Interdisciplinary studies offer some of the most refreshing insights into a subject matter. That is even more significant when one of those studies is theology. Theology, once called the Queen of “sciences,” has something to contribute to every discussion. After all, the whole world was created by God and all of life is lived before God (Coram Deo). Therefore, all things are related to God. Scott Harrower takes that seriously, and seeks to apply theological truth to the realm of trauma studies. In God of All Comfort he demonstrates the therapeutic resources found in the Triune God of Scripture. This book makes a compelling case for psychology’s need for robust theology.
Harrower is Associate Professor of Theology and History at Ridley College in Melbourne. His bio lists that he is also an Anglican pastor and, previously, held positions in medical research and in trauma rooms. He is a man who has had feet in two worlds, the world of theological studies and the world of trauma studies. He evidences his acumen in both throughout the book. Harrower can discuss, with equal ease, the narrative of the Old Testament, expositions of the Gospel of Matthew, and common traits of trauma survivors. He is well read and able to synthesize ideas.
The book is broken down into three parts. Part one focuses on setting context and defining terminology. Harrower explores here the nature of “horrors,” the relationship between “horrors” and “trauma,” and common issues “arising from horrors.” These chapters raise the reader’s awareness of the problem and the challenges that the horrors of this world present to individuals as well as to theology. Part two shifts focus to issues of interpretation. Here, he explores the difference between a trauma hermeneutic and a “blessed reading,” as he calls it. Harrower uses the Gospel of Matthew as his primary text, exploring both how trauma can reframe a person’s reading of Matthew and how a “blessed reading” of the gospels can reframe our experience of the world post-trauma. Part Three turns specifically to the therapeutic value of knowing the triune God and all that he has to offer to those who have suffered trauma. He focuses on three key elements of recovery from trauma: safety, story, and community, relating each back to God himself.
Harrower does an excellent job in this book of demonstrating the relevance of God and Scripture for even massive problems like trauma. He interacts well with the respected literature, citing countless Christian psychologists throughout. Of interest, however, is the fact that he shows some of the limitations of that current literature. He notes the ways in which, for example, many counselors limit the resources that the Bible has to offer. So, “horror-attuned” readings of the Bible, paranoid readings, or trauma hermeneutics tend to “selectively receive some Scriptures as helpful and not others.” He writes:
The operative assumption appears to be that only some Scriptures are sensitive to trauma, and thus only some are helpful for recovery from trauma. Instead of approaching the Gospels as coherent literary units, trauma theorists tend to read them very selectively. The general tendency of trauma theorists is to focus their work on those parts of the Gospel stories that speak about Jesus’ death and trauma, his death on the cross, his experience of being dead (Holy Saturday), and his perpetual wounding…the operative interpretation is to underemphasize Jesus’ life after his death; this means that his resurrection and his victory over death are only a minor consideration.(81)
In contrast to these theorists and professionals, Harrower demonstrates how robust theology, including doctrines like the resurrection and most notably the Trinity, can be exceedingly helpful to those who suffer.
The book is certainly academic in nature – it is part of Lexham Press’s series Studies in Historical & Systematic Theology. Readers will need some basic familiarity with the relevant literature in order to be able to interact with the book, but it is not so specialized that only those with doctorates in theology or psychology can access the content.
The book is not, strictly speaking, a Biblical Counseling text. In fact there is not a great deal of discussion regarding application of doctrine in concrete exercises or any discussion of the counseling or therapeutic process. Yet, there is a great deal of insight to be found here. As a counselor I found myself often excited about what Harrower was developing and taking notes to further generate ideas on the development of counseling strategies. This was a very interesting book and offers some fresh insights into the dynamic interplay between Christian theology and trauma recovery. Far too often Christian counselors will settle for worldly techniques and limit the usefulness of Scripture, but God and His Word have much to offer!