Symposium Information and Resources

The inaugural Vann Fellowship Symposium, “Trans-Atlantic Perspectives on Religion and Moral Injury” took place on Friday, and there was a wonderful discussion that took place amongst all our participants – leading scholars on moral injury and religion, chaplains, clergy, and many others.  

If you attended the symposium and are interested in following up on some of the information presented, please find some good resources below.  

Link to Rita Nakashima Brock’s Book, Soul Repair

Link to Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon’s Book, Moral Injury and the Promise of Virtue

Link to Zachary Moon’s books, Coming Home:  Ministry that Matters with Veterans and Military Families and Warriors Between Worlds

Link to Nancy Ramsay and Carrie Doehring’s Edited book, Military Moral Injury and Spiritual Care:  A Resource for Religious Leaders and Professional Caregivers

Link to Brad Kelle’s Book, The Bible and Moral Injury:  Reading Scripture Alongside War’s Unseen Wounds

Link to brad Kelle’s Edited Book, in which all of the speakers authored a portion, as did I – Moral Injury:  A Guidebook for Understanding and Engagement

Link to my own work, Full Darkness:  Original Sin, Moral Injury and Wartime Violence

Soul Repair Centre’s Upcoming Webinar Information can be found here.

Below is the link to Carrie Doehring’s slide presentation.

Thank you to again to all of our speakers and participants for an engaging and thought-provoking symposium! If you attended and would like any more information discussed, please don’t hesitate to contact me at brian.s.powers@durham.ac.uk, and I will be happy to follow-up.

October Research Update

Greetings!  As this strange new academic year dawns, it brings with it the challenges of teaching, research and public scholarship in a time of pandemic.  I have several exciting aspects of Vann Fellowship news to share, and a brief personal reflection on the capacity of animals to mend some of the more pernicious aspects of moral injury.  

In terms of upcoming events, there are two worthy of mention.  First, Canon Professor Michael Snape will give the inaugural lecture in our Vann Research Project lecture series on Remembrance Day, on the 11th of November from 7pm to 8.30pm, entitled “Anglicans, Remembrance and the Memorialization of Military Service in the British Isles and the United States after the First World War.”  If you are interested in attending this lecture, please email admin.cas@durham.ac.uk and you will be sent the link to the event.  

The broader Vann Research Project lectures will continue on a monthly basis from January next year through Epiphany term, and will feature speakers with expertise and experience at the intersection of Christian faith and armed conflict.

Secondly, the fellowship will host a virtual symposium entitled “Trans-Atlantic Perspectives on Religion and Moral Injury” on the 20th of November.  It will feature prominent scholars working today in religion and moral injury including Drs. Rita Nakashima Brock, Brad Kelle, Nancy Ramsay, Carrie Doehring, Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon, and Zachary Moon.  This is a rare chance to examine how the cultural differences between the American and British contexts might nuance our understandings of moral injury.  Each will present their recent work, and I will moderate a discussion with these scholars, authors, and caregivers that will hopefully produce a lively exchange of ideas.  In order to effectively manage the discussions, space is limited for the event, but if you are interested in attending, please contact me at brian.s.powers@durham.ac.uk .

In terms of published research, the new volume on moral injury to which I’ve contributed a chapter has now been released.  It is entitled Moral Injury:  A Guidebook for Understanding and Engagement, and my chapter is titled “Moral Injury and Christian Theology.”  The chapter explores the resonances between the Christian doctrines of original sin, imago dei, and eschatological redemption with the experience of guilt and shame after combat.  It is, unfortunately, “priced for libraries,” but is an important and unique volume that brings clinical researchers – psychologists and psychiatrists – into conversation with religious scholars and trauma theorists on the issue of moral injury.  

Moral injury is, of course, something that is felt in a deeply personal sense.  In this way, I close with a quite personal reflection on my own journey, and in particular, something that researchers have begun to pay particular attention to (as seen here) – the power of our animal companions to help us heal from trauma.  

