If He walked the earth today, how would Jesus reach out and respond to those who suffer from the aftereffects of trauma?
by EVAN OWENS
There are hundreds of books written on Jesus as the perfect counselor. Most often, they highlight His ability to accept people for who they are, to meet people where they are, and to show compassion during trying times. They also reference the many times He answered questions by asking more questions as a sign that he was a great listener. And all of this is true.
But if Jesus walked the earth today, what would He say to those who struggle with PTSD? What would He think of modern treatments and medication? Would He even call our experiences traumatic?
While we can’t pretend to know the mind of God, we can use what is revealed of Jesus’ character throughout Scripture to give us a good idea of how He would respond to the suffering faced by victims of trauma in today’s world.
Let’s consider four things that Jesus might say to someone struggling with PTSD.
“Your trauma doesn’t make Me uncomfortable. You aren’t too damaged for Me to relate to.”
God’s people have always suffered trauma.
Even if you don’t trust the Bible as a religious document, most scholars agree that it is an exceptionally accurate historical document. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we watch the history of the Israelites and the Christians come to life. Time and time again, these nations are overtaken and placed in captivity.
After two centuries of existence as a nation, the ten northern tribes of Israel were conquered by the Assyrians and taken captive. For more than 200 years, the northern tribes of Israel were ruled by a succession of 19 wicked, idolatrous kings. Some reigned only a short time, but violence, assassinations, and cruelty characterized the entire period. This same pattern was repeated over and over again by the Babylonians (586 B.C.), the Persians (538 B.C.), the Greeks (332 B.C.), the Maccabees (164 B.C.), and the Romans (63 B.C.).
Starting with the life of Jesus, we read the unfolding story of the early Christian Church. We see Jesus being betrayed, tortured, and crucified. His apostles were imprisoned, beaten and executed. And the followers who lived still had to bear witness to the persecution that befell their friends and families. Following Christ was not an easy way of life.
It’s safe to say that under today’s mental health classifications, these people would have been exposed to trauma and would have likely been diagnosed with PTSD.
Trauma is not new to the world and is definitely not new to Jesus. He’s seen it all before, either through his own traumatic experiences during his earthly life or through the pain He has felt in the lives His people for centuries.
So there is no one better equipped to take on the burden of trauma than Jesus.
“Your wound wasn’t for nothing. There is purpose in your pain.”
God never wastes a wound.
Trauma will change you. Period. But the change doesn’t have to be negative. Though a traumatic experience is more often perceived as a catalyst to a downward spiral, it’s important to realize that trauma has just as much power to instead propel a person into an incredibly positive life transformation.
Recently, I was reminded of this truth in a powerful way. At a church meeting a few weeks ago, I watched as a teenage girl who had just lost her father to a sudden heart attack stepped forward to pray for another person who was struggling through an abusive relationship. As this girl began to pray, she spoke words along these lines:
“Lord, we know that the things we experience on this earth are the worst things we will ever experience – that we really only have to bear 80 or 90 years of this kind of struggle. And if that is the worst we have to endure, then we are thankful. Because we know that one day we will be with you in Heaven where there will be no trauma or suffering. So God, we embrace this hard time and we lean into it. Use it, God, to transform us into someone who is more like Jesus.”
I know, this may seem like a “preacher story,” but I assure you, it really happened. I was blown away. This teenager had just gone through the devastating experience of losing her own father, yet out of her mouth came a deep truth – that trauma should transform us in a positive way. It should help us refocus on what truly matters in life. It should help us put aside selfishness and the things we’ve allowed to take the place of God in our lives. It should help make us more like Jesus.
Remember, God has a habit of using the wounded as his greatest leaders.
Noah had to witness the death of all of his acquaintances and friends because of a flood. Abraham had to walk up a mountain and prepare to kill his own son. Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his own brothers. Moses was abandoned as a child. The list could go on and on. All of these men became great leaders, and each of their experiences shaped them to become the leader they needed to become.
David Carr says it this way: “The Bible, in short, is a story of struggle for survival in the midst of devastating circumstances.” 1
“The scars stay so they can tell a story.”
There’s no going back to your “pre-trauma” self.
The change that trauma makes in your life isn’t temporary. It isn’t a small cut that will scab over and then quickly disappear. Rather, your soul wound will leave a scar.
