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Five Things the Scriptures Teach Us about Trauma and Suffering – By Dr. Matthew S. Stanford
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Five Things the Scriptures Teach Us about Trauma and Suffering – By Dr. Matthew S. Stanford

Five Things the Scriptures Teach Us about Trauma and Suffering – By Dr. Matthew S. Stanford

There are five key truths that the scriptures teach us about trauma and suffering. First, that God is present and in control of our suffering. In times of great suffering and pain, we often feel the farthest from God. Where is He? Has He forgotten me? How could He let this happen? This was also the case in the lives of great men of faith in the Bible. Look at David (Psalm 13:1), Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:8) and Job (Job 9:16). Even Jesus at the height of his pain cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) From our limited human perspective, pain and suffering seem contrary to our idea of a sovereign God who is good and loving. We think that God blinked and wasn’t able to stop this traumatic event or He isn’t really a loving God. We forget that Adam chose to sin and that we live in a fallen world, full of suffering. Suffering should not cause us to question God’s sovereignty, as Job so clearly understood (Job 2:10). God is sovereign despite our circumstances. He created all things and He controls all things (Deuteronomy 4:39; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalms 103:19; Daniel 4:35; Colossians 1:15-17). He allows us to experience the consequences of sin while remaining fully in control of all things including Satan, who can only bring suffering into our lives if God allows it (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31). God is in control of our circumstances, and He wants to transform us into the very image of His Son.

Secondly, we learn from the scriptures that God is good and cares for us. We have all heard this statement, “How could a loving God allow __________?” Fill in the blank with any horribly traumatic event that occurs here on planet Earth. People often use this statement to argue against not only the love of God but also the very existence of God. But God does love us and that is evident in our redemptive history. The creator of the world made a way for disobedient, powerless creatures to come into an eternal relationship with Him. He is patient and gracious. He became one of us (John 3:16) and then sacrificed Himself for us (1 John 3:16). Self sacrifice is the ultimate act of love (John 15:13). God is indeed good and He longs to be in an ever deepening relationship with us.

In James 1:2, we are told to “consider it pure joy” when we go through difficult times. What kind of strange mental gymnastics does God want me to do? I’m supposed to be happy when I’m in pain? No, not at all. Even Jesus was sad when he went through difficult times — at Lazarus’s grave, in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross. The third truth we are called to recognize is that through our trails and suffering we have an opportunity to draw closer to God. During the easy times we often become self-reliant, forgetting our need for God. It is in the hard times, when our faith is tested, that we recognize our need for complete dependency on Him. James tells us that persevering through the difficult times develops a mature and complete faith (James 1:4). We are ever being conformed into the image of Christ and suffering is a necessary part of that transformation (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21).

Jesus understands what it is to suffer is the fourth truth. We do not worship a distant, unapproachable God. We worship a God that knows what it is to be human (Hebrews 4:15). He knows what it is to suffer (Hebrews 2:17-18). Just think about Jesus’ life for a moment. He didn’t experience just one traumatic event during His time on Earth. His whole life was full of suffering. The prophet Isaiah told of His suffering hundreds of years before His birth (Isaiah 53:3-5). He was born into unimaginable poverty in a country occupied by a cruel army (Luke 2:1-7). He narrowly escaped a mass slaughtering of children that was ordered because of His birth (Matthew 2:16). He was physically assaulted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), persecuted because of His teachings (Luke 4:28-29), thought insane by His family (Mark 3:21), betrayed by His own disciple (Mark 14:43-45), deserted by His friends (Mark 14:50), falsely arrested (Mark 14:56-59), publicly humiliated (Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:8-12), beaten to the point of death (Matthew 27:26), and then slowly and painfully publicly executed by crucifixion as a common criminal (Matthew 27:33-39). We can take great comfort in the fact that God can relate to us on our level, He understands what it is to suffer.

Finally, our identity is not defined by traumatic events or suffering but is grounded in Christ. God does not see you as a victim. He sees you as His child. The scriptures tell us that as children of God, we were chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless adopted sons and daughters, lavished with grace, redeemed, forgiven, given spiritual wisdom and understanding and marked with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:4-14). We are in Christ! We sit at the right hand of the Father! We have His righteousness! We must not allow tragedy or circumstances to define who we are or how we live. We have His very life within us and we must choose to live out of that truth.

Matthew S. Stanford, PhD

CEO, Hope and Healing Center & Institute

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