My wife Jennifer and I were married in 2005, just two months before I deployed to Afghanistan, and while I was gone, she brought home a Yorkshire terrier puppy we named Molly.  I met Molly when I returned, as Jen arrived at Fort Bragg with her in tow.  I arrived home in a difficult place, struggling with what I now recognize as moral injury – I was frequently angry, often experienced a hopeless cynicism, and felt my capacity to feel empathy for others slipping away.  

Molly’s innocence and outsized personality helped me, over the next weeks, months, and years, to recover.  In the soulful eyes of this dog, I came to know a creature that would give grace continually, even as our family grew and our time to spend playing with her slowly diminished.  The close and easy relationship I enjoyed with her enabled me to relate once more with empathy to other people in my life, and – hyperbolic though it may sound – helped greatly to renew and restore my faith in the goodness of the divine life that we all share with God.

Last month, after nearly 15 years of life spent together, we had to say our final goodbye to our beloved girl.  Painful though this was, as time takes us inexorably further away from Molly’s death, I’m left with a profound sense of gratitude for her companionship, and particularly the way in which she rescued me from my own moral suffering.  Importantly, I know that I am not alone – there is something in the presence of pets that has a profoundly beneficial effect on our capacities to give, show empathy, demonstrate compassion, and envision a life of flourishing.  

Moral Injury and Covid-19

In the past few years there has been an increased attention to instances of what seem to be moral injury in non-military contexts. Recently, papers presented in the moral injury group at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion have applied many of the findings and categorisations that we’ve developed for veterans to identify moral injury in contexts of policing, the legal system, and – perhaps most saliently at the moment – in healthcare.

Each of these contexts does have at least one important correlate with the military: people serving in each deal in high-stakes situations in which the consequences of poor decisions, whether morally deficient, due to inexperience or simple mistake, are life-ending or life-altering for other human beings. Jonathan Shay notably defined moral injury as present when there has been a “betrayal of what’s right by a person in a position of authority in a high-stakes situation.” Perhaps it can be said at the outset that professions that deal in such situations are potentially rife for moral trauma.


In the healthcare setting, the decisions about how to handle Covid-19 have, and will continue to have, significant moral impact on healthcare workers. As we’ve seen, the decisions made by nations at both macro and micro levels have significant consequences. In the UK, the initial decision to adopt a strategy that would achieve “herd immunity” had consequences for the spread of the virus within the country. The decision to clear out hospitals in anticipation of a wave of Covid-19 patients meant that treatments and interventions for non-Covid patients were inevitably postponed, likely to the detriment of those patients’ health. As the hospitals began to see those waves of Covid-19 patients arrive, public health officials and healthcare workers had to develop and enforce policies and rules that would govern the treatment of those patents.

Decisions made in a conflict about overall military strategy and the rules of engagement can (and should) be analysed and reevaluated for their efficacy, legality and morality. Similar debates will no doubt take place about the strategic, operational and tactical public health decisions about how to tackle the healthcare pandemic. Yet apart from these necessary reviews, those healthcare workers on the front lines of treating the ill may perceive the decisions that guide their behaviour as betrayals of what’s right.

At the more intimate level, in Intensive Care Units, when hospitals became overwhelmed and when ventilators became scarce (in northern Italy in particular), doctors and nurses had to make agonising choices about who receives treatment, knowing that those who do not will almost certainly die. The process of triage, which in less intense times simply determines a patient’s wait time based on the urgency of their medical need, became the process of determining which life was most worth saving.

The front-line care workers who have to make these impossible decisions about whose mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons and daughters get the chance to live bear the immense moral burden of watching the others die. What is more, the rules that prevent any visitation to Covid-19 patients almost always result in patients dying alone, without loved ones present, and with healthcare workers serving as surrogates for family members – saying goodbye, and providing the dying patient with a modicum of human intimacy as they pass away. The combination of responsibility for the care of those patients and the experience of witnessing death on such an intense and intimate scale is, indeed, traumatising. Many healthcare workers will undoubtedly question the decisions they made, wondering if differences in the care they provided would have meant the difference in life and death, whether alterations in local, national, and global strategy would have resulted in fewer casualties and better outcomes. Moreover, as enforcers of the rules that force patients to die alone (and which, undoubtedly save more lives and prevent transmission of the disease), many will likely feel that signature combination of guilt and shame that characterises moral trauma and moral injury.

