Trauma Is Not a Life Sentence

Five Gifts From God to the Traumatized

How can we speak of Christ without overpromising with well-wishes that may not come true in this life? How can we name trauma without excusing someone entirely for awful patterns of sinful and destructive symptoms? How can we address trauma with clarity and honesty without letting it control or consume us? How can Christians faithfully and lovingly speak theological truth about trauma? Here are five things God gives the traumatized.

1. God remembers evil.

God remembers the evil that caused our traumas. He will not forget the life of our lost loved one, the transgression of our abuser, the brutal pain of violence, the shock and awe of loss, the aching regret over wounds for which we’re responsible. One day, he will bring all of it into the light with crystal clarity and perfect justice. Genuine trauma is done a disservice when the wound is hidden. Satan wants you to hide and deceive. God wants you to come to him with every honest, painful detail.

Trauma is mitigated first of all by calling that which is evil “evil,” and that which is devastating “trauma.” Its effects are only able to be survived and minimized when the whole tragedy has first come into view. The past will not be whitewashed for the sake of protecting the privileged. The men or women, the kings, the powerful, the institutional leaders, all those who abused power for their own personal gain—all evil acts will be properly labeled as evil, and remembered as the perpetuation of trauma.

2. God tells stories of trauma that would be easier to forget.

Glossing over the darkness for the sake of a redemptive story only perpetuates trauma. Calling the smallest signs of functionality “healing” and “progress” can actually undercut real healing and progress by minimizing pain and loss. The process of recovery is not typically immediate. Accurate self-assessment and self-honesty, as much as it is possible, is what places us within God’s true story about us, not trying to contrive redemptive emotions and improvement before they truly come.

God speaks about our trauma with precision. No ambiguous talk of “darkness,” “shame” or “chains” will accurately describe the transgression of abuse, or the self-harming cycles into which it throws its victims. Not crassness. Not oversharing. Not shouting it from the rooftops or bulldozing every conversation with its weight. But God does encourage and embrace nuance.

The narratives in the Old Testament are awkwardly full of details. Like peering at surveillance footage, God inspired the authors to exposit the events with brutal accuracy. Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38). A Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel 13). These are ugly, awful stories about traumatic experiences among God’s faithful ones. God didn’t intervene to prevent the abuse. God didn’t micromanage the suffering, or give the victims a clean and quick “recovery story.” And yet he still put them on stage in his redemptive story.