Scripture speaks in depth to human suffering, but does its reach extend to trauma?

Trauma usually identifies an event that has brought death close. This is why it first entered into our consciousness through war. The shell shock of WWI and WWII has given way to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for veterans of Vietnam and more recent wars. PTSD has since expanded to include those who experience the consequences of rape and sexual violation, life-threatening accidents, violence, and other abuses of power.

PTSD identifies traumas that don’t seem to fade. Although many difficult events in life such as the death of a loved one don’t really fade, PTSD is used to describe events that intrude into daily life by way of complex emotions rather than simple grief. You can feel numb, you avoid anything that could possibly be similar to the inciting event, you feel depressed and hopeless, or you feel restless, irritable, hypervigilant, anxious, and over-reactive. And you can feel all these things at once. In order to quiet the incessant turmoil, many turn to drugs or alcohol and some try to take their own lives.

But PTSD or trauma is not a categorically different kind of suffering with different rules for help. The words of Christ and message of the gospel continue to be the deepest means of help and care. The Lord invites us to speak of our misery in all its facets. When we are speechless, he gives us one psalm after another as a way to describe the condition of our souls, then he invites us to say more. He speaks with authority against evil and injustice. He speaks forgiveness and reformation to those who might have been accomplices, and acceptance and honor to those who have been shamed. He assures us that nothing can separate us from his love. He takes the sting out of death. He infuses life with hope and meaning as we live for the One who died for us.

In other words, Scripture’s reach does extend to trauma. You will find the most profound depths of help here, not elsewhere. But as with all of our care for those who are hurting, proceed with wisdom. This means that you seek help from other people if you lack experience or time. Yet even then, you seek out the struggling person as you are able, know the person in such a way that he or she feels understood, and bring Scripture close as you pray.

Further reading could include Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, which is a classic text in the trauma literature, and Diane Langberg’s On the Threshold of Hope.