it will take to heal. And, the wonder of this process, is that in learning about our injuries we are already on the path toward spiritual health. Every step we take in understanding and overcoming our spiritual injuries is a step into a new, spiritually healthy life.
Spiritual Injuries: The Definition
Pastor Scott defines a spiritual injury in his book Healing the Broken Spirit as
the result of an event, or series of events, that produce an inherent and irreconcilable contradiction between what people instinctively believe to be true about themselves and what is actually true.2
So, what does this mean? The simplest way of understanding this definition is to recognize two key pieces of the definition. One is found within the definition (what do we mean by an irreconcilable contradiction) and the other is the result of the definition, or the spiritual injury itself.
A spiritual injury is the crash between what I believe to be to true about myself and what is, in fact, true. Pastor Scott provides us with an example of what this may look like.
Children believe that their parents should stay married forever, but the reality is that many parents end up in divorce. This is a contradiction that most children cannot easily reconcile.3
How Contradictions Occur
First, a word of caution. What we have to be careful of is trying to judge what is and is not true. Or what should or should not be true. The belief that is causing the contradiction is grounded in a very personal understanding. We are not arguing about the accuracy of the belief, merely that it is what is held by the person. In the above example, the child’s belief belongs to the child. So, when that belief is shattered by the reality of the divorce, the contradiction is manifest and the injury takes place. It would be inappropriate to argue that the child should have never had the belief in the first place. It is the fact that the belief is present and is held at the moment of the event that forces the contradiction to the forefront and invariably causes the spiritual injury.4
Therefore, if we are to understand spiritual injuries, we have to first acknowledge that the injury was caused by a contradiction that stemmed from a belief that did not accurately capture what was happening in our lives at the time the event happened. The child had no idea that there was turmoil in the parent’s marriage. The child had no reason to doubt their belief. However, when the divorce occurred their belief was called into question.
Just because another child’s parents never divorced and lived happily does not mean that the belief is false, only that this particular child never suffered the contradiction personally even though they would eventually come to learn about divorce later in life. The contradiction has to do with beliefs that a person holds and that are challenged to the point of a contradiction.
This is why spiritual injuries are individual and must be handled with great care. Spiritual injuries cannot be generalized based on the events. The event only helps to identify the source of the injury. The task at that point is to try and decipher the contradiction that it created in the person.
The Manifestations of a Spiritual Injury
I want to avoid one of the more dangerous pitfalls when talking about spiritual injuries. That pitfall is trying to say what will or what won’t cause a spiritual injury. The reality is that because people are so markedly different, we have to look for the manifestations that are the result of a spiritual injury to help us discern whether a person has suffered a spiritual injury.
Some may not find this very helpful, but it actually is. The reason is that regardless of the contradiction and independent of the spiritual injury, our emotional responses are far easier to notice. If someone is depressed, overly defensive, or passive aggressive we have some indication that a spiritual injury has occurred. The spectrum of negative emotional reactions can help us to figure out if something has happened that is causing us to react in these ways.
There is one important characteristic that we have to understand about spiritual injuries. A spiritual injury that leaves its mark on us will alter our character, our perception of self. That means that if we have an unresolved spiritual injury we will behave and react with negative emotions and not know why. When we say that someone is just that way without a specific psychological diagnosis we may, in fact, be dealing with a spiritual injury.
Below you will find a list that Pastor Scott has provided to help people identify possible sources of spiritual injuries. (The list is not meant to be exhaustive, just comprehensive of possible sources of spiritual injuries.) Just because you experienced one or more of these events does not mean that a spiritual injury has occurred. The only way we know an injury has happened is if a contradiction was created that we could not reconcile, or said another, deal with. This distinction is vital to understanding how to proceed.
If you have any questions about spiritual injuries or need clarification about what you have read in this post, please comment below and I will do my best to clarify and expand on the concepts.
List of Spiritual Injuries5
- Physical, Psychological, or Sexual abuse
- Verbal Abuse
- Religious Disappointment (God does not love me, there is too much evil and suffering in the world)
- Abandonment by: family, friends, Spouse, God
- Parents’ divorce
- Personal divorce
- Loss: death, separation from parents, separation from children
- Academic failures
- Sports failures
- Career failures (getting fired, not been able to perform at the job’s expectation)
- Job transfers as a form of punishment
- Betrayals by: family, friends, spouse, God
- Low self-esteem: (“I am unlovable.” “Other people don’t like me.” “I don’t like myself.” “I am unworthy.” “I should not succeed.”)
- Shame for past behaviors
- Shame for present behaviors
- Shame of self (for who I have become – unable to finish task or to achieve personal or professional goals)
- Anger directed to: family, friends, people in general, God
- Unable to forgive: holding onto permanent grudges
- Hatred: a desire to get even by inflicting pain on someone who hurt us
- Personal disappointments (“I am not what I dream of being.”)
- Dissatisfied with job and/or profession
- Embarrassment for present condition
- Angry with self for getting to this point
- Feelings of failure as a father/mother (“I did not/have not spent enough time with children.”)
- Feelings of failure as a husband/wife (“I should have stayed married.” “I should have been a better husband/wife” “I don’t know why I keep failing in my marriages.”)
- Feelings of failure as a son/daughter (“I should have treated my parent with more respect.” “I should have realized sooner how much they loved me.” “I should become closer to them.”)
- Discrimination: racial, sexual, cultural
- By physical prosperity, I am NOT talking about monetary wealth or sensationalized notions of divine healing. I mean the simple reality of living life as life should be lived by all people. ↩
- Luis Scott, Healing the Broken Spirit (Columbus, GA: Firm Foundation Publishing, 2014), 20-21. ↩
- Ibid., 21. ↩
- Pastor Scott clarifies that “the contradiction is [inherent] in the situation or event. That is, the contradiction cannot be avoided once the event takes place.” (Ibid., 29.) ↩
- This list is reproduced from the Appendix of Healing the Broken Spirit by Pastor Luis R. Scott, Sr. ↩