Category: Transcript

PTSD as an Interpretive Phenomenon {Transcript}

October 12, 2018

Good to be with you. IBCD does a wonderful job of being organized and timely and kind throughout this whole process.

Thank you. It’s good to be here with you. Special thanks to Craig Marshall for organizing, keeping us all on track. Being communicative with us speakers and I’m sure you’ve had the same experience as guests.

Just been very pleasant so far, and I also get the blessing of coming to you while your brains are still fresh. It’s the nice thing about a pre-conference is that your brains haven’t start to harden through all the information that you’re going to take in over the next–

I can totally ruin your brain capacity for the next two days if I’m not careful.

Let me tell you just a little bit more about myself that might be helpful for you to know. He mentioned, Dr. Newheiser mentioned already that I do teach biblical counseling at Master’s University. That’s about three hours from here, depending on what LA traffic is doing. But I also have the privilege of getting to pastor part-time. So I get to be a pastor of counseling in my church. Doing the work of counseling and training other counselors to do that work.

That’s important to hear, because I am in the trenches with you, when it comes to this stuff. I never want to just be an academic and teaching. But I want to be in the trenches helping.

So some of this is spoken from that vein of what has been helpful in the counseling room, and what we’ve used in other scenarios for those going through PTSD.

But the last dynamic that has already been briefly mentioned, is that I also am a veteran like Curtis. I had the privilege of serving in the United States Army for 4 1/2 years. I signed up in 2007, and if you think — this is crazy this has already been 11 years — but if you think back 11 years ago, that’s the height of the Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War. And as I went in, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I signed up to be what was called an officer candidate, which means that I had the privilege of competing for my job and I ultimately became a signal officer and served 4 1/2 years as a signal officer, or a COMMO guy.

I primarily served in Asia. Primarily within Asia on the Korean DMZ. Something that’s been increasingly popular here, lately. There’s a few United Nations camps there. Spent most of my time there, and also in Japan, in Okinawa.

So this topic of PTSD is something that’s been very dear to me, and that’s been true for some time. Let me try and explain some of the reason that is true. Is we were preparing to get out of the military; this was roughly 2012. What was taking place is that the wars were both drawing down, and it was that year that Afghanistan was pledged to have another draw-down of forces. And so troops were being brought home from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Places that we had been for many years. And troops were coming home and were being diagnosed with what was called “PTS”, or “PTSD”. Depends on how you want to define it.

And they would come home, many of them my colleagues, and some of them my friends, would come home and were diagnosed and occasionally medicated. And some even given pensions from the VA because of what they were going through with PTS or PTSD. However, there was very little hope for change. As I was coming out of the military, my peers were diagnosed, and they were given resources to learn how to cope, but they weren’t given any promise that, “You can work through this,” that “It doesn’t have to be like this the rest of your life.” Or as Curtis was saying in our last session, that, “You are not your PTSD. It’s not your identity.”

It was a really, kind of grim situation and as I was looking from a biblical landscape, I was also noticing that we didn’t have a lot of biblical resources that were out there. I think Tim Laehn’s booklet that you just saw was one of them. Jeremy Lelek wrote another one. Those were functionally it, in 2012.

And so I don’t pretend myself to be a wonderful person, but I thought, “Well, man, maybe I could start something. Maybe I could help in some way.” And address those blind spots. So that’s where I really started to research, and dig in, and seek to orient my ministry towards those struggling with PTSD.

Some of that is what I’m going to share with you. Some of that is what Jim mentioned in my book. That this all came to fruition last year as I sought to publish this, and make this available to those who are families going through this with a loved one. And so as I wrote that, I wrote it for the family member who has someone dear to them who is going through PTSD.

So in a room this size, I echo what Jim said earlier, that I know that’s why some of you are here. That you’re thinking out of a counselee, that you’re thinking of a loved one. So hope to equip you with ways to think about that. Hope to equip you with certain responses that you can take. But as we do that, let’s start by going in our scripture to 1 Samuel. Go with me to chapter 18.

As we’re talking about the phenomenon of PTSD, I’ll share with you– spoiler alert! That one of the main thrusts of my book is this simple statement that, “PTSD is an interpretive phenomenon.” And I hope to explain to more clearly throughout our time this morning.

