Larkin Spivey Finding Faith In War

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Faith in the Vietnam War

My next book (due out in 2011) is about the Vietnam War and is a sequel to Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II. I recently received an e-mail from a reader who asked if it was difficult to write about the Vietnam War from a spiritual perspective. Since this question might interest others I thought I would respond by blog.

First, I have to say that writing a book about Vietnam was difficult personally, since I was involved in that war and have strong feelings about it. I was not a Christian at the time and had my own questions about God’s presence and the random and brutal violence that I experienced. I fully understand this kind of reaction from nonbelievers who experienced combat. On the other hand, I have met many others who went to war as believers. I have been amazed at the wide range of reactions to the Vietnam War by all those who fought it.

The World War II era was definitely a more spiritual era in our history. Our national and military leaders did not hesitate to pray publically, calling themselves and others to prayer during dangerous times and to thanksgiving in the wake of success. In my research into World War II it was not difficult to find personal witnesses, diaries, and correspondence expressing the power of individual faith during this conflict.

America in the 1960’s was of course very different. All institutions in our culture were under attack, including the government, military, business, and traditional religion. Fortunately, all of this counter-culture activity did not extinguish spirituality altogether, as many young men went to Vietnam sustained by their faith and supported by their churches. Many others like myself, however, went as religious skeptics and found the trauma of war fully supportive of their antipathy toward God. Even many believers had experiences that called their faith into question. It would be difficult to summarize the many ways veterans went on to cope with these issues, but I will cite one person’s journey which was not unusual:

Phil Downer saw his best friend killed in Vietnam and for forty years lived with the anguish and guilt of surviving when his friend did not. He often blamed God for the downward spiral of his life. Recently, at a businessman’s meeting, he unexpectedly heard someone patiently explain the Gospel and how Jesus Christ had suffered for the sake of mankind. Somehow, in that moment, he recognized that Jesus “took my bullets for me,’ just as his friend had done in combat so long ago. In that moment he accepted Jesus as his savior and went forward in faith and a totally new life. There are countless other stories of veterans suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress who finally found freedom from their scars in the person of Jesus. In a way, soldiers of the Vietnam era seemed to go through a deeper valley than others before them, but many came through the valley in God’s time to greater heights of spirituality.

I take great encouragement from this and many other stories of faith and courage from the Vietnam War and see a great spiritual lesson in them. God responds to deep and genuine doubt, and he soothes deep and genuine pain. If we will bring our issues to him forthrightly and passionately, he will respond, and, in his own way, bring us to a deeper spiritual level with him. Bill Mahedy, an ex-Army chaplain, explained the classic road to healing for Vietnam veterans who ask, “Where was God in Vietnam?” They are ready to be healed when in their hearts they hear God’s question, “Where were you in Vietnam?”


  1. I love reading your blog. Pictures please! :) I know there are some great ones of you in Vietnam.

  2. Can't wait for the book to come out!

  3. I look forward to another enlightening book from my favorite author. :)