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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Remember, Presbyterians: God can bear our pain and anger


We need one another to process and heal

May 12, 2023

Originally published July/August 2019

Adele Crawford

As I write, there are reports of yet another school shooting. The refrain “I never thought this would happen here” has become a mantra on the evening news. The circle of those experiencing trauma — or knowing someone who has — widens daily. In her book “Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining,” Dr. Shelly Rambo recalls standing in the backyard of Julius Lee, a retired member of the United States Air Force. It was after Hurricane Katrina and all that was left of his house were remnants of a washed-out foundation. As they stood there, Lee said, “The storm is gone, but the ‘after the storm’ is always here.”

Whether the trauma was caused by a human being or nature, what kind of faith do we need for “after the storm?”

First, God does not will for bad things to happen. Scripture tells us that God loves us deeply and wants the best for us. God even conquered death for us. God does not need for evil to exist simply to show off God’s own goodness. Still, bad things happen, and when they do, I believe that God is first on the scene and weeps alongside us. As 20th century preacher the Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin said, “God’s heart is always the first to break.”

Second, even out of utter devastation, God can bring good. God simply refuses for evil and death to have the last word. This is not to say that God glosses over the bad to make it less ugly. Rather, from the dust and ash of our pain, God can and does create beautiful things.

The challenge comes in letting our own lives be part of that dust and ash. Perhaps the greatest sin we could commit in the face of tragedy is to refuse to be changed by it, to prohibit God from working on and in us.

In much of American culture, we have very little tolerance for grief and pain — our own or other people’s. Our discomfort is revealed in phrases like “Everything happens for a reason” or “God just needed another angel,” which are neither true nor helpful to people who are suffering. We expect people to fix it or just get over it. But that isn’t how it works.

God models how we can be present to one another by simply holding space for suffering. Traumatic injuries need a witness; healing begins when the wound is treated, not hidden. We want to know what to say, but silence is welcome here. A simple “I’m so sorry” is enough. Sit and wait. Offer to pray with someone — not just for them. Grant them the grace to be who they really are in that moment. When you serve as a compassionate witness to someone else’s wounds, the ground becomes hallowed. Just by being present, we show others they are not alone. We tangibly exhibit some of God’s love by allowing God to work through us.

Remember, too, that God can bear all of our pain and anger. Among the most beautiful poetry in all of literature are the Psalms, filled with ancient words for joy and praise and also some of the deepest grief and harshest anger. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) are words Jesus prays on the cross. Or, “O daughter Babylon, you devastator! … Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:8–9). These texts show us that we, too, can pray in this way, knowing God will hold all of the ugliest, most desperate and broken parts of us.

Finally, when we catch our breath, we might ask: What does this all mean for me/us? We need community for this work. Church is meant to be a place where we wrestle together with our theology, define and refine it, and help each other see signs of transformation and even resurrection.

There is trauma all around us, whether we see it or not, which is why we need to learn to be a humble, vulnerable, broken church and eschew the shiny, polished, always happy one. We simply cannot do this without God and one another.

Adele Crawford for Presbyterians Today, Special to Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Healing from trauma

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jackie Carter, Project Manager, Media & Publishing, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Katie Carter, Mission Associate II, Faith Based Investing, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Good and gracious God, thank you for the gift of life. Grant us the freedom to embrace the new thing that you are doing in our midst and employ our influence for the good of those who have none. Amen.