PTSD is an interpretive phenomenon. First Samuel 18, this is the verse that you see at the top of your notes. This is just the small tid-bit of trauma. We see chapter 17 finishing with what Curtis was talking about, and how this young youth slayed a giant. Not only slayed him, but killed him, decapitated him. Brought back that mutilated body to the king. And then now there’s a song being sang about this young David.

‘Cause the text says here, this is verse number 5 of 1 Samuel 18, it says, “David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. And as they were coming home, when David returned from striking the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing to meet King Saul. They came with tambourines, with songs of joy. With musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated.” And this is what they sang. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” What a song to be welcomed home to.

Now, I’m from Georgia. Even we don’t sing songs like that. Sorry if you’re southerners out there. I’m imagining that you don’t teach your kids that one? “Saul has struck his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Think about what they’re celebrating just for a moment. Think about the atrocities of what have occurred. You’re celebrating a Philistine that was just killed. You’re celebrating all the military victories that were taking place. The death. The conquering of the enemy by David. You’re celebrating all of this, and it’s coming out in a song that says, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”. That sounds more like a taunt, but we see that that’s the way that Saul took it. Saul was immediately jealous. “He’s killed more people. He’s having more success on the battle field than I’m having. He was brave and courageous when I was a coward.”

So he immediately becomes suspicious of David. And we see the narrative continue that from that point he continues to seek to get rid of David. What I want to point out to you is that they’re celebrating something that perhaps we would identify as being traumatic. You just want to use the death of the Philistine that immediately proceeds this. Or you want to think of the war, the conquering of the enemy that immediately precedes this. That these women were looking at this trauma from a certain angle, and they were celebrating those traumatic events. It’s fascinating.

Have you ever wondered this? Have you ever wondered why two different individuals can experience the same, exact, traumatic event. One develops PTSD, and the other does not. Have you ever wondered about that? Why is that so? Think of car accidents. Many of you have been in them. Think of great crimes, think of combat. Think of natural disasters. Why is it that two people can experience that same, traumatic event? One develops PTSD, and the other does not?

Well, that’s what I hope to spend our lecture today talking through. Is the nature of what that’s so, and how we as biblical counselors can help minister. The reason, I would suggest to you, is that some people like the women in Israel, they viewed trauma from a different perspective. They celebrated it. Just talking with a brother down here, who has special operations guys in his church. There’s a different approach by our special ops guys towards traumatic moments. And there are those who are civilians who have never been in a combat scenario.

Maybe it’s the way that the women of Israel were viewing it. Maybe it was the way they were interpreting it. But I want to point a few things out to you as we talk that through. So that there is secular research that would suggest the way you interpret the event is going to shape the way that you respond to it. But there are many factors that would shape that interpretation.

Even the interpretation of your trauma is influenced by your body. And if you remember some of what Curtis just shared, the physiology of PTSD. It’s an important factor, and we’re going to spend just a few minutes talking it through. But what they would say is that the reason why you interpret trauma in a certain way, is because of your body. Or your genetics. So at one point it was actually believed that those who develop PTSD were constitutionally weak people. I don’t think anyone would say that these days. There’s no one espousing that position.

But at one point it was believed that they way that we remedy PTSD, is that we get rid of a conscript army, and it’s all volunteer. So that anyone who would go to combat is there by their choice. We’re going to develop a professional soldier. Why did they do that? Because they believed that the reason why they were developing PTSD was because of the fact they were constitutionally weaker. Or their genetics were inclining them away from this.

There are other factors that would influence your interpretation. One is that of your sociology. Kind of the environment in which you were in. Your cultural influences. Your family. All of those are shaping influences for how you interpret trauma. We think back to the time of Israel, and all that the victories of David meant for these women singing this song. They’re interpreting that through a sociological influence. They’re interpreting that trauma based off of what all of that trauma means for them as a nation.

That’s really important to note. We’re going to spend some time talking through why you interpret things the way you interpret them. I’m going to hope to offer you some biblical suggestions as we do that. But as we continue to do that, I want to share with you a story from Vietnam.

Vietnam’s not that far away. It’s not that far away that many of you perhaps have a father or an uncle who was involved in the Vietnam War. And you remember the stories of how this war was. Just so terrible. I want to tell you of a story of a civilian who was involved in the Vietnam War.

