The first words of Alwyn Lau’s “Saved By Trauma” essay remind us that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation and center point for all of Christianity.§ Without the cross, there is no Christian faith.
The Christian faith is centered around the historical trauma of the suffering, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christian theological reflection starts from and eventually relates back to the work of Christ. Indeed, for some theologians, the resurrection points back to and affirms the cross. The apostle Paul’s declaration that the Christian pronunciation is essentially “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23) ontologically entrenches trauma, destabilization, and anxiety at the heart of kerygymatic [sic] proclamation. (p.273)
Sit with that last sentence a bit. Christianity is at its core or essence a faith wrapped up in trauma. Yes, there is an all-important resurrection, but a resurrection cannot happen without a traumatic story (false-blame, injustice, torture, abandonment, and death). If Christianity is ANYTHING, then it is a faith that takes seriously the impact of brokenness.
So then, Lau makes an important next point about what a Christian theology should provide:
Theology proffers a distinct vocabulary to talk about personal and interpersonal wounding and trauma; the Christian community approximates a traumatic community. (ibid)
Victims of trauma ought to find great comfort and help from Christian leaders and communities because they observe a community that really gets their experience, both by word and deed.
Are we that community?
Or, are we a bit more like Job’s friends? Consider Lau again,
Job’s friends, in presenting all kinds of explanations for why Job suffered the tragedies he did, were attempting to obscure the trauma of the truth of evil in the world. Job’s disagreement–and God’s eventual vindication and endorsement of his views over against that of his friends–demonstrated resilience in the face of such tempting illusions of closure. Job refused to look away from the void in his pain. He refused to accept cheap solutions to the problem and “causes” of his suffering. (p. 274)
To become a safe community for victims of trauma, we must continue to highlight that God and trauma are put together (albeit willingly) for eternity in the abandonment and death of Jesus on the cross. In this God takes trauma (injustice, torture, and death) into his own being–no longer does it exist in creation. Again in the words of Lau, we need a “theology of Holy Saturday” if we are going to show that “hope can be spoken of only within the context of injustice, negativity, and despair; the joy and the Lordship of Christ takes place in and through sickness, death, and sin.” (ibid)
“If God’s being cannot be comprehended without factoring in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ…” (p. 275) then consider this statement:
“If indeed God suffers in the cross of Jesus in reconciling the world to himself, then there must always be a cross in the experience of God as he deals with a world which exists over against him.” (quote of Paul Fiddes in Lau, p. 275)
God is defined by trauma. But he, unlike creation, is not weakened by this trauma. Rather, Lau encourages us to see that “the God self-revealed and depicted in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a begin who, out of love for the created order, chose the trauma of death as a central facet of God’s self-definition.” (276) In an immeasurable act of love that had been present in God from eternity past, God chooses self-sacrifice to break the power of sin and death. And since this love is not temporal, then neither is God’s character ever without the knowledge and drive to reconcile a people to himself–even through trauma.
So what? What if we really understood God’s experience of trauma?
- The church would follow her head in the care of the most vulnerable even at the cost of her own comfort and safety. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matt 12:20, quote of Isaiah 42:3)
- The church would regularly make room for lament (individual and corporate) as acts of faithful worship. Like Thomas, we need to see the wounds that remain in the risen Christ.
- Hope would be illustrated in her ability to equally cry out about the “not yet” part of God’s present kingdom even while she looks for the “already” present redemption and healing. There is as much hope in Psalm 88 and Lamentation 3 as there is in Revelation 21.
§Lau, A. (2016). Saved by trauma: A psychoanalytical reading of the atonement. Dialog, 55, 273-281.
3 responses to “Is God eternally traumatized?”
I’ll take it a step further, there is a growing realization among theologians today (though not just them) that we cannot limit suffering to the Incarnation of Christ. Because God binds himself to (creatio continua) the creation he has made, he remains invested in the redemption of his creation. This commitment exposes God to suffering–long before Christ hung on a cross.
This is not simple truth, but it is rich truth, which lays a profound foundation for God’s sympathetic engagement with trauma and suffering. Some hear such words and think we are speaking of a weak or impotent God (the terms are impassible vs- passible), one that is buffeted by forces outside himself. Not true, we are speaking of a God who lives in WILLING vulnerability; one who has exposed himself to the grief and pain of his broken and rebellious creation.
Combine the suffering of God (called divine pathos) with the richness of lament, as Phil noted, and we have a God who “stoops with bent ear” to the cries of his people. For more discussion on both topics, see: “The Suffering of God: Compassion in Vulnerability” in Between Pain & Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Moody, 59-82; also “Longing to Lament: Returning to the Language of Suffering,” 103-130.
Thanks Andrew. Glad you took it even further.
It’s a matter of hermeneutics, but I’m going to answer in the affirmative, that God is eternally wounded. Rev. 5:6 portrays the Lamb “standing as though slain.” This is a stunning picture of power redefined in weakness! The Lamb is actually the embodiment of the Lion, not its replacement. Suffering, not force, was key to his victory, and important for the Philadelphian believers to understand–they who had “little power” (Rev. 3:8).
The death of the Passover Lamb was so significant that this sacrificial image was permanently taken up into heaven. According to Peter Hicks, this was “the eternal scaring of God….Somehow, evil in all its forms–sin and suffering and death–has been taken eternally into the Godhead; the marks of slaughter on the Lamb are eternal; there is blood on the throne of heaven” (The Message of Evil & Suffering, 75-76).
Hermeneutically, I think this is more than a sober anthropomorphism. While I don’t think God will be in “eternal PTSD,” he may be the only one present with scars.