US Army psychologist Dave Grossman argued that it in combatants, it is not simply the experience of observing death that is psychologically troubling, but the weight of the responsibility to actually take life. Healthcare workers seem to bear a correlative, if seemingly apposite responsibility – to save lives. This important difference notwithstanding, however, in acute medical situations, the psychological result seems to be similar – a sense of deep responsibility for those who have died.

One element of moral injury, and perhaps its most pernicious trait, is that these experiences often engender a breakdown in the capacity of the morally injured person to make meaning of anything in their lives. Amidst the high-stakes situations they have faced, and amongst the intense amount of dead and dying people, the small successes, failures, struggles, achievements even relationships which constitute our lives and by which we define ourselves may cease to have meaning. Those suffering from moral injury often feel as though their actions have no impact in the world, as if the machinery of institutions – whether those related to war or a global pandemic – render their agency as ineffectual.

There are no quick or easy answers to such moral dilemma, of course. Yet in the clip below, my friend and mentor Rita Brock talks with CNN about the experience of moral injury among healthcare workers and how what we’ve learned from veterans may be of help for healthcare workers today in attending to their own experience and rebuilding a sense of agency and meaning.

https://www.voa.org/videos/moral-injury-affects-healthcare-workers

June Research Update

Greetings!  This month, as I’ve begun the practical work of writing the first sections of the new book, I’ve found myself opening the discussion of Moral Injury and Resurrection in what may seem to be an odd place.

I’ve been thinking significantly about what it means to lament and how this connects to the morally injured.  This is certainly not an original thought of mine – several fine theologians and scholars, including Larry Graham, Rita Nakashima Brock, and Brad Kelle have connected the power of Jewish and Christian traditions of lament with the plight of the morally injured.  As researchers and clinicians will attest, one of the critical first steps towards healing for those who have experienced moral trauma is to witness to their injury to a supportive hearer, in order that the hearer may share the burden with them.  A community that commits its ritual power of lament in the expression of grief, loss, sadness, anger, frustration, and demands for justice is in a position to not only provide what may be a critical moment of clarity for a veteran, but also to recognize its own complicity in the creation of the moral order that can be so injurious.  

The ritual of lament, can, in other words, become a means through which veterans bear witness to the moral realities of the world that the larger civilian world (and congregation) are often blind, and through the sharing of this burden, motivate the entire community to work for a more just moral order.  

From a theological perspective, however, I’ve thought a good bit about how the practice of lament connects to resurrection and the eschatological promises of God.  The story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is rooted, of course, in the experience of the crucifixion, and with it, the laments, betrayals and abandonments of his small group of followers – Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene (who are, incidentally, the most faithful followers of Jesus in the narrative) lament his death while Peter and Judas experience something of a moral trauma in their own participation in betrayal and abandonment.  In the suicide of Judas, we might find a connection with those who cannot find a way to witness to their own guilt and shame, and in Peter, one who is able to lament (both privately and implicitly in the community of disciples in the aftermath of Jesus’ death) – weeping over his own abandonment of Jesus.  

Yet perhaps we can only sustain lament as a long-term practice – certainly as one that is life-giving, transformative and justice-oriented – in understanding its connection to God’s promise of life, reconciliation, and the liberation of creation from sin and violence.  In the resurrection we glimpse God’s rejection of sin, vindication of the life of Jesus, the defeat of death, the reconciliation of those ensnared in sin and the promise of a life of renewal and eternal hope.  In our experience of moral anguish, injustice, death and hopelessness, we often find the present negation of God’s affirmation of life, justice, forgiveness and hope.  

