Scripture can be interpreted differently depending on one’s lens. Trauma is one such lens that powerfully dominates the interpretation and understanding of God’s character and the implications of scripture. Jones quickly realizes that what is a typical church tradition in her congregation, hearing the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, elicited fears so daunting and traumatizing to her friend that she had to leave. This powerful story reminds us that part of the role of church leaders, pastors, and ministers is caring for congregants struggling with trauma and/or mental illness. Caring for this population of congregants should include ministering to them in a way so they too can experience God’s love and redemption. Congregations have a wide variety of resources to draw upon, including scripture, to foster care for depressed and traumatized individuals.
Churches strive to be safe places for individuals and families struggling with loss, grief, trauma, or mental illness. However, they do not always take the appropriate measures to demonstrate they care. People struggling with mental illness or trauma may have trouble receiving messages of God’s love and grace, or messages about the significance of hope and redemption. Instead, they may feel as if God is mad at them and they may feel guilty or isolated as a result of these feelings. Congregations can respond by helping survivors of trauma and mental illness embrace new imaginations using the psalms. Serene Jones demonstrates how the psalms bring “to light sorrows and fears hidden away in ‘lurking places.’ Speaking the unspeakable. Giving language to a heart whose pain has made it speechless.” (51)
The psalms of lament are particularly powerful for individuals struggling with trauma and/or mental health. Psalms of lament do not guarantee everything will be fine or convey a better plan from God; rather, they capture the raw emotion behind trauma and use the language of the traumatized. The psalms of lament give trauma survivors and the mentally ill the opportunity to embrace the healing power of grace by “accepting the promise that God has made to be ever present to them in their suffering and, in being present, to redeem and transform their plight as they stand ‘groaning’ before the Divine” (52). God acts as the witness to their pain and embraces their brokenness. Imagery depicting God’s open arms and receptive ears penetrates the hearts of traumatized survivors and instills a sense of peace that imagines a God who is safe and a God who knows and holds the pain of their trauma. Psalmists articulate God’s promises for individual deliverance and embrace prayer as the mode in which God acknowledges pain worthy of being lamented and mourned.
Congregations can also care for survivors of trauma and mental illness by highlighting Biblical narratives of hope through sermons. In Mark, there is an encounter between Jesus and a man with an “unclean spirit”. The story begins in Mark 1:21, where Jesus is in Capernaum and begins teaching in the synagogue. He sees a man in the crowd who has an “unclean spirit” and immediately orders the spirit to depart from the man’s body. The interaction portrays Jesus as a compassionate teacher who pursues people who are struggling. Jesus reaches out, listens, and shows compassion to individuals struggling with mental illness. He prioritizes this man’s needs in the church that Sabbath morning over anyone else’s. Mark’s narrative of Jesus casting out the unclean spirit reassures trauma survivors that they are not forgotten nor alone in their suffering, but are heard by God who deeply cares for them and loves them.
Emotionally and spiritually healthy congregations seek to care for groups who are hurting because of trauma and/or mental illness. Churches have the unique opportunity to care for children and adults who have encountered trauma and/or mental illness. They are specially equipped with Bible passages to surround the traumatized with support. Psalms of lament or Biblical narratives of hope are ways for church leaders to enter into the dark places where survivors of trauma and mental illness stand and offer words of hope and healing to their circumstances.
Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World. Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Print.
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