Care for the Sorrowing Soul

Healing Moral Injuries from Military Service and Implications for the Rest of Us

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Duane Larson, Jeff Zust
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , October
     286 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The study of moral injury (MI) is a specialized, interdisciplinary, and growing industry. In the books and articles written since 9/11 on this subject, psychologists and psychiatrists, theologians and pastors, chaplains and military specialists have all weighed in on what is now recognized as a very serious aspect in the lives of military personnel and other high-risk occupations. Duane Larson and Jeff Zust’s contribution to MI, Care for the Sorrowing Soul, is a critical addition to the conversation and should be read by anyone interested in the most current discussion on the causes of and recovery from moral injury.

There is no official definition for moral injury. However, Larson and Zust incorporate the essential elements of what MI consists of as drawn from the most notable researchers in the field. Their definition is as follows: “Moral injury is the complex ‘soul’ wound that results from a person’s inability to resolve the difference between one’s idealized values and one’s perceived experiences. This wound produces a chain of emotions and maladaptive behaviors that corrode character and damage an individual’s capacity for living” (5).

Larson and Zust’s focus is on the moral development and training of soldiers (a term they use to encompass all branches of the military), their experiences during deployment, and their return to civilian life. The agenda of their work is to help caregivers, churches, and military professionals to “seek paths of healing” and to mitigate the unaddressed distress, sometimes called the invisible wounds, of “moral actors in a vocation designed to use violent force” (16). Although much of this book surveys and piggybacks from a wide range of sources, Larson and Zust introduce two specific models for understanding moral injury that need to be further developed and explored in future literature.

The first of these is the Two-Mirror Model (TMM) which is designed to help caregivers and specialists understand the moral process by which people form self-identity and self-image. The model reveals the way in which “moral dissonance” can widen the gap between a person’s idealized image of who they “should” be with their perception of who they “really” are. The wider the gap between these two reflections, the more moral injury is sustained by the person in question. The second model that is central to Larson and Zust’s thesis is the FRAME model. FRAME—an acronym for fidelity, responsibility, accountability, maturity, and effectiveness—is a “criteriology for judging military character and shaping one’s sense of vocation” (17). Various examples and case studies of FRAME are given throughout book.

The first three chapters outline the technical aspects of MI, explain the way the two-mirror model works, and discuss current practices for the healing of MI. Chapters 4 through 6 are concerned with the development of character, especially the character of the soldier. The last three chapters focus on healing, drawing heavily from biblical narratives and theology, but also giving examples from other major religions such as Islam.

I found the case examples of moral injury and FRAME to be the most profound aspects of this work. Reading the narratives given by moral actors, the soldiers themselves, in their own words was powerful. Another extremely helpful set of examples was given toward the end of the book as the authors drew on five accounts of Roman centurions given in the Christian New Testament to illustrate how FRAME works in the context of a multicultural society. These examples breathed new life into wellknown figures from the Bible, and helped the reader understand these centurions as literal soldiers apart from any biblical or theological interpretation that is usually overlaid on these men by Bible teachers.

Anyone interested in moral injury, military ethics, moral development, pastoral care, just war theory, or peacemaking would find this work a valuable resource. The bibliography and sources cited within the text offer those newly engaged in the study some of the best works to read next. Overall, Care for the Sorrowing Soul is a solid, well-researched, and thoroughly interesting read that is a valuable contribution to the field of study.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kristin Vargas is a doctoral candidate in Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
September 6, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Duane Larson is senior pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas. A systematic theologian, he also teaches at the University of Houston, Texas. Duane has written and lectured widely on theology and science, ethics, and ecumenical and interfaith relations.

Jeff Zust is a pastor and combat veteran with thirty years of service as an army chaplain. His experience includes serving multiple overseas tours of duty and teaching ethics at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy and the National Defense University.


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