The Theology of Trauma

I have been working on my doctorate, and, perhaps in an act of gracious divine prodding, for the past few months I have been focusing on theology and trauma. I’ve been reading stories about various types of trauma—from kidnapped victims and victims of sexual assault to those suffering from illnesses, grief, and various forms of loneliness. Two weeks ago, I was rather tired of reading about all these stories. I wished I had picked a happier subject. Today, I am grateful I have with me the voices of past Christians who were wrestling with trauma as I try to process the current world around me.
I have found two things to be true in all the different things I have read. First, frankly, it sucks. Trauma, whatever kind of trauma, is hard. It is painful, uncomfortable, and can feel like despair. We have lost so many things in the midst of everything that is going on. People have lost loved ones. People have lost their health, and their livelihoods. This is terrible. I am heartbroken for all those who have lost people during this time, and for all those fearing losses to come. I worry about my family and friends back in Colorado, and I grieve that I am separated from them.
This is an unusual time, because it is not only people we have lost - we have also lost the ability to come together in this loss. Funerals can’t be held like they would have been. We cannot gather to hug those grieving. We can’t even visit some of those we love. This loss of connection is a trauma in itself. The loss of celebration is, too. Weddings, graduations, parties, and even just regular social times have all had to shift or be canceled. This, too, is a trauma. It sucks.
So, I turn to God in this trauma. Because God also suffers. God suffers with us, cries with us, agrees with us that this sucks. While reading Shelly Rambo’s book on theology and trauma, she talks a lot about the wounds of Christ. She reminds us that his wounds remained after his resurrection. His trauma was not erased or forgotten. She also mentions that his crucifixion was not his only trauma. Jesus wept at the death of a friend. He was lonely. He was frustrated. God participated in human life through the Incarnation, completely taking on humanity and experiencing even the worst of it. God did this so that we could know God better. When Thomas doubted the resurrection, Jesus guided him to look at his wounds, to even touch them. Jesus did not cover over or erase his suffering.
And so, in this, I am reminded of the second point I see in all the theologies of trauma. That while this sucks, God’s work is restorative. God, in infinite love, focuses that love on us. While this does not mean there is no suffering (a whole theology lesson in itself!), it does mean we are not alone in our trauma. In love, we can be restored, not to our former selves, but instead we can be more loving. We can be God’s love in the world.
This time will be hard, and it will likely not be our only time of suffering. But the restorative work of God continues. Rambo talks about Christ’s appearances after his resurrection:
The power of these resurrection appearances lies in their ability to offer a vision of wounds that turn us to the world in a particular way. Without an appeal to the seductive pull of promised endings, they can turn us to life in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties. This is not weak or ambiguous theology. It is sustaining theology that probes the capacities and readiness of communities to hold pain and to stay with difficult truths.[1]
We do not know how this trauma will end, or how much we will lose. But we do know that God is with us, allowing us to love the world as God loves the world, ushering in a restoration of the wounds. Let us come together (virtually!) to grieve, comfort, and then work toward a restored world.
[1] Rambo, Resurrecting Wounds, 150.

Written by Kristy Whaley, who is part of SCM Glasgow.