PTSD in the Bible

Post-traumatic stress disorder, something we often associate with war, can happen with anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. But PTSD is terminology that didn’t exist forever, but it’s real and has been experienced by people for thousands of years. How do we know this? Because people in the Bible have gone through the same difficulties, and show us how God can help. Hopelessness is our enemy, but there is an answer to PTSD that transcends medication and therapy.

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. – Job 3:25-26

In the Bible, trauma, which brings about PTSD, can come from two places: Your sin, or someone else. We can avoid the first one, and understand why it happens easily. But the second is a more difficult concept surrounding God’s sovereignty, because in many of those cases we are innocent. However, no matter what, there is hope for you and a reason for all of this:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

PTSD because of our choices

Especially in combat, soldiers who experience trauma can be the aggressor, the victim, or both. In the Old Testament, Israel was in frequent wars, and its armies killed hundreds of thousands of people. In these events, they are the aggressors of trauma, and may have certainly been susceptible to having PTSD after battles. But why aren’t soldiers ever really described as having issues like this?

Then Moses said to them: “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before the Lord for the war, and all your armed men cross over the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies from before Him, and the land is subdued before the Lord, then afterward you may return and be blameless before the Lord and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. – Numbers 32:20-22

God promised that if they fought in the way that he designed, they would not be sinning, and there could be no guilt haunting them. But when we are the aggressor against God, we will not be blameless, and there are great consequences such as demonic influence explained in this blog post, which can make us responsible for many more sins; or simply death:

Ahab asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 22:4-6

Ahab had a chance to follow God’s will, which was to not attack. As the prophet Micaiah said:

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” – 1 Kings 22:28

But Ahab did it anyway, as the aggressor of great trauma and sin in times of war, as many people today do great evil in battle.

So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. – 1 Kings 22:29

While being the aggressor of trauma against God’s will can cause us to sin even more and go down a demonic path, sometimes God has had enough, and this story shows when time has run out:

But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor.

The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.”

All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died. – 1 Kings 22:34-35

If you go against God in battle, in finances, in your job, in your marriage, or anything in life, you will not return home blameless. The guilt will follow you, and you will experience either pain or death, and so will those around you. So stop what you’re doing and instead arm yourself before God.

PTSD because of someone else

We can experience trauma solely as the victim. Being robbed at gunpoint, attacked, raped, cheated, or other terrible things can cause us to have PTSD. In fact, people suffer all the time because of other people’s sin:

During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” – 2 Samuel 21:1

But what about when we don’t know where it’s coming from, or there’s nothing we can do about the aggressor? What about when you feel trapped, with no resolution, no way to find closure with the person who wronged you?

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. – 2 Corinthians 12:7

The secular approach to Paul’s issue might be to think positively, find a support group, or take medications to help. Perhaps even a “faith healer” might say, as in the example of Job’s friends, that Paul needs more faith to have his pain removed, or surely there is some unrepented sin in his life. But there’s something else going on, and Paul knows it. His solution is to reach out to God, and God gives us the answer to all PTSD related problems:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

The grace of God is all we need when we experience trauma, and the aftermath of trauma. God’s power is made perfect in the weakness we experience.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

Truth is the answer to PTSD. God’s grace is sufficient for our trauma. If you feel alone, like no one understands what’s going on, someone does:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. – Hebrews 4:15

Jesus experienced trauma unlike anything we can imagine. Even God the Father rejected him in the end:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – Matthew 27:46

If anyone understands PTSD, or being alone, it’s Jesus, and his grace is sufficient for you. Start with Jesus, and he may very well lead you to the right support group, the right therapist, or anything. But if you start with those things first, they will not work.

Looking ahead

Understand that even Jesus still had wounds after the resurrection. He will always remember his trauma, but he is alive after all of his pain and promises us life as well. PTSD is not the end. The way, the truth, and the life is the end. Believe in the good things God will do with your life that you cannot see right now, the promises Jeremiah talked about earlier. God’s grace is sufficient for PTSD.

Thomas said to them, “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.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:25-29

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