Naomi Dunn is International Advocacy Support Officer at the British and Foreign Bible Society.
We live in a traumatised world. Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with images and stories of suffering, conflict and brokenness; a Syrian child sitting in the back of an ambulance, blood running down his face, a dust-covered Italian girl pulled from the rubble of an earthquake, an Indian man carrying his dead wife home over his shoulder. Trauma is visible; we talk about it, tweet about it, but then – all too often – forget about it. The media moves on from Aylan Kurdi to Omran Daqneesh and next week, no doubt, someone else. And if we’re honest, so do we, as the latest story fades into the fabric of everyday life and we carry on. Yet trauma doesn’t just disappear in the same way – it remains long after the spotlight has been turned elsewhere. It can take many, many years, if not someone’s whole life, to recover from trauma.
Trauma is visible; we talk about it, tweet about it, but then – all too often – forget about it.
Key to healing is relationship. Psychiatrist Curt Thompson talks about how, neurologically, humans aren’t designed to function properly alone. Our brains can only make sense of our ‘story’ when we speak it aloud to someone else. It is in the process of being heard that we develop understanding and find meaning in what we’ve been through. As humans, we are intricately connected to each other and this means that trauma is not just personal but shared. Dr Thompson concludes that it is ‘impossible to traumatise a person without traumatising a community, and vice versa’.
Across the world there are countless communities deeply impacted by unresolved trauma. I’ve seen this for myself in Cambodia and South Africa where, though both genocide and apartheid are over, trauma remains. For many, it feels easier to suppress painful memories than to talk about them, or to do so may actually be completely counter-cultural. Yet while it’s possible to function like this, it’s very difficult to flourish. There’s only so far you can go before pain, resentment or shame holds you back. Whole communities can get stuck in a cycle of surviving rather than truly living. Trauma is therefore a public as well as private issue, and this is where Bible advocacy comes in.
The Bible is a unique and powerful instrument in trauma healing. It’s full of stories of God’s people suffering, but it’s also full of revelation about God’s character, his faithfulness and his steadfast love through those times. When people can see parts of their own experience reflected in the characters and events of the Bible, they can see how their story fits into a bigger story – one of purpose and restoration. This, together with the knowledge that God is there with them through their darkest moments, can be incredibly powerful for people trapped in a cycle of hopelessness and fear.
Trauma is therefore a public as well as private issue, and this is where Bible advocacy comes in.
This doesn’t mean that the Bible gives an easy solution for traumatised communities though. In fact it shows us real, messed up people who just like us, struggle, doubt and ask tough questions. Yet God walked with them and didn’t give up, just as he doesn’t with us. This gives legitimacy to the journey of trauma healing as well as the end goal. The concept of lament, for example, is central within biblical trauma healing work – it’s about crying out to God with our pain, telling him our anger, frustration and upset whilst still knowing he’s there, present and listening. Helping people find ways to wrestle with tough questions that hold them back, such as ‘if God loves me, why do I suffer?’ or ‘how can I forgive someone who did this to me?’, is an essential part of the journey and something to be encouraged. It’s not about us giving all of the answers, but walking with people as they engage with the Bible and find the answers for themselves.
All around the world, Bible Societies are bringing together the Bible and best mental health practice to equip the Church to be a safe place for people who have been traumatised. Thousands of volunteers are doing an amazing job in supporting the hurting in their communities, helping them to find hope and healing through the biblical message. It’s not just Christians either, but people of all faiths and none who – through this work – are rebuilding what trauma destroyed.
All around the world, Bible Societies are bringing together the Bible and best mental health practice to equip the Church to be a safe place for people who have been traumatised.
Transforming traumatised communities is not straightforward, but it is possible, and the Bible has a crucial role to play. The question is – what more can we do? How can we make sure that trauma healing is on the table when governments discuss conflict resolution and peace-building? How can we help people to see the Bible as part of the solution? And how can we keep up with the need in an ever more traumatised world?
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