Do you have the lingering effects of trauma?


For the week of November 8, 2014 / 15 Heshvan 5775
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: 2 Melachim/2 Kings 4:1-37

Overcoming Trauma

Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. (Bereshit/Genesis 22:10)


The Akeida, the Binding of Isaac, is one of the most disturbing stories in the entire Bible. Yes, it turns out okay, but its outworking must have been extremely traumatic for those involved. The focus of the story is mainly on Abraham, as he was the one whose faith was tested, but what about Isaac? Even though he was rescued by God at the last minute, he discovered that his father's commitment to God was such that he was even willing to kill him. The memory of the knife about to be plunged into his heart most likely stayed with him for the rest of his life.

But it was only a test, right? God rescued him. He never intended that Abraham would actually kill him. But Isaac didn't know that at the time. Neither did Abraham for that matter, who surmised that if necessary God would raise Isaac from the dead (see Hebrews 11:19; cf. Bereshit/Genesis 22:5). That's all fine and dandy, but Isaac still had to endure the experience. Was he relieved when God stopped his dad at the last minute? I would hope so, but was the positive outcome sufficient to prevent the lingering trauma? Of that I am not too sure.

There is nothing exactly like this anywhere else in the Bible. Yet there is something about Isaac's experience that is more common than we might think. Isaac isn't the only person to have had a traumatic experience at the hand of God. Noah and his family may have been the sole survivors of the flood, but think what it must have been like to be cooped up in the Ark with all those animals for all that time, as they were tossed by the raging sea, not knowing when they would get out. It was partly due to the dreams God gave Joseph that his brothers were provoked to murderous jealously, resulting in great suffering. David barely escaped murderous attempts on his life by his own father-in-law, Saul King of Israel, all because of God's plan for his life.

God leads people into very difficult situations at times. Standing up for what's right might result in rejection from loved ones or persecution by society. Helping others in need can be painful. Risking our lives for a cause we believe has been inspired by God may result in failure and humiliation. An eventual positive result, like that which happened to Isaac, may not remove the sting of the experience. And there's no guarantee that all traumatic experiences have positive endings, even within the context of following God.

Whatever the cause of one's trauma or the reason for its lingering effects, one thing that doesn't help those struggling with such things is the notion that genuine faith in God means that we would never experience trauma in the first place. Human psychology is complex. Different people relate to life differently. Some people get over painful experiences easier than others. Perhaps you were never afraid of bees until the day you were stung. Now the sheer mention of bees sets off anxiety. You try not to react when you see one, but you do anyway. And there are experiences that are a lot more traumatic than getting stung.

I don't know if Isaac was nervous around his father after all that happened on the mountain that day. If Abraham was willing to kill him at God's command, what else might he do? Maybe he only got anxious when he saw his father holding sharp objects. Perhaps he was completely fine - one difficult day of unusual behavior, and then back to normal. If so, then I am not like Isaac. What about you?

If you struggle with trauma, whatever the reason, maybe you need help in working through it. Don't be embarrassed or put yourself down because you can't seem to get over a difficult experience from the past. Life can be really nasty at times, even in the will of God.

One more thing. If you suffer from trauma, I hope you get over it. But in the meantime let me remind you that the world we live in is really messed up. One day God will set everything to rights, but until then, life can be painful. However, we don't have to face the pain of trauma alone. There was one person who endured a traumatic experience even greater than Isaac. Yeshua the Messiah didn't only face the possibility of death at the hand of his Father, he willingly died as a sin offering by the will of God (see Isaiah 53:10). Having gone through the most traumatic event of all time, Yeshua overcame it, so that we, if we trust him, can be assured that eventually we will overcome our trauma too.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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