Trust God to Be Present

When we experience extreme suffering, we have many needs, both physical and spiritual. But our deepest need is to find rest and security in the One who created us in His image and redeems us in Jesus. He alone knows all our sufferings, and he cares more deeply for us than anyone else does.

We will never understand everything there is to know about trauma or the effects of extreme suffering on ourselves or another person who we may want to help. But Scripture forms a framework for a theology of trauma, if you will, a theology of suffering through which we can see God’s redeeming grace.

Our Working Definition

Trauma may be defined as extreme suffering that affects the whole person—body and soul—which happened in the past but follows us into the present. Last week, we went deeper into this definition. If you missed that message then you should listen to it sometime this week. You can find it here. Again, my goal is to shine the light of Scripture on trauma, so that we may discern reality and discover the hope, comfort, and soul-healing found ultimately in Jesus—the suffering Savior.

What Trauma Is Not

Here are four clarifications:

  • Trauma is not a catch-all term for anything painful. If everything is traumatic, then nothing is traumatic.

Not everyone responds to extreme suffering the same way. For example, we all know people who served in the armed forces, were involved in conflict, and lived normal, productive lives. The human spirit is remarkably resilient. The Greatest Generation, for example, commonly refers to those Americans who were born in the 1900s through the 1920s. The Greatest Generation members lived through the Great Depression and many of them fought in World War II. Some people respond to extreme suffering with an indomitable spirit, while it crushes others. There are multiple reasons for different responses. But, for now, let’s acknowledge the overuse of the term trauma.

  • Trauma is not a new identity that defines you.

We are never so overcome by our suffering that we permanently become a victim. In Christ, we receive a new identity which is not bound to this world but seated in the heavenly places with him. In Christ, we can be redeemed and progressively restored to spiritual wholeness. In Christ, we are new creatures who are progressively being made whole again.

I appreciate the gentle caution provided by biblical counselor and former military servant Curtis Solomon. Though his book is written to those affected by extreme suffering, and is entitled, I Have PTSD, he explains why he prefers dropping the D from the acronym, in favor of the term post-traumatic stress. He gives two reasons.

  1. First, adding the word disorder to post-traumatic stress can communicate that you, the sufferer, are disordered—that you are somehow weaker, or lesser than others. Many people who are diagnosed with PTSD feel like something is inherently wrong with them. They worry they are weak, freakish, broken, or abnormal.
  2. Second, the disorder language tends to communicate that PTSD is a medical problem or disease. Some mental health care professionals will even say things like this: “You have PTSD, and there is no known cure.” But this robs those who are suffering of hope, making them believe they are trapped in that horrifying state and there is nothing to be done about it. Importantly, this conception of PTSD is rooted in a worldview that accepts that the physical world is all there is. If people are just physical bodies as that implies, then when something goes wrong there must be a biological cause behind it. There certainly is a physiological component to PTS…but you and I are more than bodies.

As we learned last week, Scripture teaches that we are embodied souls. We are not merely a body. And we are not merely a soul. Together, we are embodied souls. God has provided physicians to care for our body. My calling as a pastor, on the other hand, is to be a physician of the soul. Therefore, let me assure you that when Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you have the fullness of the Spirit who employs God’s Word and God’s people to restore your soul and gradually remake you into the image of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). He is rebuilding and reorienting your inner person according to the grace of Christ (Col. 3:10).

  • Trauma is not so unique to you that it builds an unscalable wall between you and others who can help you.

Curtis Solomon warns: “[S]ome people use their difficult pasts as reasons they cannot grow and change or as shields to keep people at a distance.” (p. 29). As a pastor, I have seen this too often over the years. When a person habitually looks to secular help for their soul struggles, they become emotional prisoners. Their personal feelings and experiences become so enthroned they believe no one can truly relate to them. “You can’t help me because you haven’t been through what I’ve been through. You can’t possibly understand.”

This is nothing less than cloaked arrogance that feeds isolation, which then feeds more arrogance. It is a vicious cycle that produces a person who is impervious to receiving any counsel that does not affirm their feelings. Yet Christ sets us free from bondage to our past when we humbly come to him. And God provides help and healing through the biblical community of the church—a place where honest confession of sin and weakness open the door to the help we need when we are in extreme suffering. In a biblical church, we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we weep with those who weep (Rom. 5:3; 12:15). And we walk through the fog of life together, clinging to God and his Word.

  • Trauma is not a new category of suffering previously foreign to human experience and, therefore, untouched by Scripture or unfamiliar to Jesus.

Scripture is brutally honest about the horrific evils that are part of this world because of man’s original sin. Therefore, we can take some comfort in knowing we are not the first generation to suffer trauma. In light of 1 Corinthians 10:13, you can also take comfort in the fact that there is no trial or temptation you face that is completely unique to you. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted or tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it and walk in biblical faithfulness. And, if you are a Christian, then you have a Savior who is also your emphathetic high priest. Jesus understands your pain.

Psalm 22 gives voice to our indescribable pain, intermingled with faith and hope. Christopher Ash explains: “This psalm takes us on an emotional journey. This is why the people of God have sung it again and again down the ages” (p. 50). We often fail to remember that the Old Testament book of Psalms was Jesus’s hymnbook. These are the songs he sang. Jesus sang Psalm 22 for many years before he lived it out in his suffering and crucifixion.

God is always present with you when trouble is near, and you feel alone.

In verses 11-19, we see three more movements of the soul that is wrestling with God through extreme suffering.

  1. Call on God to draw near to you (vv. 11-13).
  2. Confess your weakened state to God (vv. 14-18).
  3. Count on the help of God’s presence (vv. 19-21).

When we are overcome by extreme suffering we must learn to live by faith, not feelings. When God seems far away, we choose to remember that he indeed is near—very near to all who call on him (Ps. 145:18). The Puritan pastor, Richard Sibbes, compels us to trust in the promised presence of God instead of our unsteady feelings and unreliable perceptions.

Christ knew that God is nearest in support when he is furthest off in feeling. Often, where he is nearest the inward man, to strengthen it with his love, he is furthest off in comfort to outward sense. To whom was God nearer than Christ in support and grace and yet to whom was he further off in outward sense when Christ was on the cross? Christ had the secret sense of God, knowing that he was his Father, but he did not have the sensible sense of God’s love. This should teach us in any trouble to set faith to work and feed faith with the consideration of God’s unchangeable nature, and the unchangeableness of his promises, which endure forever. We change, but God’s promises change not, and God changes not. ‘The word of the Lord endures forever’ (1 Pet. 1:25). God deals with his people in a hidden manner; he supports with secret, though not always with sensible comfort, and will be nearest when he seems to be furthest from his children.

Refreshment for the Soul, p. 82


Watch the entire service here.

Print this entry