In my view, each gives a particular character to the other.  If, as Jurgen Moltmann suggests, the eschatological vision of God’s future for humanity of life and goodness in-breaks upon our present and transforms it, then in glimpsing that vision of hope do we recognize how little our current world embodies it.  From the shore of brokenness and crucifixion, we lament the world of death, injustice, moral deformation and horror that we inhabit, and in glimpsing the shore of resurrection and hope, find our present world and its disfigured moral order intolerable and in dire need of transformation.  Likewise, only from the experience of loss, grief, and trauma can we understand the character of the promise of hope:  the demands for justice that it must satisfy, the pain of oppression and subjugation it must resolve, and the moral order that it must somehow set to rights.  

It is in the trust of this future hope in which perhaps the Christian community may find itself in the position to sustainably lament with the morally injured – hearing their witness and joining in the lament of loss, anger, guilt, anguish and injustice.  Rather than accept the injustices and systemic ills of our societies in the anesthetizing properties of future hope, however, the promise of God’s rejection of death, injustice and sin enables us to truly lament – a lamentation that validates the testimony of the morally injured concerning the brokenness of the world.  It is in view of hope that it becomes a lament that refuses to allow us to be at ease with the injustices and moral traumas of the present and demands change and renewal here and now.

May Research Update

Greetings!  This month, my research has continued to focus on the societal aspects of moral injury, and ways in which theology provides a framework in which we might make sense of it.

In particular, I’ve been captivated by a way of looking at moral emotions – which are processed in a different part of the brain than say, joy or sadness – that emphasizes how strongly our bonds to each other impact our moral evaluation of ourselves.  Psychologists note, for instance, that as early as 2 years old we begin to form our understanding of social relationships and experience moral emotions when those relationships are damaged, either by ourselves or others.  

We experience negative moral emotions (guilt, shame, disgust, contempt) as indicators that our social structures, our relationships with others have been violated.  In 1991, US Army psychologist Dave Grossman argued that it was the responsibility to harm others if necessary that led to a particular stress in combatants.  His hypothesis was that this experience of responsibility to harm was psychologically distinct from that of those who were subjected to the violence of warfare without that concomitant responsibility (e.g., civilians).  More recently, as we’ve begun to differentiate moral injury (MI) from PTSD and other combat trauma, it is becoming clearer that MI is often indeed characterized by a deep sense of disquiet at participating in violence against others.

In other words, combatants are tasked with inflicting harm on others in service of some wartime objective, but experience a great deal of moral disquiet as they are being asked to violate some social relationship in a permanent way – either that with the enemy, or of the moral standards of the society to which one belongs (assuming that all functioning communities would find killing others as prima facie wrong).

The moral emotions that we experience after a standard has been violated also have almost everything to do with our relationship to our own community, and that of humanity generally.  Guilt, for example, has often been argued to generally be an emotion that leads us to understand particular acts as transgressions that require actions to repair relationships and often drive us to make reparative actions.  In other words, when we feel guilt, we are able to focus on bad acts, and maintain a positive self-image.  Shame, on the other hand, often involves the global judgment that I am a “bad person” as a result of bad actions and thus an isolation and distancing from the community whose standards have been violated.  In other words, when we experience shame, we understand that the community would judge and reject us and we envision reparation as impossible.  Moral Injury often encompasses both of these emotions, but tends towards the more self-destructive nature of shame.   

Against this background, it can be said that moral injury is, at heart, about justice and how we exist in relationship to others, both before and after conflict, violence, and death.  In a theological sense, the resurrection – which glimpses God’s final eschatological vision for humanity – is also about justice and the mending of relationship with God and with each other.  

While I’m exploring these theological doctrines, I’m increasingly cognizant this month of how the church has expressed them, and what those expressions communicate about God’s ultimate future for humanity.  How does God repair the moral breach?  Is all of humanity ultimately reconciled to God and knitted back together into a moral community?  Do the demands for justice amidst the unrepentant bad acts of some result in their eternal rejection from the community of God?  

To me, how we answer these questions form the basis of the hope that Christianity has to offer to the morally injured.  

