Jesus and Trauma (Part 1)

Traumatic experiences upend a world. Life as it once was has come to a crashing halt and those who suffer from trauma find themselves questioning everything. One of those things that gets questioned in the aftermath of trauma is God. Why did God allow this to happen, or where was He when it happened? We have loads of questions, and often there are not immediate and simple answers to such uncertainties and doubts. But while the Bible doesn’t answer every question we have about traumatic experiences, it points us to Jesus as one who loves, understands, and offers hope. In this series I am going to look at a few different passages and doctrinal truths that encourage us to trust Christ in the midst of traumatic memories. For starters, Jesus invites us to come to Him for rest in the aftermath of trauma.

One of the greatest dangers for victims of trauma is that they may be re-traumatized by those who seek to offer help. Helpers who are not skilled in navigating traumatic memories, or those who simply don’t understand the nature of internal struggle can do more harm than good. Bad therapy is worse than no therapy. Counselor Tim Lane warns victims:

If you are not careful and you begin to process [traumatic] memories with someone who is not skilled enough, it could make things worse. (PTSD, 18)

Who should you talk to if you’ve experienced trauma? Well, certainly you should find a wise, Biblical, and yet trained/competent counselor who can help you navigate this sorrow. As you do that, however, you should speak to God too, for Jesus is the most gentle soul-physician there is.

Jesus makes this clear in his famous passage inviting the weary-souled to come to Him. In Matthew 11:28-30 we read this invitation:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

A careful breakdown of this simple passage communicates loads of hope and reminds us of just how compassionate and merciful our Savior is. Brad Hambrick clued me into this passage’s relevance for situations of trauma, and he gives a wonderfully insightful analysis. I am indebted to him for his work on this text. Four key concepts stand out from this text that can be helpful as the victim of trauma prepares to seek help:

“Come to me” – Jesus invites us to come to Him. There is no hint of begrudging assistance, no suggestion of mere duty or obligation. Jesus wants to help those who have suffered the pain, sorrow, and chaos of trauma. Come to Christ because He is extends His arms fully to embrace you.

“Heavy laden” – Christ knows full well that trauma is an unbearable burden. He knows that it is weighty and heavy. Trauma carries with it cognitive, emotional, social, physiological, and even spiritual weight. He is not naive or blind to the pain and damage done by trauma and He nowhere suggests that it is an illusion, fiction, or sin to carry this weight. Instead, His invitation to come acknowledges the gravity and hardship that trauma victims bring with them as they come to Him.

“I will give you rest” – this is the elusive desire of the soul in the midst of traumatic memories. Victims of trauma find that life post-traumatic events are full of chaos. Sleep, the one thing that should give a respite to the pain and sorrow can itself become an absolute terror to victims. Here Jesus holds out hope that rest is still possible. It’s found first and foremost as we draw closer to Him.

“I am gentle” – This physician is going to teach, and He is going to give a “yoke” – transformation will involve both psycho-education and practical application, it will be hardwork – yet, this teacher is gentle. His personality and approach will make all of this “light” in comparison to the current experience of trauma. You will not be re-traumatized by this gentle healer.

Jesus invites the trauma victim to come because He is a good and compassionate counselor.

There is an understandable fear that victims of trauma have as they contemplate asking for help. There is a fear of having to retell the story of their trauma, of re-experiencing the pain of it afresh. There is a fear that others will not understand, that they will not believe the victim, or that they might simply think they are crazy. There is a fear that perhaps they really are crazy. There is a fear that no one will be able to help. It is of crucial importance that victims of trauma speak to someone, but they must speak to the right person. That should begin by speaking to God, as best as you can. Start by crying out to Him, start by coming to Jesus. He is a compassionate soul-physician. He cares and can care for you well.

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