Her name is Phan Thị Kim Phúc. I’m gonna call her Kim, hope you guys are okay with that. Perhaps you would better know her as “The Napalm Girl”. Reason you would know that, is because on June 8, 1972, Kim’s village was bombed by a South Vietnamese Napalm attack. There’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph that shows Kim as a 9-year-old little girl, running down this road, screaming with her hands behind her. Crying, because she had just been burned by the Napalm. That photo captured the atrocities of the war.

If you look close enough at the photo, you can see that Kim has skin hanging off her arms, and that there are certain colors of her arms that are actually different colors. There are certain parts of her arm that are different colors. She was burned. The reason why she was naked is because her clothes were touched by Napalm. She’s running away, stripping them off, so that she’s not continuing to be burned, screaming.

What happened that day, according to her account, is that she wasn’t actually being targeted, but the South Vietnamese had been bombing trade routes used by Viet Cong Rebels. She says, “I had not been targeted. I had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those bombs have brought me immeasurable pain. Even now, some 40 years later. I am still receiving treatment for burns that cover my arms, back, and neck. The emotional and spiritual pain was even harder to endure. And yet looking back at the past five decades, I realize that those same bombs that brought so much sufferings, also brought great healing. Those bombs lead me to Christ.” She has a memoir that has just come out where she says this.

She looks back on that traumatic moment where she was burned, where she was bombed, where she was running naked down the street as a 9-year-old. And she looks back, and she says, “I give thanks for that road.” She says, “I give thanks to God for everything, even for that road, and especially for that road.” Her being burned, embalmed by her own people was a traumatic event. Most of us could agree with that.

And as she looks back on it, the way that she responds to it is one that gives thanks and recognizes that that traumatic moment was the beginning of her journey to become like Jesus Christ. And that God used that terrible, traumatic event in her life to draw her to Himself.

I point that out to you, because what’s significant about Kim’s response is that in light of this trauma, Kim has not developed the symptoms of PTSD, to this point. Not as of March this year. Why is that?

Well what I want to show you is that PTSD is an interpretive disorder. This is the blank that you have in your notes, I think the only one that I’ve given to you. PTSD is an interpretive disorder. Meaning, the way that one perceives the trauma, determines their response to the trauma. The way that Kim interpreted the trauma that day of being bombed and burned has influenced her response. One that to this point, has not entailed PTSD.

I know that that’s a controversial statement, so we’re going to spend some time unpacking what I mean by that statement. That’s the basic thrust of what I want to communicate to you. PTSD is highly interpretive. The way that one perceives the original trauma, determines their response to it. Okay, so I know that there’s the mathematician among us who likes exactness. So bear with me. I don’t really like the term, “determines”. We could swap that one out. Let’s take out “determines” and let’s just say that it simply, strongly influences your response toward the trauma. Maybe we’d be more comfortable saying that.

But what I want you to see, is that when the women sang the song celebrating David’s victories of trauma, they were interpreting trauma. And what that traumatic moment meant for them as a nation.

When Kim reflects back on the bombs that led her to Christ, she is interpreting trauma. Those traumatic moments in a 9-year-old’s life she’s looking back on, and interpreting.

When individuals who are struggling with PTSD look back on the trauma, they are interpreting. You have to see that. They’re looking back. They’re exerting an interpretive effort. The struggle with PTSD is one that is highly interpretive. I want to show you this through two definitions. I have them inverted here. Let’s start with the Veteran’s Affairs definition of PTSD.

So what Curtis did is he walked through some of the symptoms that those facing PTSD would go through. I want to share with you just two, maybe synopsis statements about PTSD.

First is from the VA. The VA would describe PTSD as, “A mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events, like combat, natural disaster, car accident, or sexual assault. PTSD is not,” I want to you listen to this next part. “PTSD is not, nor has it ever been associated or exclusively tied, to those who have only experienced physical injuries.” There has consistently throughout history of PTSD, been those who’ve said that, “You must have faced a physical injury, in order for you to have PTSD.” And then there’ve been those who have said, “No, you don’t have to have faced the physical injury, meaning that you weren’t physically hurt, but that you saw that physical hurt happen to someone else.” At no point has there been one or the other where exclusively it’s believed that it’s only a physical injury that happened to you, or it’s only this immaterial injury that could happen to you. That’s important. There’s always been a debate about that. Ever since we can go back to the late 1800’s when PTSD started to be formalized and practiced, and counseled for.