New Article on Bonhoeffer, Sanctification and Moral Injury

This is just a quick post to note that my most recent article was just published in the Scottish Journal of Theology, and you can access it for a few weeks before it goes behind the paywall.

The link is here to the pdf.

The abstract is below.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s pursuit of a sanctified life took a significant detour from the way inwhich he thought it would proceed. In seeking‘good’moral choices in the crucible of NaziGermany, Bonhoeffer experienced a profound sense of what we now would recognise asmoral injury, which proves to be a powerful and reflexive lens with which to examine hisunderstanding of sanctification. Initially embracing pacifism as a fundamental pillar ofChristian life, Bonhoeffer eventually became convinced that there are no pure or‘right’moral choices, only competing‘wrong’ones. He later wrote from prison that to be likeChrist, and to come closer to holiness, was not to seek to avoid guilt, but to take onguilt for the sake of others. This recontextualisation of the idea of sanctification through the lens of Christ’s substitutionary guilt suggests that for the responsible actor moral injury may be inevitable.

Stay safe and healthy!

BSP

A Very Belated April Update

Greetings!  It has been too long since this blog was updated, and I apologize for the long delay in providing a research update.  These are trying times, certainly, but perhaps also provide an opportunity to send out some positive information about the Vann Fellowship activities in the past few months.

On November 12, in the confines of the Cavalry and Guards club in London, I had the honor of presenting the inaugural Vann lecture.  It was a wonderful event, and for me the greatest joy was the discussions of faith, resurrection and moral injury that followed the lecture and continued through dinner and late into the evening.  There will be more opportunities to share the research of the fellowship in impactful ways in different contexts that have already arisen from this discussion, and I think will continue to arise from it.  The transcript of the lecture, which recaps a lot of the past year’s developments with the fellowship and my future research plans can be found here.  

Afterwards, I was able to host a Continuing Ministry Education session for RAF (and a few Army and Navy) chaplains at Amport House in the days following the Vann Lecture.  This was two-day event focused on the issue of moral injury from a theological perspective, and allowed me to have hours of discussion with those who are the primary spiritual caregivers for those affected by combat trauma and moral injury.  It was an incredibly productive discussion, and as always, I found myself deeply grateful for the chaplains who do this difficult work and thankful that I’m able to contribute to and hopefully enhance their ability to minister to the morally injured.

As November drew to a close, I made the long journey to California for one of the world’s largest gatherings of religious scholars (and surely the only place and time in the world where you can walk into a packed hotel bar in the evening, catch the punch line to a joke about substitutionary atonement, and watch the bar erupt in laughter) – more commonly known as the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.  Within this large meeting is a gathering of folks working on religious approaches to the phenomenon of moral injury.  It is always a time to discover the valuable work each of us is doing, and I wanted to lift up the work of one particular scholar – The Revd. Dr. Brad Kelle, who is a Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.  He has written a book recently, The Bible and Moral Injury:  Reading Scripture Alongside War’s Unseen Wounds that shines a light on how the readings of narratives in the Old Testament can be illuminated by the lens of moral injury.  From a few preview chapters that I’ve read, it is an incredible work that may give us pause to reconsider our understandings of figures like Saul and David, as well as the ways in which scripture forms our moral selves.  

Brad is also the editor of a larger compendium of essays on moral injury from medical professionals, veterans, philosophers, and religious scholars that will be forthcoming, currently titled Moral Injury:  A Guidebook for Understanding and Engagement.  I’ve contributed a chapter on theological resonances, and look forward to its publication in the summer!

As you may expect, there are quite a few activities and engagements that would have been taking place in the coming weeks that have now been cancelled and rescheduled.  The upside of this is that it does give me more time to research and write, and to post more regular updates.   The pandemic does also shine a light on another area of human life in which we see moral injury regularly – the medical field. This article was published a few days ago on the BBC, and features a discussion on moral injury amongst those working in increasingly stressed conditions to treat those with Covid-19, and features several quotes from the brilliant theologian Rita Nakashima Brock.

Stay safe, healthy and isolated!

