Most of us recognize this acronym by now: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It refers to the serious mental and emotional aftereffects of a highly traumatic event such as warfare, a near death experience, assault, serious illness or significant loss. One suffering from PTSD finds it difficult to move past the trauma. They relive it when something triggers memories of the experience. Their personal relationships are adversely affected; their physical and mental health deteriorate; they suffer from depression and sometimes suicidal urges.
This is not an article on diagnosing or counseling someone with PTSD, for I am not qualified to do so. But I do want to offer one piece of advice: We must daily nurture and strengthen our spiritual health so that we are prepared for trauma.
Life in this evil world sometimes exposes us to horrific, frightening, mentally painful events. This has always been true, and it remains so in spite of our advancements in science, medicine, material abundance and overall quality of life. The explosion of knowledge, technology and individual liberty has not eradicated suffering, natural catastrophe, unexpected calamity or global conflicts. Further, God’s people are not immune to the deleterious effects of a broken, hostile world.
The insightful Christian recognizes the possibility of trauma entering his/her life, but rather than despair they continually reinforce their trust in, love for and devotion to God so that when (not if) it comes, they will not be devastated by it.
Proverbs 24:10 puts it plainly: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But think: If one is strong only when things are easy, is that real strength? If devotion to our spouse is only present in times of harmony, is it real devotion? Satan will test our devotion to God by tragedy, fear and pain. And our faith – and the trust, comfort and joy it fosters – must rise above the affliction of the moment.
We often think about Job post-trauma. We are well aware of the story line: Job is a rich, blessed man who catastrophically suffers the loss of all. He is brutally stripped of his children, possessions, health and the support of his wife – all in a very short time span. Amid the thunderous shock of bad news, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (1:20-22).
The question is: How did Job accept this total decimation of his life without collapsing in agony and bitterly railing against God for His callousness and cruelty? True, in his rebuttals to his friends’ accusations Job expresses consternation at God’s handling of his life and accuses him of treating him unfairly. He accepts his fate from the hand of God though he doesn’t understand it and longs for a conversation with God to set Him straight. But remember: at the end of this struggle God says to Eliphaz: “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has … My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (42:7-8).
So how did Job process his anguish so as to avoid PTSD (a modern definition of residual anguish and anxiety humans have always felt after trauma)? The key is who Job was before he was dealt such a horrible blow.
* He was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil – 1:1
* He offered sacrifice for his children, interceding for their sins – 1:5
* He steadfastly denied great transgression before God – 7:20-21; 16:17
* He was living in close harmony with God – 29:2-6
* He was respected for his wisdom – 29:7-11
* He defended the poor, suffering and diseased – 29:12-16; 31:16-23
* He was just and reproved the wicked – 29:17
* He was a kingly servant to all – 29:21-25
* He was morally upright – 31:1, 9-12
* He was honest in all his dealings – 31:5-8
* He was just toward his servants – 31:13-15
* He was wealthy but not materialistic – 31:24-25
* He was humble toward God – 31:26-28
* He was not vengeful toward his enemies – 31:29-30
* He was hospitable toward strangers – 31:31-32
* He acknowledged his sins – 31:33-34
In other words, Job was a man of great faith, impeccable morals and sincere worship. He was not spiritually shallow, flighty or frivolous. He was rock-solid. God was real to him. He was engaged with his community and living out his convictions in his dealings with them. He was real, genuine and based his life squarely on his beliefs before his trauma came.
Is there not a lesson here for us? In recent times I have observed others experience great pain – things, to be brutally honest, that are just the normal and expected hardships of life on earth. But they often cannot cope; they cannot function; they sometimes abandon their faith in God. They are distressed, depressed and searching for relief in medications and counseling. Or worse, they contemplate or actually commit suicide. We can gloss over this by talking about chemical imbalances, brain rewiring and other psychological theorizing, but I am convinced that they were not as spiritually strong as they should have been from the outset.
Later, when his embittered wife lashed out at his calm resignation, Job replied, “‘Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). Job had a realistic view of life, the good and the bad. Are you prepared for trauma?