So often, when those who have suffered trauma seek counsel from a Christian, they are met with words like “restoration,” “redemption” or “healing.” While these words are wonderful and rooted in Scripture, they can feel off-target to someone whose wounds run very deep. How could you ever hope to be restored, redeemed, or healed after what you’ve gone through?
The scar left by trauma is supposed to change you. It’s the natural response to an unnatural experience like trauma. Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but to be unchanged by an unnatural experience just isn’t natural.
John 20:24-29 tells us the story of one of the reappearances of Jesus after He had died and come back to life. Keep in mind, this was not long after He had suffered through the unspeakable trauma of His crucifixion.
“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Notice that Jesus’ scars had not healed and disappeared. They remained. Even after He had conquered the grave, the scars of His trauma remained on his body. Not only that, but it was these scars that led Thomas to ultimately believe.
Don’t you think that Jesus, in all His power, could have treated Himself to a new, unblemished body after defeating death itself? Of course He could have. But instead, the scars that remained made Jesus’ testimony complete.
When your hand touches a scar on your body, you’re probably reminded of what happened to put the scar there. So, imagine rubbing your hand over a scar on your soul. What story would the scar tell? How would it end?
Nothing speaks more powerfully than the story of someone who has experienced devastating circumstances rising up and living with purpose and power. Jesus provides you with a path to that kind of story – one of true restoration, redemption, and healing.
“Depend on your doctors, but abide in Me.”
Faith and medicine, science and miracles – they work as left and right hands.
“All you need is to have faith and you’ll be healed!” Have you ever had well-meaning Christians tell you this in the midst of your struggles? It’s a sentiment with good intentions, but it’s overly simplified. It can feel like they might as well say, “Just go step off the edge of that cliff. All you need is to have faith and you’ll fly!”
Of course, it’s true that faith plays a major role in the healing process. In Mark 5:34, Jesus says that “your faith has made you whole,” and Paul claims in James 5:15 that “the prayer of faith will save the sick.”
But Jesus Himself was a proponent of medicine, stating in Mark 2:17, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” He gives validation to medicine as a component of healing for mankind. In fact, Luke, an apostle of Jesus and one of the writers of the Gospel, was a doctor.
Faith and medicine are not enemies. It’s not an either/or proposition. Rather, they are meant to complement one another.
Read what Dr. Ernest Crocker says on this subject:
“The healing that occurs may be of physical nature, but it will always be spiritual and bring hope, peace, and cast out fear. It has been said that when God is in the room there is no room for fear. When the doctor has faith he is able to commit his expertise to the Lord in the context of that patient. I believe that he is also able to draw upon God’s wisdom and insight. Render to scientific medicine the discipline of science and to God and His Word the discipline of faith.” 2
At REBOOT, we believe that the wounds inflicted by trauma affect the mind, body, and soul. In order for true healing to occur, all aspects of your wounds must be treated. Jesus doesn’t seek the healing of your soul at the expense of your mind and body. So, let your doctors do what they are equipped to do, but trust Jesus for your rest and your peace.
Faith and medicine are intended to work hand in hand because medicine isn’t certain. In many instances, it works wonderfully and provides healing – but in some instances, it doesn’t. And there are some wounds that even the most effective medicine can’t help.
But faith, by its very nature, embraces uncertainty. Faith fills in the gaps that science can’t explain. Faith tells us life is a temporary gift and that one day we will be with the Lord. Faith tells us that God works all things together for His purpose, even if it doesn’t seem logical to us at the time. We can’t worry ourselves into this kind of faith, nor can we purchase or borrow it.
Simply put, faith is a gift from God. It is the gift that enables us to cling to hope and abide in Jesus when everything seems hopeless.
So if you or someone you know are struggling to reconcile your faith with your trauma, consider what Jesus may be saying to you:
“Your trauma doesn’t make Me uncomfortable. You aren’t too damaged for Me to relate to.
Your wound wasn’t for nothing. There is purpose in your pain.
The scars stay so that they can tell a story.
Depend on your doctors, but abide in Me.”
EVAN OWENS is the Executive Director of the REBOOT Alliance and co-founder of REBOOT Combat Recovery and Firstline.