This article is by Dave Dunham and published by the Biblical Counseling Coalition
Trauma destroys in such profound ways that the notion that Jesus can help sometimes feels empty. It is important to be specific about what Jesus does. Jesus can help us face trauma by offering three key elements: compassion, comfort, and solidarity.
Jesus Offers Compassion
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites the weary-souled to come to Him. We read,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In this text, we see the compassion of our Lord. He understands that trauma is an unbearable burden, that it is “heavy.” Trauma carries with it cognitive, emotional, social, physiological, and even spiritual weight. Jesus is not naive or blind to the damage done by trauma, and He nowhere suggests that it is an illusion or sin to carry this weight. Instead, He invites sufferers to come.
He invites them to rest. This is the elusive desire of the soul in the midst of traumatic memories. Victims of trauma live with internal pains. Sleep—the one thing that should give a respite from the pain—can itself become an absolute terror. Here, Jesus holds out hope that rest is still possible.
Jesus also teaches. This is a unique form of psychoeducation. He invites those who suffer to learn from Him. This education, however, also involves a “yoke.” “Take my yoke upon you,” He says. A yoke is a heavy burden worn by cattle. That means that overcoming trauma is going to involve hard work. Yet, Jesus assures us that He will make this “yoke” light. This teacher is gentle. He tells us Himself, “I am gentle.” His personality and approach will make all of this work “light” in comparison to the current experiences. You will not be re-traumatized by this gentle healer.
Jesus Offers Comfort
Luke 24:13-33 describes the shock of the disciples in the aftermath of the cross. It also describes the means by which Jesus comforts the traumatized. Jesus reveals Himself through the Scriptures as one who brings comfort to victims of trauma.
There is no simple formula for overcoming trauma. Its complexity requires many different tools and skills in order to heal. One frequently overlooked tool is that of connecting afresh with God. Experiencing God’s redeeming grace is crucial for healing.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus are in shock when Jesus appears to them; they cannot even recognize His face. They are still feeling the ramifications of watching their beloved leader crucified. The text tells us that they “stood still, looking sad” (v. 17). They are equally confused by the empty tomb and cannot process the testimony of those who witnessed its vacancy (vv. 21-24). All of these factors play a part in “keeping their eyes from recognizing” Jesus (v. 16).
Jesus begins to reveal Himself. He gives clarity about the death of Christ and the resurrection, showing them God’s hand, even in this traumatic event (vv. 25-27). God uses even traumatic events to do amazing things. No trauma is more powerful than His grace. Because of Christ, we believe that healing can come to the vilest of situations and the most wounded of hearts. Jesus adds to their comfort by staying with them (vv. 28-30). It is in this moment of fellowship, in the breaking of bread, that their eyes are opened (vv. 30-31).
Jesus reveals Himself in a simple but powerful act of breaking bread. The reader is directed to the scene of Christ’s last Passover meal. During that meal, He broke bread, saying, “This is my body which is given for you.” Jesus reveals Himself, and His love for the disciples, by reminding them of the purpose of the cross. The cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s love, and it is to this event that Jesus wants to draw their attention. The victim of trauma can look to Christ and find comfort in a God who loves them deeply.
Jesus has been revealing Himself slowly. The disciples note that the more time they spent with Jesus, the greater their “hearts burned within.” Reading Scripture, praying to God, or meditating on the gospel will not necessarily bring some sort of immediate relief. The wounds of trauma are deep, and much must be done to heal from the past. Yet, the longer we spend time with Christ and the Scriptures, the more comfort and reassurance we can feel.
Jesus Offers Solidarity
Those who have suffered from trauma are tempted to think that they are alone. Jesus, however, can sympathize with the trauma victim. Christ not only experienced trauma, but He bears the wounds of His suffering eternally as a means of demonstrating solidarity with sufferers.
Jesus’ suffering was intense. He knows not only the physical pain of trauma but also the psychological stress of an impending threat. In the Garden, anticipating the crucifixion, He sweats drops of blood (Luke 22:44). The sufferer of trauma has far more in common with their Savior than they might think. Yet, Jesus did not merely suffer the impact of trauma in the past; in His resurrected body, He has chosen to maintain the scars (John 20:26-29).
It’s fascinating that Jesus chose to keep these scars in His post-resurrected state. He could have risen from the grave with a perfectly whole and unmarred flesh. Instead, He chose to keep these visible wounds as a means of connecting with us. When Thomas struggles to believe the resurrection, the wounds of Jesus are an invitation for Thomas to come closer. “Touch me,” the Lord says. Jesus bears these wounds in order to communicate that He understands our sufferings. He bears the marks of His trauma so that the victim of trauma would find solidarity with their Savior.
There are many things that victims will need to work through in the process of healing and recovery. One vital element is support. This certainly must involve safe friends and family and trained counselors. Yet, we should not discount the amazing power of divine support. Jesus is “God with us,” Immanuel. He knows about the impact of trauma, and He cares about the wounds of the victim. Look to Jesus.