The United States Army has several elite units. One of them is the 75th Ranger Regiment. If you become an Army Ranger, you’re part of a family of soldiers with a storied past. In fact, it’s almost like belonging to a church. So much so that the Rangers even have their own creed.
In that creed, Rangers state, “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy…” If your fellow soldier gets wounded, you do everything you can to get him out. If he dies, you don’t leave his body on the battlefield. You make sure that he gets home to the family who loves him. You never leave a fellow soldier behind. That’s a vital part of the US Army Ranger ethos — it emboldens those who serve with the knowledge that their fellow soldiers always have their backs.
The Bible sometimes compares Christians to soldiers. Paul especially uses military language and comparisons. Ephesians 6:10-20 contains that famous passage about the “armour of God.” In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 we read, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” This military imagery is fitting because being a Christian involves warfare. We are waging war against Satan, the world, and our own sinful desires. In this war, we don’t fight alone, but alongside fellow soldiers. We’re not lone wolves; we’ve been enlisted into an army.
Now imagine an army where the Ranger creed is turned upside down. Imagine an army where, if you’re wounded, you can expect your fellow soldiers to wound you further. Not only would they leave you behind, but they’ll leave you behind in worse shape than the enemy did. But isn’t that what sometimes happens in the Christian “army,” in the church?
In 1994, IVP published a book by Dwight L. Carlson, Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? Helping (Not Hurting) Those with Emotional Difficulties. Carlson wrote about how many Christians suffer with depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles. Yet, rather than finding help and support within the church, many of these Christians are instead attacked and wounded further. Indeed, deplorably, it does sometimes happen, also in our Reformed churches, that the wounded get shot and left behind. It’s the polar opposite of the US Army Ranger ethos and it shouldn’t happen.
Some time ago I preached a sermon on the Ninth Commandment. In that sermon, I noted how the Ninth Commandment is about God’s good gift of communication. Rather than abusing this gift, we are to use it properly. One vicious way of abusing this gift is by “shooting our wounded.” We use our words to tear down and discourage those who are suffering — adding to their pain. Instead, Christians are called to use this gift as their Saviour did. If Christians are united to Jesus Christ, then we should live out of that union and, like him, use our words to encourage and build up. Our words ought to be gracious and compassionate, like his words. Would our loving Saviour Jesus shoot his wounded? Why would we?
Some helpful resources for learning how to better encourage the wounded amongst us:
Christians Get Depressed Too, David Murray — see my review here.
War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles, Paul David Tripp
Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, Edward T. Welch — see my review here.
Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, Edward T. Welch — see my review here.