A Traumatised Saviour for a Traumatised Nation

One of the most important reasons to confront and revisit past hurt is that it gives us a window into Christ’s heart.

Upon my arrival in India in 2019, a young pastor sent me two video talks, one by British Indian lecturer and writer Rana Dasgupta, the other a TED talk by former diplomat Shashi Tharoor. They made me aware of how the history of India would intersect with my experiences in counselling Indian clients with trauma.

Dasgupta and Tharoor described the birth of this super-rich, diverse, creative nation using words like uprootedness, carnage, tension, bloodshed, displacement, massacres, ambushes, atrocities, destitute refugees, forced conversions, and emotional brokenness.

The independence of India and the partition of India were born out of trauma. What does this mean for grief and counselling?

Old, Even Forgotten Hurts Need Grieving and Healing

As a therapist, one is aware of how the past impacts the present. Research is showing how trauma can impact a child even before birth, while still in the mother’s womb.

Generational trauma is usually unknown to many. “Scientists have found that mothers who have suffered childhood trauma can pass this memory down to an unborn baby.”

“Emotional neglect from a mother’s own childhood seems to leave behind a neural signature in her baby that may predispose the infant to more readily detect a threat in the environment almost from birth,” says Cassandra Hendrix, in her research. This can lead to depression and increased anxiety in children and adults.

In India, there is some resistance to revisiting the past and grieving.

The body does not forget. So when I witness clients overreacting to some minor infraction in the present, I know it is because of a narrative playing out beneath their emotions of anger, anxiety, sadness, feelings of emptiness, or others.

What past emotional memory is being triggered? It causes me to be curious and compassionate. I know this is a holy, redemptive moment, but it is going to be painful.

How Seeing Past Hurts Afresh Can Bring Healing

In India, there is some resistance to revisiting the past and grieving. Dasgupta mentioned in his talk: “The past is nothing to be nostalgic about—life is about the future, no desire to return to the past.”

An Indian client also recently helped me understand the religious belief about karma. To talk about suffering and pain in the present can be seen as shameful since it represents the sum of one’s poor choices in a previous state of existence. One learns to hide things that are wrong and not take the time to feel and grieve.

But the gospel changes everything. The Bible introduces us to the Creator, God incarnate, who entered into our broken world and suffered so much that he is actually called the Man of Sorrows.

He cried a lot, yet his past was not marked by poor choices. He came from glory, perfection, holiness, and love. Because of his perfect love, he was not content to leave our broken planet as it is. He was willing to come himself, spending 33 years walking on broken glass, enduring the Cross, going to hell and back on our behalf.

Christ was willing to go to such extreme lengths to forgive us, to have us for himself eternally, and to restore eventually all that is wrong. He called the Cross his hour of glory. Now he invites us to come to him, cast our burdens on him, and he will give us rest.

If our creator and saviour cries, then, of course, he invites us to do so likewise with him.

The Psalms, Israel’s inspired hymnbook, testify that God knows how life on planet earth is painful. It invites us to pour out our hearts to him, as we seek comfort and wisdom from the bitter experiences of life. If our Creator and Saviour cries, then, of course, he invites us to do so likewise with him.

As clients begin to look back, share, process, and grieve about their hurt, the hope is that they discover that they are no longer alone in their suffering.

As their counsellor, I am allowed into their suffering, that holy space, to walk with them and help put words and expression to their grief. But even more importantly, the Man of Sorrows himself shows up. We discover that he knows about being uprooted, being displaced, ambushed, beaten, and shedding blood.

The prophet Isaiah uses descriptive words in the foretelling of Christ’s sufferings: “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, his form beyond that of the children of mankind. . . .He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him, he has put him to grief. . . . Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 52:14; 53:3-5, 8, 10-11).

The sufferings of Christ were traumatic; he was displaced, victimised, assaulted, and murdered.

Seeing Christ In and Through Our Suffering

In the process of counselling and helping someone grieve their past wounds I have found one of the most important reasons to confront and revisit the past: it gives us a window into Christ’s heart.

It is easy to think of Christ’s sufferings as an abstract idea. But when I allow my experience of suffering to consider his sufferings on my behalf, then it puts flesh and blood to my understanding of his experience.

Through my tears I only have to ask him, “Jesus, do you know what this feels like? Have you ever been where I am?” Then he reminds me that, yes, has been there too.

I am walking where he walked for me even before I was born. I am stepping into his wounds. There is nothing any person experiences that he has not experienced first (Heb. 4:15-16).

Therefore, God’s story of redemption and the depth of his rescuing love can be better understood through, and because of, the trauma witnessed in India.

This helps my mind find a place to go, a place to land. Now it is not just about me and my comfort. I am drawn to his experience. He hates the broken glass of suffering as much as I do. Which is why he intervened to bring it all to an end one day.

My tears are not just about my situation anymore, but tears of awe and appreciation that he loves me so much. I would never have understood his deep and inexhaustible love without the grief that drove me to this awareness.

He redeems and dignifies my suffering and transforms it into beauty and glory. Communion with him gets richer and sweeter day by day. So a story of trauma and distress gets reframed and rewritten.

The Beautiful Power of a New Story

As the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, the new story begins to brim with hope and purpose. Tharoor in referring to India’s “soft power” that is making India a world leader said: “The country that tells the better story shall prevail and make a difference, not the army!”

Therefore, God’s story of redemption and the depth of his rescuing love can be better understood through, and because of, the trauma witnessed in India.

God opens our eyes to see how the suffering servant was traumatised for the traumatised, victimised for the victimised, assaulted for the assaulted, and displaced for the displaced. He hates the broken glass, but he is in the trenches with his people, with his resurrection power and sustaining mercies, as we wait for the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21).

As a prayer from The Valley of Vision so beautifully puts it: “Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells, the brighter the stars shine. Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.”