So PTSD, you must note, according to this definition, can be instigated from both an immaterial and a material trigger. This includes that you were part of it, or that you witnessed it. Someone you loved was part of it. Think of soldiers in a unit. Think of a loved one in a car accident. Think of family members in a natural disaster.

The APA would define trauma as this. It says that, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event, like an accident, rape, or a natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical.” You remember Curtis brought up the idea of “A normal response to abnormal circumstances”? Trauma is that abnormal circumstance. We can be okay in saying that. But what the APA goes on to say is that, “PTSD is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events. Such as combat, crime, an accident, or natural disaster.”

I want to highlight from both of these definitions the thought that you don’t have to be physically injured in order to develop PTSD. You don’t have to BE in the car accident. You don’t have to BE wounded in combat. You don’t have to be injured through the natural disaster in order for you to develop PTSD. Both of these definitions are suggesting that your post-traumatic-stress symptoms can develop when you’ve witnessed these things take place. It’s important. That’s important because one doesn’t only develop PTSD when they are injured. When exposed to significant trauma. But they develop PTSD when they interpret something to be traumatic.

Think about that for a second. That you can develop PTSD through witnessing a traumatic moment. In your mind, you observed something that’s out of the ordinary. It’s that abnormal circumstance. You observed that traumatic moment. And now you are struggling with some of the effects of PTS or PTSD in your mind.

The reason why that’s important is because then we have to beg the question of, “Well, what is traumatic?” What is a traumatic moment? Think of that. You don’t have to answer that out loud. What would you describe as traumatic? Because what you may describe as traumatic is different from what I may describe as traumatic. And the person next to you. And the people around you. Why is that? Why is the way that you would describe traumatic, different from the way that I would describe traumatic? Why is that different?

It comes down to the way that we interpret trauma. Meaning that what may be traumatic for me may not be traumatic for you. Maybe you’ve faced that multiple times. Or what may be traumatic for you isn’t traumatic for me. Maybe you’ve faced that. Maybe I’ve faced that multiple times, and for me it’s not a struggle.

Well when we talk about those who are witnessing traumatic events, they are in the process of doing interpretation and synthesizing, “Is this something that I should be fearful of? Is this something that I should be concerned about? Am I in danger? Am I being hurt?” What’s taking place is that we are interpreting that trauma. I want you to think of the carnage that medical doctors see on a regular basis. Think about this. Some of you may be medical doctors, you don’t have to think about– this was earlier, today. Why is that not traumatizing for them? Why is it not traumatizing to do open heart surgery? I asked one doctor this. We mentioned him earlier. His name is Charles Hodges, biblical counselor. I asked him this question. He said, “As a physician, I have witnessed amazingly terrible events. Like open heart surgery. It doesn’t bother me. Yet in another context, seeing someone’s chest torn open might bother me a great deal.” And this is what he finishes by saying. “So that interpretation depends on the context.” That interpretation depends on the context.

If you were to see the carnage of open heart surgery on the side of the road, that would change your interpretation of that moment. And not to be crude, but it’s the same blood and guts. It’s the same mess. Why are you interpreting it differently? Well, because of the context. I want you to see that the way that a person interprets that traumatic moment determines, or greatly shapes, their response to that traumatic moment. And in the middle of terrible traumas that we all face, we are all meaning-makers. We are all interpreters. We are all processing. We are all synthesizing.

So what I’m hoping to offer to you that at the core of the problem of PTSD is one of interpretation. I acknowledge physiological influences towards interpretation, and towards responses. I’ll clarify that in a second. I acknowledge those. But at the core of the problem of PTSD is that we are meaning-makers who are looking at traumatic moments, seeking to synthesize and understand what in the world happened.

So thus, at the solution and at the core of how we can help people going through PTSD, is that we help offer to them a biblical worldview of how they can view that original trauma.

You know, we can be candid as biblical counselors and say that there are physiological influences that impact your interpretation. That doesn’t have to make anyone in this room twitchy. The way that I hope to explain that is that those physiological influences still don’t cause you to make sinful decisions. Let me see if I can clarify that. So I’m at the point in your notes where you see “Influences of Interpretation”, and we’re at the point of “Genetic Predispositions”.

