HOW LONG, O LORD? Hope and Help When You Have Been Deeply Hurt
HOW LONG, O LORD? Hope and Help When You Have Been Deeply Hurt. By Kristin A. Vargas. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018. 104 pages. $12.99.
How Long, O Lord? is a Bible study divided into twelve sessions and bound as a book that explores the topic of “moral injury.” This book seeks to better equip its participants in caring for those suffering moral injury. The road to soul repair is a long journey, and every bit of assistance along the way is a blessing.
If you are unfamiliar with the term “moral injury” a functioning definition drawn from this study would be, “spiritual brokenness and conflict often onset by trauma.” The examples of moral injury referenced in this book are drawn from military personnel and their experiences, but they could just as easily be observed among those suffering from domestic violence, sexual assault, survivor’s guilt, and deep shame.
Because this book/study is closely linked to trauma, a fair portion of it explores the psychological realities of the same. I am not a psychologist, but as a trained theologian I never thought the psychological discussion transgressed theological truths or that theological insights denied the psychological realities. It was a healthy and helpful balance that I pray is modeled by others in the future.
The program of the Bible study is aptly explained in the book’s introduction which says, “The first six lessons of the study establish a basic concept of moral injury alongside biblical examples of spiritual brokenness, desolation, and trauma. Lesson 7 marks a turning point to explore God’s pathway to healing, restoration, and reconciliation” (p. 7).
The information in this book is not too academic. It’s not geared as a text for a counseling class in a Master’s program. It’s geared for laity and the untrained, who, if we’re honest, are likely spending far more time with an individual suffering from moral injury than said sufferer’s counselor or therapist. Thus, the material is very accessible and provides basic, uncomplicated approaches to how we can help and support those suffering from moral injury. This study is also quick to point out those actions and words that are unhelpful to trauma survivors.
There are two notable features of this book.
The first is its faithful presentation of Biblical hope. The readers of this book are not directed to find hope in some disembodied paradise we often call “heaven”, but are instead directed to the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day and the restoration of all things in the new heavens and the new earth.
The second feature is the call for the reclamation of “lament” as a helpful spiritual discipline. This is taken up in Lesson 7 and handled well. My only complaint is that it wasn’t given fuller treatment, but that would have been outside the purview and format of the study.
All in all, How Long, O Lord? is a good book. I cannot speak to its effectiveness as a study, because I haven’t utilized it in this way. As I often say in my parish: tools only work if you use them. I see this study as a valuable tool, and I am thinking of ways that I can put it to use. I could see this study being offered to a community as a community service…perhaps with the support and endorsement of a ministerial alliance or association. I would be curious to know who would show up to such an offering, and I’m sure the conversations would be weighty and valuable.
Each lesson of How Long, O Lord? is preceded with an image from classical artwork that conveys the Lesson’s theme. After the lesson, the reader is directed to further Scriptural readings to supplement the Lesson. There is also a series of discussion questions following each Lesson, and in the back of the book there is a “Leader Guide” which should help any leader, pastoral or lay, who wish to utilize this book.
Kristin Vargas has organized a helpful resource for the church, I hope the church also sees the value of her work and puts it to good use.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.