CW86: Honest Conversation: Trauma, Lament, God and the Church

If the Bible were a person, it would be a person bearing scars, plated broken bones, muscle tears, and other wounds of prolonged suffering […] This person would certainly have known joys and everyday life, but she or he also would bear, in body and heart, the wisdom of centuries of trauma. He or she would know the truth of trauma and survival of it […] that person would not be pretty to look at. We might be tempted to avert our eyes. But for most of us, there will be a time when we need that person’s wisdom.

David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins


By Revd. Carla Grosch-Miller

During challenging times like the current COVID-19 pandemic, one of the tasks of leaders is to connect people to their resources. The pandemic will have been traumatising for some individuals, but it has also been a collective trauma that impacts whole communities, even nations. Fortunately, we have a Bible and practices for just a time as this.

Over the last twenty to thirty years trauma studies have become a big thing in biblical scholarship. A careful analysis of our sacred scripture reveals that it was substantially created and shaped by traumatising events: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the sixth century BCE, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. This means that our Bible is robust and resilient when it comes to adversity.

Through the book of Job, Lamentations and the psalms of lament it even provides us with a language for sorrow and suffering, yet the contemporary church in the West rarely prays these psalms. Though about one third of Psalms are individual or communal laments, few are present in the Revised Common Lectionary. Even then many churches omit the psalms in Sunday worship, preferring to streamline them out so that people can get home to their roasts in the oven.

What has been lost in the excising of the psalms of lament is the capacity for a congregation to hold negative and uncomfortable emotions in a communal setting. Somehow, we have gotten the idea that God wants praise, not honesty. The biblical witness is otherwise. God affirms rather than admonishes Job for his plucky challenges. The psalmist rants and raves at God and demands a response. Lamentations ends not in hope but with this plea: ‘Restore us to yourself, O Lord […] unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure’ (Lamentations 5:21&22).

Faithfulness is honest conversation. Faithfulness is turning to God in extremis and giving voice to the full strength of our emotion. When we do that, space opens up within us.

When my daughter was six, I was working in a church that had a well-appointed, carpeted library on the lower level (my office was two floors up). She would play there after school on her own. One day as we drove home, she told me that a church employee had her sit on his lap and told her not to tell me. I swallowed my bubbling fear and rage and asked her to tell me more. It appeared that she was being groomed. That night after I put her to bed, I raged at God, standing with my Bible open to the book of Job, saying, ‘How dare you call me into ministry to put my child at risk?!’

After twenty minutes, I laid down exhausted and heard, ‘Did you really think you would be exempt from the suffering of the world?’ Of course, I would have said no if asked that beforehand, but the events of the day revealed to me that deep down I did expect it. The expression of rage before God opened me to see myself and the world, and righted my relationship with the Holy.

When a congregation, a community, a nation suffers a traumatising event, we will go through a period of disillusionment and de-illusionment. Our basic assumptions about the benevolence of the world, and possibly even God, have been shaken or shattered. Lamentation brings our brokenness to the heart of God and enables movement towards finding a new normal. In The Message of the Psalms Walter Brueggemann talks about how the psalms mirror the human experience. We have periods of stability (orientation), painful periods of disruption (disorientation, such as death, serious illness, job loss) and periods where we find a new normal (new orientation). The practice of lamentation assists us to move from disorientation to new orientation.

John Swinton offers a template for writing a lament in his book Raging with Compassion, based on the work of Ann Weems. I abbreviate it here: address God; make a fulsome complaint; express trust in God; tell God what you want God to do; and if you are ready – laments are honest – vow your praise. You may find that by the time you get to the end of the lament, you are ready to praise.

Brueggemann says that the task of the religious leader in times of cataclysm is to face reality, grieve the losses (lament) and offer hope. Not the kind of hope that says that everything will be all right. But the kind of hope that says: God is. God will not give up on us. God will continue to call us as junior partners in the work of redeeming the times and enabling the flourishing of life.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath give us plenty to think about, to grieve and to hope for. It has revealed the interconnectedness of all of creation, the impact of our animal practices and our vulnerability to zoonotic diseases, structural inequalities, the suffering caused by four hundred years of racism, the vulnerability of supply and distribution chains, our great need of each other and our mortality. There is much reality to be fierce with, some things to lament and a call to offer hope that is grounded in God’s love for all creation. We have work to do and the tools to do it.


Revd Dr Carla A. Grosch-Miller

Practical Theologian and team member, Tragedy and Congregations




Carla is the author of Psalms redux: Poems and Prayers and Lifelines: Wrestling the Word, Gathering Up Grace, both published by Canterbury Press. She also co-edited and contributed to Tragedy and Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma (Routledge) and is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter.


Further reading


David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins (New Haven, CN and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 250.

John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids MI and Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 128.

Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014).


This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to for more information about how to subscribe.