Theology of Trauma by Prof. Dr. Ruard Ganzevoort

Prof. Dr. Ruard Ganzevoort.
 On Friday the 5th of August Prof. Ruard Ganzevoort honoured the Faculty of Theology of the University of the Freestate with his presence in presenting a seminar on ‘The Theology of Trauma’. This was a very new and interesting way for me in approaching the Bible. 

He started of by saying that a line of trauma runs through the Bible and we don’t often take notice of it, we tend to focus on the other side of the story, the easy side. 
To name a few of these traumatic events;
  • Cain and Abel
  • Abraham and Isaac
  • Joseph and his brothers
  • The Exodus 
  • David and Batseba
  • The Crucifixion
  • The list goes on…
The above mentioned are all symbols of trauma, but why do we tend to look away from within the Reformation’s perspective? Within the Reformation’s perspective we tend to focus on the sinners side, but what about the victims perspective?
Are we reluctant to acknowledge the widespread reality of evil? Why do we focus on the powerful sinners rather than the weak victims? Are we reluctant to acknowledge the critique of religious messages?

Prof. Ganzevoort goes on to say that in looking away there are consequences;
  • Victims of traumatic experiences are once more marginalised. 
  • The healing potential of the Gospel is not made fruitful.
  • We protect God and ourselves at the expense of the victim.
With a strong emphasize on the evil, bad, traumatic, suffering being highlighted above there can be seen that there is a relationship between suffering and religion. Suffering may well be the strongest impetus (driving force) for religion and also its largest stumbling block. Suffering is ambivalent, contingent, and transcendent. Religion may well be the Wisdom to negotiate suffering. Then the question comes to mind; May suffering be the origin of religion?
Prof. then highlights the psychological aspects of trauma in order to understand trauma. Some of the symptoms he points out are; intrusive memories, avoidance, and hyper alertness. The process behind trauma is much more complex and within the brain there are two main areas; the Amygdala and the Neocortex. When experiencing trauma the Amygdala takes over from the Neocortex hence no control over the experience. 
In short he sums op trauma as life being taken over by an outside power.

Within trauma the dynamics of guilt plays an important role because guilt gives a sense of control. This is problematic within a Calvinistic perspective because guilt is a major focus within that paradigm. The traumatised victim needs to release him/herself from that guilt in order to deal with the trauma. The same goes for the dynamics of submission and isolation.
In Theology, Theodicy comes to mind when talking about trauma because it attempts to reconcile stories of God with problematic experiences. Job is a good example of this with three main focuses;
  • God is all powerful.
  • God is all good.
  • This is the best possible world.
Within Psychology it correlates;
  • The world is meaningful and coherent.
  • The world is benevolent (good).
  • I am worthy of care and respect.
With this illustration in mind it should be noted that theological content can be used in coping with trauma. Another important point is that research regarding trauma should be located in stories of real suffering. Narrative plays an important role in coping.

In building a Victim Theology Ruard proposes some of the blocks towards a solid foundation for dealing with trauma from a Biblical perspective;
  • Lament – Taking experiences seriously.
  • Silence – Allowing the unspeakable.
  • Prophecy – Critiquing the status quo.
  • Waiting – Hope for eternal judgement.
  • Resistance – Evil can’t be accepted, ever.
  • Exorcism – Bringing out the persons identity (Marc 5).
  • Remembering – The Lord’s supper as acknowledgement of our torture.
With all the above in mind I am surely grateful for academics that allow open space for communicating about pressing issues in this world. Trauma being a multifaceted subject it is not only applicable for the harsh post-apartheid situations in South Africa, but also for the drought stricken Horn of Africa.
Trauma is real and that should be acknowledged!