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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Oliver

An Introduction to Trauma and the Gospel

Many people operate under the impression that the Bible, and by extension Christianity, is silent on the question of trauma, family separation, and other various forms of injustice. That is not true. In fact, trauma is all over Scripture. When you walk through most of the story in the Bible you don’t have to wade very deep before you stumble upon a traumatic event. In this six part series I’ll be discussing some key stories of trauma in scripture and explain the Gospel response to each of them.

As a theologian involved in running an organization in one of the most traumatized places on earth, I cannot help but think of all of the traumas told about in the Bible. We could discuss the trauma of Cain’s murder of Abel and what that meant for the unfolding of history. We should opine about the trauma that must have been experienced by the daughters of Lot who were offered to the men of Sodom for their baseless pleasure. We can easily find ourselves empathizing with Isaac’s trauma under the knife of Father Abraham. Those only gets us halfway through Genesis!

In these few examples we start to see the drama unfold – the drama that the story of the Bible is a story about separation! This theme of traumatic separation of families, of friends, of husbands and wives, of siblings, of children from parents serves as a helpful foil for understanding the metanarrative of Scripture. They all point to the metanarrative that God’s people are separated from him.

Trauma is often accompanied by oppression and injustice. The preacher in Ecclesiastes 4 complained, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.[1]” Just this week our team learned of a woman whose husband was murdered. The murderer has not yet even been charged and roams freely while she lives in fear for the safety of herself and her family. This is the very palpable sense in which the preacher opines. The traumatized have no recourse but to absorb and relive their trauma day after day because no one is there to comfort them with justice.

We don’t want to read about these horrific moments and say God was not there. If we ignore God’s consistent character as both just and loving we will mistakenly gloss over the most beautiful parts of the story where God promises to enter into the suffering of his people when he says things like, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”[2]

God’s promises are not empty because he fulfills his promises! As the writer of Hebrews said,

“14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[3]

Trauma is not pointless. All of the horrific traumas told in Scripture are but a glimpse toward the greatest trauma of all – the hanging of the innocent God-Man on the cross, Jesus Christ. The suffering, trauma, and oppression experienced by each of us is answered by the suffering servant. The Son of God was sent to die at the hands of men by his father, was betrayed by his closest friends and disciples – his brothers, was tortured, beaten, and slaughtered by a mob boiling with bloodlust. But the death of Christ is not the end of the story. It is succeeded by his resurrection which puts an end to trauma, injustice, and death once and for all.

The words of Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer One remind us,

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me heartily willing and ready

from now on to live for him.

The great comfort Christians share as recipients of his free grace is that death and trauma were defeated in the death and resurrection of Christ. We are comforted because by his life of righteousness he lived for us, and by his death he suffered and died for us, so that we might be resurrected with him.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ec 4:1. [2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Leviticus 26:12 [3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 2:14–18.

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