UPDATED: June 1, 2006.
Originally Posted September 19, 2016 as Spiritual Injuries: A Definition.
In light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves in the United States, I felt compelled to revisit this post. Bishop Luis R. Scott has also updated the book in which the concepts and definitions below are contained. I felt it prudent to take some time to update and amplify this article.
It is my conviction that the conversations that many desire to have around the issues of racism, justice, and the Church’s role have been hampered by a deficit in the language we use. To that end, I resubmit this article as a jumping off point to reframe the conversation in language that points us to the truth of the Gospel, the reality of God’s healing power in the human heart, and the place the Church needs to play in our journey toward peace and lasting justice.
Bishop Scott has also graciously allowed me to share Chapter 3 of the 2nd Edition of his book, Healing the Broken Spirit. This chapter deals specifically with the issue of Blind Spots, namely, what they are, how they develop, how to spot them, and what can be done to address them. Please take the time and read it. It is long, but if you are interested in having better and more fruitful conversations, take the time and prepare yourself for them.
Download Chapter 3 | Blind Spots: Instinctive Reactivity by Bishop Luis R. Scott, Sr.
Over the last 20 years my father, Bishop Luis R. Scott, Sr., 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. The challenge that seems to persist in our world, and more specifically the Church, is that we do not have the framework to work towards these realities. We continue see those failures and injustices that we should have “learned” to overcome by now. The deeper problem is that we cannot learn our way out of spiritual trauma. We must be healed from it first!
While there may be some who use similar sounding language, the concepts that are described 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 stories from those who have learned about the concept and reality of spiritual injuries who have told 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 nation and 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 do all we can to bring 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.
This can be difficult to process, but the reality is necessary in order for hurting and broken people to heal. The desire of the human heart to live in peace cannot happen as long as there are wounds still festering on the human soul.
Spiritual Health is a Journey
When I arrived at Ambassadors of Christ Fellowship 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
Bishop Scott defines a spiritual injury in his book 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.
To understand the nature of the irreconcilable contradiction, we have to understand that how we think about ourselves and how we are in reality do not always agree. We too often live with many different incongruities in our self-understanding. We can live with them because nothing or no one is challenging them. And that is the problem. The moment these are challenged, the potential explosion of a spiritual injury can take place.
A spiritual injury is the crash between what I believe to be true about myself and what is, in fact, true. Bishop 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
When the ideals we aspire to are exposed as inconsistent with the reality we experience a contradiction is exposed and the injury takes place. We do not have enough space to define the effects of these injuries. However, it is important here to note that there are two kinds of injuries: superficial and catastrophic. A superficial injury results in what we have commonly called “pet peeves”. These are annoyances that we can deal with, but would rather not.
A catastrophic spiritual injury however, is far more severe. In the event of a spiritual injury in this category, the result is a character altering effect on the person experiencing it. This means that the persons personality is fundamentally changed and they can be described as being a “different person.” They are not the same. Something has changed and that change most often is the manifestation of a spiritual injury.
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 in another persons experience. Or what should or should not be true in another persons life.
The key to understanding to helping someone who has suffered a spiritual injury is clarifying the belief that is causing the contradiction. This is grounded in a very personal understanding of the event or events that revealed the contradiction. 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 a persons life 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 that marriages should last. 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 the reality of divorce later in life, even if they never experienced it personally. 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, very personal, 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. There is no formula to discovering the belief that led to the contradiction. This is why many continue to suffer the effects of their spiritual injuries. It truly requires a great deal of patience, grace, and discernment.
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 what type of spiritual injury a person has suffered.
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.
Healthy negative emotions can be helpful as we navigate through life. However, when we being to filter all of our experiences through these negative emotions, we have crossed an important threshold. That line is marked by the fact that we can no longer see ourselves, or others, without taking the injury into account. This is one of the defining characteristics of a spiritual injury that has altered a persons character.
There is one other important characteristic that we have to understand about spiritual injuries. A spiritual injury that leaves its mark on us will permanently alter our character, our perception of self.
There are two points to make there. First, the fact that the injury has occurred does not mean that we cannot learn how to manage how it affects us. This important. In the same way a traumatic physical injury will leave an affect, so will a traumatic spiritual injury. We can, however, learn to cope and move forward if we are able to heal and identify those events that can trigger our reactions and responses.
Second, this 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 some specific, professional psychological diagnosis we may, in fact, be dealing with a spiritual injury.
Below you will find a list that Bishop Scott provided at the end of the first edition of the book to help people identify possible sources of spiritual injuries. (The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but is comprehensive enough to aid in pinpointing some of the possible sources of spiritual injuries.)
Please keep in mind that just because you experienced one or more of these events does not mean that a catastrophic 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 way, 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. (This is from the 1st Edition of the book. But the definition is still accurate.) ↩
- Ibid., 21. ↩
- Bishop 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. ↩