The impact of a traumatic event can be difficult to explain. For many victims of trauma the possible words seem inadequate to describe their experience, at other times the overwhelming emotions make articulation impossible. Trauma can rob individuals of their ability to communicate what they feel and experience, especially in relation to the trauma or traumatic memories. Biblical counseling that is helpful must be able to demonstrate that God knows about and knows how to help those whose words escape them. What follows is not a comprehensive treatment plan for trauma counseling, nor should it be viewed that way. Rather, it is an attempt to explain the hope that Biblical Counselors can offer to trauma victims that God both understands and can help them as they seek to navigate their trauma. God can give words to the experiences of trauma victims through the Scriptures.
The loss of communication can add sorrow to someone’s experience of trauma. After all, trauma tends to make us feel more isolated. It can limit our abilities to trust, it can make us feel disconnected from others, alone, and uniquely broken. Since communication is a major part of human connectivity, the loss of explanation can compound a person’s experience of trauma. The need for someone to help a sufferer put into words their feelings and experiences is profoundly important.
The Bible reveals that God knows all about deep wounds, trauma, and heart-rending sorrow. In fact, He made sure that within His Holy Word were the cries of such wounded hearts. He wanted readers to know that they were understood and that He can help them. There are numerous Psalms expressing grief and sorrow, but there are some that are especially dark. Take for example, Psalm 88.
Psalm 88 is the darkest set of verses perhaps in the whole Bible. It rings of despair and hopelessness. In fact, while other Psalms echo these themes, they also contain moments or conclusions that remind the Psalmist of God’s faithfulness. Psalm 88 contains no reminders of God’s love, nor the certainty of His aid. It says simply, “Darkness is my only companion” (v. 18). And why does God include such a depressing song in His divine hymnbook? He knows that it adequately describes how people feel in the depths of their despair. It’s not that God is actually far off, nor is it that there is no hope, but Psalm 88 reaches us emotional and connects with the truth of how we genuinely feel in the aftermath of intense sorrow. God included this Psalm to tell us that He knows.
In reading Psalm 88 we can find the words that echo how we feel, but which we couldn’t find. Many other passages of Scripture can do this too. Consider the words of the Prophet Isaiah. As he recounts his experience upon seeing a vision of attack he says:
At this my body is racked with pain,
pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor;
I am staggered by what I hear,
I am bewildered by what I see.
4 My heart falters,
fear makes me tremble;
the twilight I longed for
has become a horror to me. (Isa. 21:3-4)
The vision itself was so traumatic that he describes his response in terms of physical pain, comparable to a woman in labor. He speaks of being dazed and confused. Feeling like he is staggering about and unsettled. He describes his heart failing and fear overwhelming him. He describes even his dread of the night, for even sleep had become a terrifying thought. Such descriptions may parallel the experience of a trauma survivor. Sleep brings only nightmares and flashbacks, terror seizes them, and they feel as thought their world has been turned upside down. There are many other examples we could look to as reassurance that God can give words to our struggles.
This is true too when we consider that we may not know what to say to God. After all trauma can leave us feeling unsure about God Himself. Where was He? Why didn’t He intervene? What does this all say about God’s character, power, and desires in relation to the sufferer? The Bible knows of these questions too and is not unsettled by them. The Psalmist asks:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Ps. 13:1-2)
And such questioning of God arises in many other Psalms (Ps. 10:1; 44:24; 89:46). The Prophet Jeremiah asks a similar question of God, wondering why the Lord seems to favor the wicked (Jer. 12:1). In other words, God even includes in His Holy Word language that helps us understand our own wrestling with God in the aftermath of trauma. His graciousness to our struggle with words knows no limits.
In addition, Paul says that when we don’t know how to pray to God, that God himself will even give us aid. Here, though, it is less specific words and simply the translation of our groaning. So, Paul says:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Rom. 8:26)
This is a remarkable passage that reminds us that we don’t always have to have the right words. In truth, there are simply times where no words are adequate, groaning is the only appropriate response. Yet, even here, God knows how to translate our groaning and interpret it into meaningful prayers. So, Paul says, that God will pray to Himself on our behalf. How remarkable a thought is that! God is always at the ready to help us with our communication struggles, even if we still can’t find the right words.
Trauma can dramatically impact our ability to describe our emotions and experiences. God, however, does not leave us alone in this linguistic limitation. Within in His Holy Word He has included all sorts of descriptions that can parallel our own experiences and feelings. He gives word to our sorrow through the cries of those who have gone before us. He even gives words to our doubts and uncertainties. And, when we still don’t know what to say, He intercedes for us. God can help those impacted by trauma, and through His Word He gives assistance to our communication struggles. God can speak for the victim of trauma.