By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
The Christian’s response to trauma challenges us like few other aspects of our faith. In the aftermath of tragedy, we may wonder how God could allow such suffering. We may doubt God’s existence. We may blame Him for our pain.
What we must remember is that in every situation, God is present, even when it does not seem so, said Ian Jones, professor of psychology and counseling and Baptist Community Ministries’ Chair of Pastoral Counseling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Consider the example of Paul and Silas, Jones said. In Acts 16, they are beaten, falsely charged and tossed into an Ephesian jail. Even in those bleak circumstances, what are Paul and Silas doing? Singing.
“In a secular context, that doesn’t make sense,” Jones said. “A secular counselor would say, ‘Paul, you have a disconnect. The last thing you should be doing is singing.’ But in that response, we begin to understand that God is working in that situation, in every situation, to bring His peace and presence.”
In his book “The Counsel of Heaven on Earth: Foundations for Biblical Christian Counseling” (B&H 2006), Jones examines one of the most traumatic events in Christian history — the crucifixion — and finds that those nearest to Jesus reacted in a variety of ways to the traumatic events they witnessed, including:
- Confusion. The disciples deserted Jesus and fled from the scene in fear.
- Denial. Peter denied Jesus three times.
- Anguish and Mourning. The believers who gathered at the cross cried out in their pain and despair.
- Repentance. One of the thieves acknowledged his sins and recognized Jesus’ innocence.
There were other responses as well. The first thief mocked Jesus. Judas committed suicide. The disciples on the road to Emmaus needed to talk through their intellectual and theological questions. Others sought solace in nature — they went fishing. Joseph of Arimathea responded in a very practical way — he took care of the funeral arrangements. Mary experienced secondary trauma as she sought the missing body. In each situation, Jesus responded by meeting the individual where they were.
“Jesus shows Mary His resurrected body. He comes alongside those on the road to Emmaus and beginning in Genesis shares all the passages that refer to what was going to happen,” Jones said. “To Thomas, who needed to touch, He insists that he touch.”
The personal response to suffering is one God used in response to the first biblical trauma — the fall — when God’s first words to Adam are “Where are you?”
“It’s a location question: Where are you in relation to me? In each case, His presence gives them a purpose and a hope,” Jones said.
Just as there are different responses to trauma, there are different approaches to counseling. Often, a traumatized individual needs a multi-leveled response, Jones said. Consider Elijah, who overcomes the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel and then immediately receives a death threat from Jezebel.
“Elijah flees — there’s a trauma there,” Jones said. “God has just taken care of everything and now Elijah is acting like God is not present at all.”
When God comes to Elijah, the first thing He does is respond to his physical need — He feeds him. Then He addresses Elijah’s spiritual and intellectual issues, Jones said.
“God comes as a comforting presence in the wind and corrects Elijah’s thinking by assuring him that he is not alone,” Jones said. “God identifies specific things He is going to supply for him. In the valley of the shadow, God is the shepherd who leads him out. We see multiple levels of response here.”
Because we live in a broken world, suffering is part of the human experience, Jones said, including the suffering of innocents.
“One day we will understand more fully but we may not this side of heaven,” he said. “What we do understand is that God understands pain and suffering and trauma — He experienced it as incarnate God.”
“To bring that kind of comfort is extremely important,” Jones said. “God is a loving God who can say, ‘I know. I understand.’”