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Engaging Trauma Biblically

Truth In Love 413

How much does the Bible really say about trauma?

May 8, 2023

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me Dr. Ernie Baker. He’s married to Rose, and the Lord has blessed them with six children, five that are married, and they have eleven grandchildren. He has the privilege of serving the Lord at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, as a pastor of counseling and discipleship. In addition, he has the privilege of chairing the online undergraduate degree in Biblical Counseling at The Master’s University, serving as an adjunct in the graduate program in counseling, and as director of training for Overseas Instruction in Counseling. I’m so glad that Ernie’s here with me, as we talked about last week. We talked about the issue of trauma-informed, and how to think about that. If you are following what we’re doing, even in this month of May, we’re trying to address issues related to mental health awareness month. And certainly, the ideas of trauma-informed care are very popular as it relates to the world of mental health currently speaking.

I wanted him to come back to join us even this week to now talk, we set a framework as we talked last week, working through the S’s, as Ernie described it alliterated so well like a good Baptist brother, and so, this week I want us to maybe revisit those just in brief form and then to talk biblically about this issue of trauma. You know, we’re not saying that we’re dismissing the reality of trauma itself or bad experiences that people have in life that are deeply involved experientially and emotionally, but we do need to now engage this from a biblical perspective. So, Ernie, I want to, first of all, welcome you back again and thank you for joining us, I want you to sort of give us a brief synopsis, get our minds back in the direction that we talked about last week with the 7’s that you mentioned. 

Ernie Baker: I am very thankful to be back with you again. And I believe this subject is of utmost importance, because of all the implications that it involves, and I really appreciate learning six of these S’s from David Powlison years ago as a way to think about how do you discern what a counseling system is believing. And then we added the 7th over the years just because we realized that there was an S missing and those S is again, in case the listeners did not hear last week’s podcast are that every counseling system has a source of authority. And that’s the epistemology question. That’s certainly true. The trauma literature and the presentations that I’ve listened to, it’s very obvious that brain science is quoted and all other types of observations from the theorists, related to trauma-informed counseling.

Then there’s a view of the problem, and I’m going to use our word which is sin. That’s not a word that they’re going to use, but our view of what’s going on is that we people have been sinned against in trauma often. In a little bit later, I’m going to tell a brief story from a woman who went through a horrible experience related to domestic abuse, but people sin and are sinned against. And the sin nature is pervasive; it permeates everything. So what’s the problem?

And then every counseling system proposes a solution, once you decide what the etiology of the problem is, the counseling system proposes a solution. We could also use the word salvation. So what is the “salvation”? And one thing I didn’t talk about last week was as I listened to the trauma literature or listened to presentations, it’s almost like this is the good news. We found the good news. We finally know what is wrong with people. It’s all the traumatic events that people have been through and as part of the epistemology, a very significant study was called the “ACE” study, the adverse childhood experiences, and that’s definitely part of the source of authority. So they’re proposing a solution now based upon what the problem is.

And then the next S is about methodology, and I’ll use another S which is sanctification, and we definitely have a methodology that matches what we believe the etiology is, and they proposed methodologies. The intriguing thing to me is that the methodologies are so diverse in the trauma literature. I’m not going to go into detail about that because we talked about it last week about all the various methodologies that are used.

The next S is every counseling system has support systems. And for us, it’s the local church. We love the local church, we are in favor of the local church. God designed the local church. The typical local church doesn’t even realize how much you could impact culture if it really started to address these types of issues, but we have a support system, just like the trauma of folks have a support system that teaches their perspective, etc.

The next S is the role of the servants of the system. We have a very clear role in our mind. What is a biblical counselor’s role? What does a counselor do? And how do you do that in the context of the local church? They have a very clear understanding of depending on the methodology being used. What is the role of the counselor? And that’s interesting because every counseling system has a different view of the role of the counselor, but they mix them together with trauma counseling.

And then the last S is sparring, and that’s my desperate attempt for another s, apologetics, and every counseling system defends itself. And in some ways, that’s what we’re doing on these podcasts is we are analyzing other belief systems, and we’re doing an apologetic of a biblical counseling system. So that’s where we started last week. And today, we’re going to talk; I think about methodology and what is our view of sanctification. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. So we’re going to try in application to some of the things you talk about, I will mention to the listeners, Ernie mentioned last week, we went through those much more elaborate, much more detail. If you haven’t, go back, listen to that. And I think our discussion today as we talk about a biblical view of methodology and how we approach or engage this issue of trauma. So let’s get to that, Ernie. As we talk about the Bible, some people want to separate the issues of trauma, as if the Bible doesn’t speak to that sort of thing or that type of human experience that we have in life. But the reality is that the Bible, I think, does approach this issue in a myriad of ways. So, what are some of the ways that you consider the Bible, approaches this issue of trauma and really give some sort of context for these types of experiences that we have in a broken world. Where does the bible do that? 

Ernie Baker: Well, I would say all over the Bible, all through the Bible. The Bible is very trauma-informed. If you think about the gospel the cross is central. And if anybody went through trauma, it was our Savior. This raises all kinds of interesting questions about is the Bible adequate to be able to address these issues. How did the apostle Paul deal with the traumatic events in his life? And how did our Lord deal with the traumatic events in his life?

