“If you’re still dealing with trauma and depression, what does that say about Jesus?”
This was said to me by a colleague in one of my seminary classes – a counseling seminary class. That was ten years ago, and I still think about it.
Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated opinion. I’ve encountered many Christians who believe that lingering trauma and other mental health issues is a sign of weak faith. If Jesus conquered death, they say, then why can’t he conquer depression, anxiety, or PTSD?
It’s strongly implied, if not outright stated, that I’m the reason this can’t happen in my life without therapy and store-bought serotonin. I’m somehow preventing the Holy Spirit from doing its healing work. It must be my unconfessed sin or doubt that is getting in the way of my complete healing.
A Lifelong Struggle
If you know me, I hope you already figured out what I think about this line of thinking. If you’re new here, I’ll spell it out in plain language: it’s a dangerous lie from the pits of hell. It was this prevalent mindset (among other incidents) that not only led to my eventual withdrawal from seminary, but a crisis of faith itself.
That conversation affected me deeply because I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. I’ve been in and out of therapy since before I learned to read. Save for a brief stint of unemployment, I’ve never not been on some kind of antidepressant. It is not an exaggeration to say that I owe my life to these modern treatments. I am incredibly grateful to live in an era where they are available, and that I have resources to access them.
A Downward Spiral
But it wasn’t until early adulthood that I directly experienced trauma. The date rape I experienced in college undid every bit of my progress I’d made in managing my prior symptoms. Because I didn’t recognize my experience as PTSD (I thought it was something only war veterans had), I wasn’t being treated, and everything in my life got worse. I made decisions I’m not proud of to find temporary healing. I self-medicated with alcohol and getting tattoos.
Finally, I left my home state of Ohio to start over in Colorado. I had yet to understand that a change in location, appearance, and circumstances wasn’t going to cut it; my pain ran too deep.
What Many People Don’t Get
The irritating thing about trauma is that it can’t just fade away with time. Not when its effects have a profound ripple effect on your life as mine did. Trauma had me convinced that I would never date again, and never get married because I was too damaged for a good Christian man. To my great shock, I did get married – and trauma made it a challenge to understand sex as something inherently sacred and beautiful, rather than inherently exploitive.
And now, nearly 8 years into marriage, I am grappling with the reality that the injuries sustained during the assaults have damaged my fertility. You can understand why just “living in the moment” and other shallow platitudes aren’t enough to “get over it.” My life was profoundly changed by what happened to me. Trauma literally rewires the brain – it made me a completely different person.
What I would eventually discover is that Jesus Christ is someone who is intimately acquainted with trauma. In fact, he still bears the scars.
Seeing The Scars For Myself
The story of “doubting Thomas” in John 20:24-29 is fascinating for both doubters and trauma survivors. Thomas the disciple says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Curiously, Jesus doesn’t tell him to just “have more faith.” He actually says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Immediately my first question was, why does Jesus still have the marks of crucifixion? He defeated death, after all. He is fully resurrected and can have a “perfect” body in that state, yet he still has nail and sword marks.
This is just incredible to me. The act of redemption on the cross is complete, his purpose achieved, yet the scars are a permanent reminder of God’s deliverance from evil and death.
Trauma Doesn’t Get The Last Word
My lingering reminders of what I’ve been through, though still painful, can also be a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Remember that not only do we live in a fallen world, but suffering was always written into the original plan. We can’t hold our pain against God when he himself knows what it means to suffer.
But we never suffer alone. We never suffer in vain. In sharing pieces of my story, I have seen God use it to help bring others closer to Christ. That is a truly priceless gift.
Does that make me grateful to have gone through it? Hell no. But does it make me trust even more in God’s goodness? Amazingly, yes.