Scholars actually believe that you are genetically even inclined towards PTSD responses or not. One scholar in particular, Dr. Armen Goenjian, of UCLA, he observed that after the Armenia earthquake in 1988, he took samples of DNA from 200 different individuals. The people spanned several generations, and were from 12 extended families, who suffered PTSD symptoms after the disaster. The family’s genes showed that those who had specific variance of two genes were more prone to PTSD symptoms. Those genes were TPH1 and TPH2. And those are the genes that help control the production of serotonin in your body.

So what serotonin does, is it’s a brain chemical that regulates mood. Sleep, alertness. And most would believe that serotonin is interrupted during PTSD [inaudible 00:25:47] influenced its production level.

What this doctor is arguing is that those who have this certain gene are inclined towards PTSD. And that their influence, or excuse me, their interpretation of that original traumatic moment is now based off of their genetic composition. What he would suggest is that if we want to know who has a proclivity towards PTSD, let’s do genetic testing, and then we’ll know that. ‘Cause we can find similar strands of DNA.

There’s also another popular movement taking place, and this is the idea of brain versus mind injury. That one of the distinctions that I’ve already offered to you is that there is a difference between the physical explosion being experienced by you, and the physical explosion being observed by you. There isn’t a difference between you being in the accident and you observing the accident. Well, what’s taking place is that increasingly now, there is the idea that your brain is what’s causing your PTSD.

Recently on 60 Minutes, your brain was even more specified with the gray matter. They took an autopsy of a soldier who committed suicide and was diagnosed with PTSD, and they were studying the gray matter around his brain. Making the hypothesis that potentially it’s that gray matter that encouraged him to develop PTSD.

The American Legion, for those of you who are familiar with The American Legion, it’s a group of individuals who seek to serve to veterans of foreign war. American Legion did an article recently observing how electrical stimulation has been helpful for those with PTSD. They’re suggesting that if you can have little zaps that would take place within your head, that the neuro pathways that aren’t firing will be opened back up. So those who are going through PTSD are now faced with these brain solutions to what they’re going through.

Some believe that the physical organ of the brain can cause PTSD. Some believe that your genetics can cause PTSD. But as I said earlier, I want you to recognize that never in the history of PTSD has it been accepted that it’s a body only. But that there is an immaterial component to why one person develops PTSD and when another does not.

So, is it okay for us to acknowledge that there are potentially physical encouragements toward PTSD? The answer is yes. Absolutely. That shouldn’t create a problem in your counseling, in your ministry, in your thinking. That it is very possible that we have physical encouragements towards PTSD. But the clarification comes for us as biblical counselors, when we say that even if we have bodies that are encouraging us towards fear, for instance, that I never have to give into that fear, because God has promised to give me the grace to do what’s right.

So I may have a body that’s encouraging me towards anxiety. I have one of those bodies; I don’t know if you have one of those. But my body can’t make me give in to anxiety, from a biblical perspective. So you recognize that it’s not a problem for us to observe that your body, maybe your genetics, maybe the organ of your brain, is encouraging you towards some of the PTSD symptoms. That’s okay. But God gives us grace in those moments to make accurate interpretations and respond in a way that honors and pleases Him. So the first is this idea of genetic predispositions that segways into your brain, and your mind, and how those interplay.

The second thing that helps influence your interpretations are sociological influences. Think of the environment that you live in. Social influences are shaping you, and informing you, and teaching you what is even traumatic. Have you ever thought about that? That your social influences actually teach you what is trauma. What you view as being a traumatic moment in your life. And that your social influences also help inform how you respond to traumatic moments in your life.

Research was done after the 2004 tsunami by a professor at York University, and he just made some basic observations about the Sri Lankan people. Here’s what he said. He said, “Immediately following the tsunami, Sri Lankan people’s top priority seemed to be aiding those around them rather than seeking treatment themselves. Behaviors that many viewed as signs of denial and shock, and considered to be warning signs of PTSD. Despite the persistence of Sri Lankans to continue to help those around them, the therapists continued to encourage them to stop, and to take care of themselves first. However, in many cultures the practice is to help others before you help yourselves.” Couldn’t stop! “Hey, guys, you need to stop, you need to focus on you. You need to take care of you first, before you minister to another person.” The Sri Lankans weren’t responding in that way.

