This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 6: LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.”

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There are many God-questions that arise during and after the experience of trauma. It is nearly impossible to persistently battle for hope and peace without asking questions directed to or about God. The things discussed below should not be new. They are meant to be crystallizations of what you’ve been learning. Allow these truths about God to become cemented in your story; these truths should increasingly feel like “refuges” as opposed to “wouldn’t it be nice” statements.

“Because Satan seeks to distance us from God by distorting all of his wonderful attributes, it’s essential for abuse survivors to clarify who God really is (p. 172).” Steven R. Tracy in Mending the Soul

God is Near to Those Who Are Suffering

There is a danger in reading our Bibles in search for God’s answer to trauma. It begins to make God feel like an absentee father; as if all he offers us is a letter in the mail. A letter would mean both that God cared and that he was far away. This would be both encouraging and disheartening; God’s words would seem sincere but powerless. This is why we must pay careful attention to the thing God most repeats and we most overlook when he speaks about depression-anxiety.

Read I Peter 5:6-9 and Philippians 4:5-9. The most neglected aspect of both of these passages is the nearness of God. We come to these passages seeking God’s “answer” for the thing that causes us to be afraid. As we search for principles and practical steps, we miss that the first and main thing God offers is himself. When we doubt or rush past God’s presence, we begin to expect knowledge to accomplish what only relationship can provide. Yes, God does offer us strategies and truths to combat effects of trauma, but these are not the first and most important things he offers.

Pause and ask yourself, where have you seen evidence of the nearness of God? Don’t short-circuit the question with; “if God were near, then the trauma would not have happened.” This criterion blinds us to all of God’s care. We become like the children who cannot receive any of their parent’s love or care after an event that damaged their trust. The response may be understandable, but it makes the damage of mistrust permanent.

Question: As you reflect on the evidences of God’s nearness, how can you calls these to mind during hard times?

Our Pioneer

People who have experienced trauma want to know that someone has been where they are and come out on the other side. Has anyone known this level of betrayal, pain, and rejection? If so, can I learn from their example? Even better, could I draw from their strength and find a way to be infused with their victory? These kinds of questions are generally met with an awkward smirk that communicates “wouldn’t it be nice.” But the answer to these questions is, “Yes!” The answer to these questions is, “That is what the gospel is all about.”

“[Jesus] is a Man of Sorrows and intimate with grief. He was left alone, regarded with contempt. He is scarred for all eternity. His suffering has left its tracks across his face. His hands and feet carry marks of the violence done to him. He was afflicted, struck, crushed, stripped, and oppressed. Suffering does that, you know; it leaves its mark over those who must endure (p. 31)… Jesus was storming the gates of hell even while he bowed himself to our finitude and brokenness (p. 57).” Diane Langberg in Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse

God pioneered the road you are traveling. It was an impossible road before His God-man feet cleared the path you are struggling to walk. By His grace, we have in the gospel both the map and the resources by which to travel it. As you find yourself wanting to give up or wondering if it’s possible, reflect on what it was like to walk this road with no forerunner carrying the weight of the world’s sin. Don’t use that image to discount your struggle, but to grow in appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice. Your experience should magnify your understanding of what Jesus did. What Jesus did doesn’t minimize what you’re going through.

Read Hebrews 12:1-3. Notice it says to “consider” Christ “so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (v. 3).” What does it say you should consider in order to gain this encouragement? Part of the reflection is that Jesus walked “despising the shame (v. 2)” of his journey. Jesus really did walk the road you are on. He has carried the weight alone and offers to share your load with you (Mathew 11:28-30). In this way, the summary of how the gospel ministers to sin is the same as the summary of how the gospel ministers to suffering – Jesus in my place.

Question: What encouragement do you take from knowing that Jesus was your victorious pioneer on this difficult road?

Capable of Transforming Suffering

We often think that transformation requires elimination. We want the transformation of our traumatic experience to result in the elimination of symptoms related to our trauma. This is not a bad desire, but it would require removing this experience from our story (the impossibility of rewriting history) rather than redeeming the presence of the trauma within our story.

We think of the elimination model of transformation because it is most common in our experience. We see it when a water droplet is transformed to vapor; the droplet no longer exists. But God’s transformation of suffering is usually much more like the change in our memories of a loved one during grief. These memories transform from experiences of pain to precious treasures (that may still evoke sadness).

The memory of our trauma will never have the sweetness of our memories of a loved one who has passed, but this example does provide of us an example of something painful that has been transformed without being eliminated and helps us remember that the presence of pain does not mean the absence of God’s redemptive work in our suffering.

Read Hebrews 11:13-16. Notice this awkward interlude in the midst of Hebrews 11, a chapter commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith.” We would say that God worked mightily in the life of each of these individuals. They are the upper echelon heroes of the Bible. But also notice that the cliff notes-highlights we read from their life are not the same as their experience of these events. Their experience of following God by faith is much more similar to your experiencing of trusting God in the midst and aftermath of trauma than you might have thought.

Question: How does the idea of transformation without elimination change your expectations of what it would mean for God to work redemptively in your traumatic experience?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.