October Research Update

I’m happy to return to the blog this month after a brief summer recess!  

There’s a lot going on, but this month, I wanted to offer an update in the guise of advertising two upcoming lectures.

The first is the Robbins lecture in Durham, which will be given by Holly Hughson, visiting scholar in the Centre for Human Flourishing at Sarum College.  Holly has extensive experience as a humanitarian aid worker in many of nations that have seen the most intense conflicts of the last 25 years – Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan and the Balkans.  Her lecture is entitled “’I believe, help thou mine unbelief:’ The Witness of War and Moral Injury in Modern Conflict,” and will be a rare opportunity to hear from someone with significant experience in multiple combat zones who is not and was not a combatant.   Her voice in this conversation is incredibly valuable, and her growing contribution to the study of moral injury is significant.  If you’re able to attend, the lecture will take place on October 30, at 6:30pm in Prior’s Hall at Durham Cathedral.  It is open to the public, free, and requires no advance booking.

The second is the first-ever Vann Lecture in London on November 12th in London at the Cavalry & Guards Club, in the Field Marshal’s Room at 5:30pm.  I will deliver a lecture entitled “Hope in the Wound:  Resurrection and Moral Injury.”

It explores something that I have been developing in my thinking lately, and intend to explore as perhaps a primary theme in my second monograph, which is the idea that Christian theology  not only takes seriously the moral anguish of veteran guilt, but proclaims that resurrection happens only from this place of wounding.

In Resurrection:  Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Rowan Williams movingly comments that “the saving presence of God is always to be sought and found with the victim.  Conversion is always turning to my victim – even in circumstances where it is important to me to believe in the rightness of my cause (10).”   

This strikes me as particularly true in the case of moral injury.  What Christianity offers the conversation, perhaps, is a framework that begins by affirming the victimhood of the victim, regardless of the righteousness of the cause.  The Resurrection only makes sense if it begins with the death of the pure victim of Jesus, who exposes our violence and refuses to return it.   Amidst legal justifications, just war arguments and attempts to ameliorate veteran guilt and moral anguish, whether in the name of national cause or the goodness of a grand narrative, Christian theology offers a way to speak authentically to the moral pain many veterans feel by naming the inherent wrongness that war represents – a struggle in which human lives are traumatically ended by others.  Where perpetrators and victims are made again and again and again.  


It perhaps boldly, then, begins constructing a path to solace, to hope, through the place that so few want to look.  At the victims of war and the reality of our complicity in making them.   

July Research Update

This has been a busy month, from preparing a few new ideas to presenting at a conference and giving a lecture at Lambeth Palace.  

I had the pleasure of connecting with a wonderful group of scholars, chaplains and practitioners at the International Network for the Study of War and Religion in the Modern World’sannual conference at Amport House in Andover last week.  My paper there was entitled Dying and Rising:  The Vitality of Theological Expressions of Sin and Salvation in the face of Moral Injury, and explored how conceptions of sin and resurrection create a moral framework in which veterans may find meaning and solace.

I then was able to speak at slightly greater length about these themes and the way that several new studies about the psychological traumas suffered by American drone operators are informing our views of psychological trauma and moral injury (more below) with the Council on Christian Approaches to Disarmament and Defense at Lambeth Palace.  

The focus on drone operators actually allows us to differentiate between PTSD and moral injury.  A recent paper published by Christian Enemark of the University of Southhampton notes that drone operators, who operate unmanned aircraft flying in Afghanistan and Iraq from a base in Nevada, experience general psychological trauma at the same rate as combat pilots in theater yet have negligible rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This makes sense if we understand that PTSD is a physiological condition that is a conditioned response to the situations of intense fear and danger that one would experience when life is on the line, as it is often in combat.  Drone operators do not experience this, as their lives are not in danger as they pilot and operate their aircraft from the safety of the interior United States.  

Their trauma, Enemark argues, is ethical and psychological and revolves around their intimate observation of the mundane human actions and interactions of their targets and their subsequent killing of them.  Their testimonies point to the fact that taking lives in combat, even from afar, raises intense moral qualms in many of those who do it – apart from the body’s responses to physical stress and threat.  