I would like to discuss two passages of Scripture that definitely relate to trauma and one of them is Isaiah, where the Lord was giving instruction to the people of Judah about the Assyrian captivity that was happening or was about to happen and how they could be in perfect peace, even though they were definitely going to go through a traumatic event, and context is everything. And when you understand what was going on at that time, it was horrific. What they were about to go through or what they were going through. Isaiah 26 says this, “the steadfast of mind, you will keep in perfect peace because he trusts in you, trust in Yahweh forever for in Yah, Yahweh himself, we have an everlasting Rock for He is laid low, those who settle on high the exalted city, he brings it low, he brings it low to the ground. He casts it to the dust.” The problem is not a lack of material in the Bible. The problem is folks not knowing how to apply it and be creative with the application in the lives of counselees. When I read that, I think of all kinds of ways to apply this passage to my counselees, for example, and I’ll just point out that even the secular literature will talk about okay, we got to help people with their thinking, and we have to help people with their memories. And we have to help people with flashbacks, and we have to help people with being able to sleep. Well, I can use this passage to accomplish a lot of those purposes in the life of my counselees.

For example, I might ask my counselee, how does this passage say that you can have perfect peace? And they’re going to answer, well, I have to have a steadfast mind. How do you have a steadfast mind? Let’s talk about in the moment when you’re having a flashback, how are you going to discipline your thinking? What are you going to do with that in that moment to think on biblical truth? And think of creative ways to help them to do thatand I’m going to give you a testimony at the end, about someone who learned to do this, as she would remember being beaten by her husband.And then the passage goes on to say, trust in Yahweh for Yahweh himself, we have an everlasting rock. What is that saying? Now how do you apply that to your life? And as you’re trying to go to sleep and you’re having a hard time sleeping, what can you be meditating on about who the Lord is?

I’ll tell you one way that this helped me with a traumatic event in my own life and the secular literature talks about imagination and the importance of helping people with imagination, which I think would be an interesting study for us as biblical counselors is using our imagination in godly ways. But I had to as a pastor I went through a horrible church conflict, and I was having panic attacks. I wasn’t sleeping. I was actually in bed at night; I would convulse at times because I was so tense as I’ve read the trauma literature. I thought if I went to a secular counselor, they would tell me that I would be diagnosed as someone who went through significant trauma. Well, how did I apply this passage? This was a very special passage of Scripture to me. And as I was trying to sleep, I would think about the Lord being a rock. Well. Okay, how do I picture the Lord being a rock? So I thought about the tomb, And I would lay in bed thinking about the empty tomb though not a closed tomb. I would sing worship songs as I was trying to sleep, and I would be reminding myself that the Lord is my rock and that there’s an empty tomb and Ephesians 1 says that I have all the power of the resurrection in me, that’s a mind-blowing thought and my soul found peace as I meditated on God being my rock, my Savior being my rock, and then as I laid in bed singing hymns and worship songs in my soul, my soul calmed down. And I believe that that’s what the Lord is telling His people to do, even though there was going to be this horrific event called the Assyrian captivity. The problem again is not lack of material. The problem is creativity in knowing how to apply Biblical passages. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s very helpful and to look at those types of truth that can’t be untrue in the philosophies that were hearing from, you know, the secular literature. They’re seeing some things that I think are helpful and accurate, and yeah, we need to change a person’s mind. We need to help them to think this way and that way, and we need to avoid certain things. But the Bible describes these particular things, and to start to run into some of the ideas that you run into in the trauma-informed world, if those things are true relative to the brain, then it starts to describe these truths and Scripture as being untrue. That our minds can’t be informed or helped specifically by trusting in the Lord as if that’s too weak to overcome some biological determinism in our brain.

Now as we think about this, you know, engaging the Bible, I think it’s important, and you’re only touching the surface as you mentioned the Bible describes lots of traumatic events and difficulties. These truths about who God is. Even you mentioned the rock or God being our refuge, they are there as a particular point of help because we experience such difficulty that’s earth-shattering, an earth-shaking. I think of something like Psalm 46, the mountains be shaken, and the earth be moved and thrown into the sea. He describes himself as sturdy and stable and something to be counted on, even at torrential things like that. So these truths are depictions that are so helpful because we work, we live in a cursed world to these types of very difficult, awful things happen in our experiences. So, I want to move forward a little bit if we can and see, you know, maybe people are having a hard time conceptualizing some of this. So what I want you to do, Ernie, if you can help us here, is to describe maybe some of the things that you found most helpful in the counseling room, biblical truths, or particular applications that you’ve used that you’ve seen to be helpful in the lives of other people. 

Ernie Baker: Thanks for asking that. I could give you a lot of examples. I recently, I was teaching in Uganda, and I was struck by how much trauma those folks have been through. I had students in some of their response papers telling me about tribal warfare and their parents being killed right in front of their eyes or grandparents being killed in front of them and the impact that it had on them. But how they had learned to have peace in their souls in spite of those very horrific events, and I don’t have the time to tell you one man’s story in particular, but I was profoundly struck by his story of just his life being filled with abuse. He’s now pastor. He’s been a pastor for 32 years and living a productive life.

