In the last few posts we have been looking at an important question that comes up for many victims of abuse: “Am I losing my faith?”
We’ve had a brief look at some of the impact of depression and anxiety. I want to reiterate that these conditions can express themselves in a huge variety of ways. The aim here is not to diagnose, nor to investigate fully, but just to open the door to confidence and reassurance.
The turmoil of trauma and mental health issues that might relate to it don’t indicate a loss of faith, and we know for certain even Jesus experienced overwhelming feelings. “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death,” he said1.
I want to turn to consider the impact of post-traumatic stress2, again just a brief look at possible impact of a couple of symptoms.
You might be surprised to discover that around 6% of Australians experience PTSD each year. (According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing3.) When we look at the Bible, and the experiences people had, it is likely a number of the people we read about experienced post-traumatic stress. PTSD as a term has only been in use since the 1970s – certainly not in Biblical times. But what we do see clearly are many expressions of deep anguish and distress, including loss of sleep and other symptoms.
Two of the symptoms a person who suffers from post-traumatic stress might experience are a sense of isolation, and avoidance of trauma-related situations. How might these affect a person’s experience of their relationship with God?
One question to consider is: what situations might be triggering? If harm has been done in a church or ministry environment, just talking about church might cause distress. So might talking about God. If the Bible has been used to weave spiritual abuse into other forms of abuse, then engaging with the Bible might cause distress.
So a person who has been harmed may well want to avoid church, the Bible, God, or Christian people. (Or any people.) Avoiding those people and situations because of the distress they cause is then an expression of PTSD – not at all of loss of faith. One could imagine that those around this sufferer might well want to encourage them to engage with “Christian things”. And the heart-rate of the victim might rapidly increase at that point.
Some of the values that can help us be truly caring are: prioritising listening and respect, being patient, being gentle, being humble learners. The last thing we want to do is add harm to someone who is already traumatised. Pushing our agendas without respect is more likely to increase a person’s sense of isolation, because if we really knew what life was like for them, we wouldn’t push.
One downside of avoiding situations might be loneliness, and that can also tap into the sense of isolation. And if we are inclined to feel isolated from other people – it seems like feeling isolated from God might occur pretty easily.
Heman the Ezrahite said, “You have taken from me friend and neighbour—darkness is my closest friend.”8
These psalms, and the many like them, are a gift to us. Not only were these sufferers welcomed into God’s family, but their songs and prayers were included in scripture as examples of how to pray. That’s affirming.
Feeling cut off from God and like you’ve lost your faith might be purely a symptom of trauma.
We are each unique. We have just had the briefest of glances at some of the multitude of ways mental health needs might affect a person’s relationship with God and experience of what we commonly consider to be Christian activity.
One affirmation here is simply that people who suffered great anguish, and who in modern times might have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, wrote treasured parts of the Bible. Relating to those passages doesn’t mean faith is gone. It means abuse is traumatic.
Relating to God through trauma can have many complications. But what is his response to those who are traumatised or hanging on by a thread? Part of is it this:
“A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.”9
Steve WadePeople who suffered great anguish, and who in modern times might have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, wrote treasured parts of the Bible. Click To Tweet
- Mark 14:34
- Beyond Blue’s guide to PTSD is here
- 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing
- Proverbs 4:5
- Proverbs 4:26
- Psalm 31:12
- Psalm 31:22
- Psalm 88:18
- Isaiah 42:3