There are a variety of interesting implications that might arise from these findings and arguments, and I intend on exploring these in the coming weeks.  

I’m continuing to fold these studies and experiences into a framework that more broadly describes how the Christian understandings of resurrection and eschatology intersect effort to heal moral injuries suffered in war.  I’m compelled by an argument that the early church understood itself as a resurrection community, guided a particular vision of new life that granted them freedom from the suffocating constrictions of empire upon human life.  So, too, perhaps might a similar guidance provide a vision of a resurrection community living in freedom from the suffocating moral constrictions of modern combat.   I’ll explore this as a framework for my studies moving forward.

I do have a few bits of shameless self-promotion to put out there this month, as reviews for Full Darkness are beginning to come out.  I direct you to a couple of these below.  

Presbyterian Outlook

Reading Religion

Early June Research Update

This month, as we observe the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I’m preparing a paper for the International Network on the Study of War and Religion in the Modern World conference in Amport House (the UK’s Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre) in July and I’ve been thinking about the connections between moral injury and eschatological hope.

More specifically, I’m drawn to the way that German theologian Jurgen Moltmann thinks about the resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for history.

Moltmann was conscripted into the German air auxillary during World War II, and survived the firebombing of Hamburg* before ultimately being pressed into service in the German army. After several encounters in which he experienced the loss of several close comrades, Moltmann found himself cut off from his unit, starving and covered in lice, and he surrendered to British forces in early 1945.

Moltmann tells this tale in his autobiography titled A Broad Place, describing the survivor’s guilt he felt at the loss of his friends. Moreover, though, his life was impacted by the crushing weight of collective guilt he experienced when his fellow German POWs were forced to confront the reality of the concentration camps while interned in Kilmarnock, Scotland. While making a long and compelling narrative short, Moltmann is drawn to Christianity in the camp, and studies theology upon his return to Germany, emerging in the decades that follow as one of the world’s foremost theologians.

The first of his 43 (!) works on Christian theology is, of course, Theology of Hope, in which he founds his theological discourse on eschatology, arguing that “The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day. (Theology of Hope, 16)”

For Moltmann, the resurrection of Christ serves as a pivotal moment in the understanding of history – it is the promise of God’s eschatological future which breaks into, transforms, and reorients the present towards it. The hope of resurrection means that death, usually the end and full stop of human endeavors, is not the end, and that the possibilities for lives, ambitions, projects, and hopes previously thought to be brought to an end are re-opened and given new hope.

In other words, as he will later write, “I would think that eternal life gives the broken and the impaired and those whose lives have been destroyed space and time and strength to live the life which they were intended for, and for which they were born. I think this, not for selfish reasons, for the sake of my personal completion, and not morally, for the sake of some kind of purification; I think it for the sake of the justice which I believe is God’s concern and his first option. (The Coming of God, 118)”

I’m moved particularly by Moltmann’s expression of hope here, and will explore what it might mean in terms of moral injury in the here and now: “the Spirit of eternal life is first of all a further space for living, in which life that has been cut short, or was impaired and destroyed will be able to develop freely. Even in this life before death we experience the Spirit of life as the wide space in which there is no more cramping. And how much more so will this be so after death? (The Coming of God, 118)”

I have considered carefully how to move forward after articulating the connections and resonances between the doctrine of original sin and moral injury. I think a careful and nuanced valuation of atonement, of forgiveness, of penance, of reconciliation in terms of moral injury would have great value. Yet I think what must be addressed first for those grappling with moral ambiguity and hopelessness might be: “What am I to hope for?” I’m compelled by Moltmann’s notion that eschatology is indeed the key in which other doctrines are set, and think this question bears particular weight for those who have experienced the full brokenness of the world.

* My description of this on p. 163 of Full Darkness, much to my chagrin, is erroneous. I state there that he survived the firebombing at Dresden, rather than the correct location at Hamburg.