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Trauma: How the Church Can Heal Soul Wounds

Faith communities provide space to lament and compassion in suffering.
Trauma: How the Church Can Heal Soul Wounds
Image: Pixabay/skeeze

Trauma knows no boundaries.

People of all ethnicities, social economic status, ages, and religions experience trauma. With a world filled with trauma, it is clear that the government, mental health practitioners, and psychologists are unable to meet the millions in need of trauma healing.

One “organization” in the world situated to respond to trauma is the church. But is the church prepared? Is she willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses?

Some of these responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.

What Is Trauma?

A person may become traumatized after experiencing an event or series of events that overwhelm their capacity to cope. These experiences include actual or threats to physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual well-being. The adverse reactions impact not only the person but also their relationships.

Trauma disrupts faith and spiritual connection to God. It is this particular wound of the heart that is the focus of this blog post.

Trauma Wounds the Soul and Creates Barriers to the Gospel

Pastor Kevin Brown shares, in Exodus 6 we learn that Moses received a clear message from God that the Hebrew slaves were about to be freed from 400 years of captivity. Soon, they would have their own land. Moses faithfully delivered the message but verse 9 gives us a stunning response: “Moses told [the good news of their deliverance] to the Israelites, but they would not listen to him, because their spirit had been broken by their cruel slavery.”

Trauma shatters our faith. It shatters beliefs about God and leaves us questioning all that we ever knew or thought about the goodness of God. We doubt his love; we doubt his power; we doubt our lovability.

We wonder, “If God loves me, why did he let this happen?”

Doubts often lead to distorted beliefs becoming the norm. We believe that God must not exist, that we are being punished, and that we are shameworthy.

Jesus Came to Heal

Luke 4 records Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth to read from the Scriptures. He reads from Isaiah 61 as a completed prophecy about his identity and calling to heal those with broken hearts:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.

His public proclamation of the Gospel includes the healing of the oppressed and freedom for captives—especially those imprisoned by trauma.

Does Faith Facilitate Trauma Healing?

Trauma impacts every part of a person—both body and spirit. While we have effective medical and psychological interventions to treat the effects of trauma, treatment that ignores faith is likely to delay recovery. Like Job, most survivors of trauma develop spiritual struggles—questions about meaning and the goodness of God.

When faith communities invite victims to give voice to their pain and their complaints, speaking enables those trapped in silence to find freedom and connection with other fellow sufferers.

In addition, the discovery that God invites these complaints—laments—and provides language to shape our complaints (e.g. Psalm 13, 22, 88, etc.) often helps wounded people regain a connection with God himself.

Early results of a large multinational study of participants in healing groups where share their stories with fellow members and participate in expressing their pain to God through laments indicate that significant healing is possible.

Healing in Jails, Prisons, and Youth Detentions

Places outside the church where you will find a high percentage of people who have experienced trauma are jails, prisons and youth detentions.

Between 78-97% of women and 75% of men in the U.S. have experienced trauma prior to incarceration. A study of youth in detention found that over 90% of youth had experienced at least one trauma, 84% experienced more than one trauma, and over 55% reported being exposed to trauma six or more times.[1]

One solution for meeting the high number of those in need of trauma recover is to build an army of capable Christ-followers through The Healing the Wounds of Trauma program developed by The Trauma Healing Institute. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples, and provides simple yet effective care responses laypersons can enact without being professional caregivers.

The Institute for Prison Ministries at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College is partnering with the Trauma Healing Institute to offer training for ministry workers, churches, and organizations serving the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. For more information, visit www.prisoninstitute.com

Let’s do all we can to remove doubts and distorted beliefs survivors of trauma have about God so they can receive the healing power of the gospel.

Dr. Karen Swanson is Director of the Institute for Prison Ministries at the Billy Graham Center.

Dr. Philip G. Monroe is Director of Training and Materials for the Trauma Healing program at the American Bible Society.

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