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The healing balm of the Bible for those who suffer trauma

Courtesy of Robert Briggs
Courtesy of Robert Briggs

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Second Congo War devastated much of Africa. More than 5 million people lost their lives — not only through the horrors of war, but due to starvation and disease. This war, in fact, was the second deadliest conflict since World War II. Millions were displaced and forced to flee their homes as refugees. Those who survived suffer wounds of trauma that last until this day.

As we watch from half a world away, we see similar events playing out in Afghanistan now. Thousands of people are displaced as extremists seize control of the country. Look closely, though, and in the masses of people you will see the hurting faces of men and women and boys and girls. Some carry physical scars, some don’t. But all will carry long-term effects from this trauma.

Where will they turn for healing?

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More than a decade ago, Joyce was just one of millions who had suffered in the Second Congo War. When her husband and seven of her eight children were killed, she fled with her remaining child to a settlement community in Uganda. There, Joyce discovered new hope through a ministry called Trauma Healing.

Following the devastation of the war, pastors, missionaries, and Christian counselors banded together to begin the hard work of restoring hope for those traumatized by violence and developed Trauma Healing, a Bible-based trauma intervention. By combining the power of God’s Word with mental health best practices and the proven benefits of small-group story-sharing, Trauma Healing was born.

Joyce’s Trauma Healing experience allowed her to move, as she says, from “no longer thinking about my past” to “spending time praying about a bright future.” What Joyce discovered in her healing group was both simple and profound: Joyce found that inside ancient book lay stories of a man who likewise had experienced great pain, but who also provided the answer to every aching heart. Joyce’s life was changed through meeting the person of Jesus in the pages of the Bible.

In Jesus, she saw both man and God, familiar with rejection and violence and yet overcoming and transforming all that humanity could throw his way. She read of him being mocked even as he proclaimed a message of healing and hope. She learned that he went from town to town to tell all the downcast and forgotten that they were not alone. Jesus touched the untouchable and cared for those marked “ichabod,” those told, “There is no glory in you. You are worthless.”

Soon, Joyce, too knew that she was not alone, not worthless.

In the pages of the Bible, we too discover that the God of the universe cares about our pain and our wounds, even today. We learn that he counts the hairs on our head and catches our tears in a bottle. And we hear his whisper, “You are my beloved. The apple of my eye.” Nowhere else in this world can we find words of comfort like these.

Millions of people around the world need this message today.

The wounds we can see, and those we can’t

The reality is that the deepest wounds of trauma are often those we cannot see. In fact, our bodies need not bear any outside scar for us to carry pain that wears us down every moment of every day.

The National Council on Behavioral Health tells us that 70% of American adults have experienced a traumatic event in their lives. Another study estimates that about 1.45 billion individuals worldwide experienced war between 1989 and 2015, with 354 million adult war survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. These are no small numbers, and it is likely that you or someone you know has experienced such trauma at some point or another.

Try as we might, we cannot find comfort anywhere else like we find in the Bible. Inside it, we find 2,000-year-old lessons that are still the balm for our tired, weary, and troubled souls.

For millennia, the Bible has been a source of healing, hope, and refuge. It has a proven impact on helping people heal from trauma and tragedies, including those of war, poverty, injustice, and violence. This is not just because some of the phrases are catchy, memorable, or controversial. It’s because there is power inside of the pages of the Bible — a power that can heal a hurting soul and lift up the brokenhearted.

As Christians, we watch the chaos continue to unfold in Afghanistan and are slammed — yet again — into the reality that our world is not as it should be. And so we must continue to seek and preach the healing balm of the Gospel.

A balm for Afghanistan, and for all who hurt

Six hundred years before Jesus walked the earth, the prophet Jeremiah also longed to comfort those who were facing despair and isolation. As God’s people were carried away to a foreign land, Jeremiah wept bitterly. He cried out, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jer. 8:21-22 NIV).

Is there a “balm in Gilead” today — a balm for those in Afghanistan who are suffering the tragic effects of war? Yes, there is. When we open the Bible, we discover that the God of the universe cares about our pain and our wounds. We learn that he counts the hairs on our head and catches our tears in a bottle. And we hear his whisper, “You are my beloved. The apple of my eye.” This is what the Bible offers us — the truth that we are not alone, and the courage and strength to face our troubles and trauma head on.

Oh, and it does one other thing.

Years after the war, Joyce took in a homeless mother and her three children. Suffering from AIDS after being raped, this mother needed help. And Joyce took care of these children like they were her own.

The Bible not only has the power to heal us, but it gives us the strength and courage to then care for the hurting and wounded around us.

The Bible continues to change lives marked by the brokenness of our world. It’s our only hope.

Robert Briggs is President and CEO of the American Bible Society.

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