A Christian counselor on how Scripture keeps score—and the help we find beyond its pages.
People used to avoid discussing their trauma, eager not to reopen old wounds or expose their vulnerabilities. Not so anymore. Survivors recount horrific experiences and bring up trauma language in everyday conversations—even with strangers on Twitter.
This shift in how we talk about the painful things we’ve been through may be uncomfortable for some, especially those not used to considering the pervasive nature of trauma. But psychologist Diane Langberg captures well what we perceive as Christians: “Trauma is the mission field of our time.”
As a counselor and seminary professor, I get asked about what it means to be “trauma-informed” as society increasingly recognizes the enduring impact that traumatic situations can have upon people. Survivors are interested in “trauma-informed” therapists, counselors, and materials because such a term offers hope that there may be something that was missing from other forms of care. Other well-meaning individuals find the term puzzling, wondering if it is simply a buzzword of the day. For Christians, another question quickly spirals out from there: Is the Bible trauma informed?
I’m grateful the men and women of the church are asking these kinds of questions. As Christians, we want first and foremost to be biblical, and asking some variant of “What hath the Bible to do with trauma?” safeguards us from over-spiritualizing or under-spiritualizing trauma.
The Bible as a record of trauma
Let’s start by defining trauma. Broader and narrower definitions exist, each with their own merit, but trauma generally constitutes a reaction to the extreme stress caused by the threat of severe harm. If someone asks whether the Bible recognizes and records these kinds of traumatic events, we quickly see that the pages of Scripture are weighed down by all kinds of them.
Who can forget the brutal sexual violence suffered by women like Dinah (Gen. 34) or Tamar (2 Sam. 13)? Who cannot feel parental horror as infants and toddlers are killed by power-hungry, paranoid rulers (Ex. 1–2, Matt. 2)?
David’s intense rage radiates from Psalm 52 as he stares into Doeg’s extermination of the priests and their families at Nob (1 Sam. 22). Perhaps most strikingly, the prophet’s deep grief pours out from Lamentations as he looks at the mangled bodies of children—dead from starvation, the swords of the enemy, and the unimaginable hunger of their parents.
Our holy book is full of terribly unholy things. It is no stranger to the deep depths of human suffering, and this is a good thing. If the Bible did not capture the deepest, blackest, vilest sorrows that can befall people, we could not be certain that its true and precious promises apply to such situations. It’s one thing to affirm, “The Lord is my shepherd” when the sky is bright and you sit in a church composed of firm stone and majestic beauty. It’s another to affirm it when you’re tending to a nation full of women who have suffered from the rape-as-weapon assaults of a cruel army (Lam. 5:11).
But promises like “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18) and “Even though I walk through the darkest valley … you are with me” (Ps. 23:4) stand alongside the most grim and awful human situations. Trauma is not a category of human experience that places someone outside of God’s vision, God’s care, and God’s promises. There is nothing we can do or nothing that can happen to us that places us beyond the horizon of God’s help.
Other times, however, when someone’s asking if the Bible is trauma informed, they are wondering if the Bible speaks everything we need to know to offer the best care available. It’s as though they’re saying, “We use the Bible, so we are automatically trauma informed.”