What comes to mind with our counseling ministry is this woman. One woman in particular who went through the just horrible domestic abuse situation, and she was experiencing everything that would be characteristic: flashbacks, panic attacks, not sleeping, not being able to sleep. And how she has learned to use Scripture and how our counselor walked alongside of her. In the secular literature, they talk about healing comes in community, and she would definitely testify to how important her church is. In fact, she wrote a little statement for me of what’s been the most helpful, and she said, “My church, my church, my church.” And she just emphasized over and over how the church has walked with her, and then her counselor just loved her and walked beside her and even went to court with her when she had to go to court because of these issues with her husband. Here’s what she said that she did that she used to help her with her thinking, to help her sleep, to help her with flashbacks. I was kind of shocked by some of these. Quite frankly, I wasn’t expecting some of them. For example, she said the book of Exodus was comforting to her, and I wasn’t expecting that, but she said she just could relate to what the people were going through and how they were longing for the Lord and longing for relief and it was helpful to her to realize that it was okay to feel the way she was feeling and that other people have been through these type of experiences.

And then the book of Proverbs was very meaningful to her because Proverbs told her what healthy relationships were like and what unhealthy relationships were like, and that finally helped her realize, “I’m in an unhealthy relationship, and I just need to admit it.” And then she talked so much about her female counselor, walking beside her holding her hand, loving her through this, and helping her think biblically and how does she take every thought captive as Scripture talks about and realizing that she has to say to herself, “my thoughts are not truth, just because it’s going on in my mind does not mean it is truth.” And she gave me an example. She said she was walking through the grocery store, and she started thinking, and she’s by herself now, she has to provide for her four children, and she says I was starting to think, “the food is so expensive. I’m ill-equipped to provide. I was abandoned. No, wait, I left. So this is my fault.” But then she catches a glimpse of the tattoo on her arm that’s across, and it reminds her of the gospel, and it reminds her that she has the Holy Spirit, and the Lord starts to use that to call her back to truth, and she says, then she starts saying to herself, “I need to remember God is good. I’m safe now; He loves me, He won’t leave me, He gives me what I need each day. I don’t need to worry about tomorrow. My God fights for me. He’s using this for a purpose.” So she has learned to discipline her thinking when she starts to have events or thoughts that start to trigger what happened in the past. She’s a very godly young woman, and I just appreciate her testimony so much.

Dale Johnson: You know, Ernie, that’s so helpful. You know, you are using a particular case study, a particular example. We’re not trying to extrapolate that out and use that as some sort of prescription for every single person and every single scenario. However, we are saying that this case study demonstrates the beauty of the Word, the power of the Word in helping a person to take thoughts captive, to be able to remind ourselves about truth, and our feelings follow sort of the way that we think in those moments. And, you know, circumstances can certainly be very convincing. But I think this is a great testimony of somebody who went through some unbelievably deep dark difficulties that, you know, sounds like even from what you said of no fault of their own. They’re enduring someone sinning very deeply against them, and the power of the Word to overtake and saturate the mind to help us to walk faithfully. What a great testimony. I know we’ve talked about a lot over the last couple of weeks I want to give you sort of a final word of encouragement as we think about engaging trauma biblically here. 

Ernie Baker: So, two words of encouragement in conclusion here, one thing I didn’t mention about her testimony was how she thinks about the future, and this is something that our belief system offers to this whole discussion that secular theories and therapies do not offer, and that is she said that she realizes she has a bright future. This pain is going to end. This isn’t forever. And we have so much that we can get people meditating on about the bright hope that we have for heaven and the phrase I like to use is help them let their gaze break through to eternity. How do we help people get their gaze to break through to eternity?

A last word I’ll say about two people listening about the nature of the Word of God is to remember the nature of Scripture, our source of authority. We can’t even compare it to the theories of the world. We believe that it is the living and active word of God, and it has sanctifying power, so intrinsic in the Word of God because it is the living Word of God it has power to change lives. I think that’s why I’m so concerned about this issue is, when people seem to be saying we’ve got to use secular therapies is, I’m concerned about, okay, well, what are we then saying about what we believe about our source of authority? 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And that’s where I think we get off kilter and we find ourselves, not intentionally. But as collateral damage, diminishing the wealth of information that the Lord has revealed and intended to be helpful to us in these moments of deep darkness, valleys of shadows of death and so forth. So wonderful encouragement, very helpful, Ernie. I think for us to at least begin thinking through these types of issues and how deeply and how much the Bible says about these things, and often it’s our weakness in being creative in how to utilize this into the lives of people who have been deeply broken.

I finish all that to say I’m really looking forward to our conversation next week to a new friend. I want to introduce to many of our listeners a clinical neuropsychologist, a professor out at East Carolina University. You don’t want to miss next week. Ernie introduced me to our new friend. He’s going to join us in our discussion about some of these issues related to neuropsychology, neuroscience, and so on. So, don’t forget. Join us next week too.

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