“Our church doesn’t need training for PTSD counseling: we aren’t in a military community.”
This statement betrays a faulty understanding of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). More importantly, it demonstrates a poor understanding of the world. While there are legitimate reasons for equating PTSD with military life, the reality is that trauma occurs everywhere, not just on the battlefield. Not only is trauma everywhere in the world, it is also all throughout the pages of Scripture. This truth gives us hope that God has given answers to address the aftermath of deep, dark wickedness in this world.
Think with me for a moment about all the ways trauma invades our lives. Military combat immediately comes to mind. Police shootings are often next in line. But think about all the other traumatic events people witness: murder investigation, violent crimes, car accidents. Naturally that brings to mind first responders like firefighters and EMTs. What about the victims and others who require first responders?
These merely scratch the surface of manmade trauma. Think about all the trauma that occurs without human causation. Natural disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes, massive storms, and floods strike regularly.
Caring for Believers
All of this trauma affects us. The APA (American Psychological Association) reports that 8.7% of the U.S. population will experience PTSD. That means nearly 1 in 10 Americans will have severe negative reactions to traumatic events in their lives. When you look at populations of people who are more likely to be exposed to trauma (veterans, first responders, etc.), the prevalence rates of PTSD increase to 30-50%. That is between 1 out of every 3 and 1 out of every 2 people.
Churches in America should realize that for every 100 people in a church, it is likely that around 10 of those people wrestle with some level of post traumatic stress. Churches in areas where populations are at a greater risk of exposure to traumatic events (near military installations, prison communities, high crime neighborhoods, places with a history of natural disasters, or places where manmade disasters have occurred, such school shootings, bombings, and racially motivated crimes) should expect to see even more trauma issues.
Traumas in the Bible
Recall with me just a smattering of the traumas described in the Bible. Right out of the gate, we learn that the first child born to Adam and Eve murders his brother. What do you think that was like for Eve? Skip ahead and a worldwide flood obliterates almost every living being from the earth. Did you ever wonder how that would impact those who remained? Ever consider a connection between that and Noah’s drunkenness recorded in Genesis 9? What about the killing of all the Israelite children in Egypt? The military conquests and defeats Israel faced in the Old Testament? Think of specific warriors like Samson, Saul, and David.
Next time you read the psalms, remember that many were penned by a man who shed gallons of blood and mutilated some of the bodies of his dead enemies. Recall Jonah’s attempted suicide. Jeremiah’s persecution. The Roman occupation of Israel and Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus. Then reflect on the greatest trauma ever inflicted on a human being: the illegal torture and execution of our Savior.
Caring for Believers through the Lens of the Cross
Focusing on all the trauma in life is depressing, but ignoring it leads to other problems. We need to see trauma the way God does—through the lens of the cross. As I mentioned, the crucifixion of Jesus was the most horrendous trauma ever enacted by men on a man. But the other side of the coin is that God ordained that pinnacle of trauma to be the catalyst of the greatest good in all history—the redemption of His children.
Scripture tells us as the cross brings about redemption, so the sufferings of His people bring about various goods. That is why James can instruct us to count it all joy when we encounter various trials (James 1:2–4). Romans 5:3–5 tells us that we can “rejoice” or “exult” in our sufferings because of the work that God brings about through them. Paul encourages Christians by reminding us that God is transforming us into Christ-likeness through all things in life, including trauma (Romans 8:28–30).
Healing and Restoration in the Cross
The cross of Jesus Christ offers great hope. It offers hope for eternal healing and restoration of sinful people to their loving God. It also offers hope of healing and restoration to those afflicted by trauma.
Next time you are tempted to believe that PTSD is not an issue in your church, think again. Trauma is everywhere. But do not dismay: offer hope and healing to those who have experienced great suffering. You can care for believers by pointing them to the Bible and it’s Author, who endured the greatest suffering of anyone.
This article cannot fully equip you to deal with PTSD, but it can bring awareness to the prevalence of this reality and the fact that God’s Word addresses it. Learn more about a conference a colleague and I gave to equip people for this challenging problem. You can also find helpful resources to address many other problems of life with God’s Word at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website.
American Psychiatric Association and DSM-5 Task Force, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013), 276.