Post-Traumatic Jesus

 February 8, 2023

When you’ve spent as many years in ministry, studying and reflecting on the Gospels, as I have, you can begin to feel like you’ve heard it all. I’ve been through so many interpretations of Jesus, from stripping away all aspects that have accumulated over the centuries in search of the historical Jesus, to the Jesus of liberation theology, feminist theology, creation spirituality, Godspell, and the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, to name a few. But David Peter’s book, Post-Traumatic Jesus, provided a new perspective on Jesus that grabbed my attention and kept it throughout the pages. The title caught my interest and the book did not disappoint.

The Roman Occupation

The book looks at Jesus through the lens of trauma. Trauma is defined as: a deeply distressing or disturbing experience: emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis. The experience of trauma is life-altering. It changes how we perceive ourselves, our world, and our ability to trust others or trust that the world is a safe place.

“This book examines the stories in the Gospel through the lens of trauma paying careful attention to how the authors used these stories to cultivate hope and healing for traumatized people, preserving the story of the post-traumatic Jesus who extends his wounded hands to us.” (Introduction)

Peters begins by setting the context of the world during the Roman Empire. Israel was an occupied country and the Jewish people suffered greatly under Roman rule. Peters, himself a veteran of the Iraq war, describes Roman cruelty as only a soldier can. He has seen the atrocities of war and felt their impact. The world Jesus was born into was a traumatized world with the Jewish residents exhibiting  signs of post-traumatic stress.

Present-Day America

He then looks at our current world situation, with the on-going violence of wars throughout the world coming into our homes via the media, violence in our city streets, schools, and churches, and the unsettling impact of the millions of deaths from the COVID pandemic. All of this tell us that the world is not a safe place. Human life can be snuffed out so cavalierly, so casually. And all we do is argue and call names.

Even though the facts may tell us the economy is not in the drastic downward spiral some keep predicting and our own finances may be good, we can’t trust that it will continue. We feel worse off even if we aren’t, fearing our finances may be wiped out by inflation or cybertheft. Or, we fear our lives, or the lives of our children will be taken from us by another virus or a gun shot. “One of the signature wounds of trauma is a foreshortened future where we can’t see anything good ever happening to us again, it is the death of hope we grieve, although we can’t always name it,” Peters tells us. (Introduction)

We feel helpless, numb, angry, despondent, before the onslaught of violence, both physical and verbal.

Trauma and World View

When you are first recovering from trauma, the whole world is seen through the veil of this trauma. You see trauma everywhere. Trauma impacts your worldview and how you see God. Some reject God who did not rescue them from their abuser or appears to remain silent and inactive in the face of extreme violence. Others though are able to go through the trauma to a new understanding of God.

“A helpless victim, an unjust trial, a gleeful cruelty, a silent God—these are not only what happened at the crucifixion; they are the hallmarks of traumatic experiences that most humans experience during our short lives.” (Chapter 1)

Against this background, the post-traumatic Jesus brings us hope and healing. Jesus meets the people of his time and our time where we are, then brings us along to something better.

Post-Traumatic Jesus

No one way of envisioning Jesus says it all, just as there is no one way to capture the mystery that is God. Peters’ Post-Traumatic Jesus gives us another valuable and insightful way to see Jesus. Well worth reading!

How do you see Jesus? Has there been trauma in your life? What impact has that had on your view of the world as a safe place?

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