7.17.2007

Never Out of Control

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was once known as hysteria, and attributed to the weak constitutions of "the fairer sex."  It was really only when grizzled Nam vets experienced the exact same symptoms that people started to realize that PTSD had very little to do with the heartiness of the sufferer.  Flashing forward to the present, then, we are much more sympathetic about PTSD, particularly when it is experienced by someone who was abused at a young age, like the many survivors of the recent Catholic Church sex scandals. 

Studies show that the main thing that worsens PTSD is the sense of loss of control: not only is something bad happening to me, like being stuck in a hurricane or getting raped or seeing my fellow soldiers being shot, but there is nothing I can do about it.  In dozens of experiments, lab rats have been wired in pairs for electric shock, with one of the two rats able to control a switch that turned the shock off; though the shocks are of equal strength, it is the rat that can stop the shock that consistently survives the experiment with minimal damage. 

It can seem pithy to mention the love of God to someone who has been through a significant trauma.  But God is big enough for life to include really, really bad things.  Just read enough of the Bible and you'll see that trauma isn't foreign to the faithful Christian.  Some of my deepest experiences with God have been when I and others have gone through some painful experience, only to give God room to expand our world view until it is big enough to account for that experience and God's goodness, leaving us no less wounded but with a greater and grander estimation of God. 

One aspect of that goodness is God's ultimate authority and control over all things.  We may feel out of control when we are faced with unspeakable trauma, but God is most certainly not out of control.  We may have no explanation for how some incident can reconcile with a God who is all-powerful and all-loving, but neither need we think our world has completely spun out of whack. 

It does not mean He keeps us from harm; far from it.  For the most relevant example is not Abraham and Isaac, in which God spares Abraham's son when he is about to kill him; but rather another Father and Son, in which God does not spare His own Son but delivers Him up for us all.  And yet that moment, far from signifying defeat and darkness, was the very pinnacle of victory and redemption. 

For those in this world who suffer from PTSD - and there are many, from children in war-scarred regions and IUD victims in Iraq to battered spouses and violated children - relief may not come on this side of glory.  And if it does, it will be a long, arduous journey.  But that path to healing can be somewhat alleviated by the thought - no, the rock-solid fact - that while that trauma might have made them feel completely out of control, all along there was a loving God who was completely in control. 
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