The Traumatic City of the Soul

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In the previous post I mentioned that I believe we sometimes engage in various activities in an attempt to build ourselves some insulation from our fear of God and avoid having to recognize some uncomfortable truths (like our own mortality). However, I believe that we can also build this insulation in a response to trauma.

Trauma brings with it a lot of pain, both emotional and physical (due to a heightened stress response). In an attempt to cope with these feelings someone may very well fall into addiction which can take many forms. We are used to, I think, noticing and calling people out on drug and alcohol addictions. We are not used to noticing, much less calling people out on things like a work addiction. In this specific case if someone is working a lot we are more likely to conclude that they are just a motivated or diligent person. And while this might be the case, it could also be the cause that they are working so much in order to avoid dealing with past hurts.

Before moving any further I suppose that it would be good to define trauma. There is no objective criteria for determing what is and is not traumatic; it’s subjective based on how a person reacts to a certain event or series of events. Typically it involves feelings of confusion, sadness, numbness, anxiety, agitation, and probably several others I’m omitting here. It could potentially lead to PTSD, but not necessarily. So just because you went through something and didn’t find it traumatic doesn’t mean that someone else going through the same experience won’t find it traumatic.

In the specific case of a Christian there is also a tendency, I think, to lash out and blame God and be angry at him for what happened. Now I think this is a perfectly reasonable reaction because if you believe in a loving God who created the universe, sustains it, and orders the events of your life even down to when your hair falls out why wouldn’t you blame him if something traumatic, like sexual abuse happened to you? This period of anger can last for quite a while and can cause all sorts of problems for the Christian, both in regards to their faith and their overall mental health.

Sometimes the belief is held that a Christian should never be sad and that they should always be rejoicing and happy (because they have Jesus!). For one thing this expectation is not laid out anywhere in Scripture. For another, even Jesus himself expressed his distress on the cross (see Matthew 27.46 and Mark 15.34) by quoting Psalm 22.1. Furthermore, about 1/3 of the book of Psalms are what are classified as lament psalms, which expects that people will experience times of sadness and distress. These psalms were written to express a complaint or ask for help in a time of crisis. They are, I think, essentially intended to be models of how to complain to God about something. That model is usually (but not always) something like:

  1. Invocation. This is a cry to God asking for help.
  2. Lament. This is the definition of the crisis.
  3. Petition. The specific request being made to God in order to remedy the situation.
  4. Confidence. A statement of confidence in God and that he will indeed remedy the situation.
  5. Vow to praise God when the crisis is resolved.

You can of course find and pray a specific lament psalm to God if you want, but you could also follow the model above and craft your own. In any case, you are not only permitted to express your distress or anger towards God, but you are in fact encouraged to do so by Scripture itself. It is even okay if you cannot express hope or confidence in the crisis ever being resolved. In fact Psalm 88, a lament psalm, ends with lament and not with an expression of confidence that the situation will be remedied (to my knowledge it is the only lament psalm that ends this way). Even Jesus himself, God in the flesh, experienced distress and expressed his anguish. It is not an unusual experience nor is it an indication of your faith being weak.

The point is, if something traumatic happens don’t ignore your feelings or try to hide them from yourself, from others, or from God. You certainly won’t fool God and you most likely won’t fool others either. Express your feelings to God. Express your feelings to others that you trust. This is not an unusual or unique experience and you are not weak or deficient in faith for experiencing a traumatic event. Not dealing with these feelings can lead to addictive behaviors that can not only destroy your faith, but even your life itself. Don’t let your pain be the reason you build a city in your soul to drown out the voice of God.

Photo by: Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Tom Ferguson ThM 2018, Dallas Theological Seminary