One of the phrases I’ve heard thrown around—not frivolously—by people during the election process, months dealing with Covid-19, the tumultuousness of protests against police brutality, and racist policies are the words’ trauma’ or ‘traumatized.’ I thought about how trauma may keep Christians or the hurting from attending church services, feeling integrated into the Church proper, or handle hearing certain verses in the Bible which, presented as commandments, either seem impossible or worse, instigate a feeling or sense of condemnation.
A good example is the pragmatic concept of forgiveness. Mark 11:26 tells us, ‘But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions’ (NASB) and in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘… And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’ (Matthew 6:12, NRSV), where ‘debts’ is replaced with ‘sins’ or ‘trespasses,’ depending on the biblical translation.
So, what does this say to the sexual assault victim? The family of a murdered child? The impoverished while the rich gentrify their neighborhoods and force them onto the street? A victim of genocide? A million other atrocities the world offers the unfortunate, which is everyone because not one of us is immune to evil.
What does the Church or God say to the hurting? Do they need an immediate command to forgive? Do they need the threat and burden to forgive or forever be ignored by the one entity in the universe that is supposed to welcome them, heal their heartaches, promise them life, and raise them from the deadness of their pain?
No, absolutely not. And this is why.
I welcome you to recall the story in Matthew 9 when Jesus healed a paralytic man. As per usual, the Pharisees became incensed by an act of Christ’s mercy precisely because he says, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven’ (v. 2). What is important here is that Christ spoke these words before healing the man’s illness, pointing to the fact that the eternal condition of the soul is graver than the body’s temporal condition. However, Christ isn’t unmerciful. He did want to make a point, though. The Pharisees were enraged that Christ assumed he had the authority to forgive sins and declare, ‘This man is blaspheming’ (v. 3).
How does Christ respond?
‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’ (Matthew 9:4-6, NRSV)
We can infer from this passage and others that forgiveness is a divine act of God or a measure of Christ’s authority. We also know Christ gives His authority to his people—‘All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him’ (Matthew 11:27, NIV).
So, if we are in Christ and He is in us, then we determine that we can forgive through a divine act of grace and kindness from God. However, even with that reality, we must receive a revelation of a renewed mind in that specific circumstance. Paul writes, ‘…be renewed in the spirit of your mind’ (Ephesians 4:23, NASB) so that we know our flesh cannot renew our minds—only God can renew someone who now has ‘the mind of Christ’ (I Corinthians 2:16, NRSV).
Why is this important to the trauma survivor and imperative to understand for all Christians and ministers? Because there is often pressure on victims of violence, sexual assault, crime, mental illness, etc. to forgive those who oppress and abuse them.
To the person raised in a dysfunctional home of parental neglect and ferocity, we quote Ephesians 6:2, ‘Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise’ (NRSV).
To the woman who has lived with years of emotional, physical, and mental abuse, or marital rape from a violent spouse, we quote I Corinthians 7:4, ‘The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband’ (NIV) or Colossians 3:18, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.’
There are many traumatic experiences that, given the wrong verses in the wrong context, will not only turn an already broken spirit away from a loving, merciful, healing Father but could potentially destroy it.
What person can forgive barbarism and brutality with verbal condemnation? When has unjustified, man-centered guilt ever led someone to the grace of our Creator? The very assumption that this is akin to the forgiveness Christ gave us is profane fire.
In Leviticus 6, we learn about Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, brother of Moses and High Priest, who ignited an altar fire that was not from the altar fire started by God, or foreign. God doesn’t honor or recognize ‘truths’ or ‘ideas’ or ‘doctrine’ extraneous to His Word, including the divine act of forgiveness. To tell someone that they, in their own strength, must forgive someone, is to try to effect a divine act of grace by the flesh—or from a source foreign and, therefore, rejected by God. The penalty for such nonsense is grave—God’s fire immediately consumed the brothers. Be careful, friends, that you, too, are not consumed by the living God by offering profane, strange, or foreign truths. Do not tell someone to put wicked offerings of forgiveness on the altar. God does not honor this sacrifice because there remains pain and darkness, not healing. And where there is no healing, there cannot be forgiveness.
We know that when Christ comes, there is both forgiveness and healing. These graces are inseparable. Do not tell a victim of a felonious act of humanity that they must forgive before they are healed.
And never forget to tell them that God Himself will give them that forgiveness to give themselves. And never forget that forgiveness doesn’t excuse. It just means we’ve released the burden to our Protector.
There is great peace in the truth of what God’s mercy means to us. There is even more significant relief to the human soul, the human heart, the human spirit, to know that Love will cover the multitude of things we cannot, in our power, commit to Heaven.
Be well and be kind. You are loved, madly.