I don’t know if you remember, but thousands upon thousands lost their life in this natural disaster, and their culture was informing how they should respond to this traumatic event. The culture of the Sri Lankans encouraged them to respond by serving others. This is what Dr. Muller goes on to say would prevent the development of any psychological problems.

Anthony Marsella, of the University of Hawaii, goes on to say, “Is it possible for us to develop a psychological disorder outside of our cultural influence?” And he says, “No. A reasonable point of view is that all disorders are culture-bound, including all western disorders, since they emerge, are experienced, and are responded to within a cultural context.” It’s just a big way of saying that your culture informs the way you view trauma and what is traumatic.

Which just in passing, earlier I mentioned this some in the book. I had the opportunity to minister by a group of individuals within the army called the Army Rangers, if any of you are familiar. It’s special operations community within the army. That is a subculture that informs the way that a person view trauma, traumatic moments, or trauma. There are special operations guys here, you would say the same thing. That that subculture of your special operations unit has informed the way that you would view trauma. Why is that?

Because your sociological influences shape the way that you interpret trauma. And they also shape the way that you respond to trauma. So can it be that your culture shapes the way that you view trauma? Of course. No problem with that. Shouldn’t create problems for you as a biblical counselor. But that your culture never determines how you view. It doesn’t have to determine. It doesn’t have to determine how you view it, and how you respond to it.

Let me highlight just one other segway here, which is the idea of other influences. It’s also believed that your families help shape the way that you interpret trauma. Your familial influences, meaning that some of us come from families, that– give the southern-ism here. That “make mountains out of molehills”. It’s a southern-ism. And that others come from families that want to minimize the most heinous of events. That your family actually informs the way that you’re interpreting trauma. Do they maximize it, do they minimize it, do they exacerbate the pain? Do they keep bringing up memories in unhealthy ways? Your family can actually make this worse, and I hope to argue for you later on, that your family can actually contribute to solutions.

But here is the one that I really want you to catch. This is the last influence on your interpretation. This is a lynch pin of sorts. One of the most important observations from secular researchers, is that religious influences respond or shape our response to how we interpret trauma. That your religious influences are some of the greater influences in how we interpret trauma, and our response to trauma.

One professor up at West Point, he said that out of studying eleven different reviews of those who had PTSD and their associations with religion or spirituality, he found that higher scores on one measure were correlated to higher scores on the other. What he was doing is observing the data, and through the data, not a believer, not trying to make a case for religion, he said that those who have a religious worldview respond better to traumatic moments and traumatic events.

Two more professors would affirm this, both at UC Berkeley, or one at UC Berkeley, one at UC San Francisco. They said the two most influential, cognitively oriented formulations of trauma response. The two most important factors about the way you think about trauma are this: The importance of beliefs and linked emotions about the self and the world. The importance of your beliefs, and the linked associations about yourself and the world. I love this. It’s hard to say this and not smile. This is our lane. This is our lane. What else is the Bible, but a worldview?

When we begin to talk about beliefs and linked emotions, we’re talking about the worldview. I don’t use secular researchers to support my claims; I don’t need those. I know the Bible is sufficient to provide a worldview. But I bring these up to say that even a secular researcher observes that those who have a religious framework, or how to process traumatic moments, they respond better to the traumatic moment. I love that. Isn’t it interesting that even a secular researcher would note that? He’s not trying to prove anything, not trying to make a case for why we should use the Bible, or why biblical counseling is effective. He’s just stating the facts. What he sees to be taking place.

It’s my goal to press upon you that the way that we help individuals is by equipping them with a biblical worldview, so that they can interpret that trauma, and they can respond to that trauma in a way that honors and glorifies God. So grab your Bible. Let’s go to 2 Corinthians.

As you’re going to 2 Corinthians, we’re going to stop in chapter 4. And I’m gonna read to you from chapter 12 here in a second. Want to explain to you a passage that has a lot to do with worldview. This passage is where Paul is actually seeking to establish himself as an apostle. What I love about the way Paul goes through this is that he’s establishing himself based off of how lame he believes himself to be. So he says in verse number 1, “That I’ve actually been given this ministry by the mercy of God.” People think that he’s an imposter. People think that he’s not legitimate. And he goes on to establish his legitimacy in verse number 7, and he says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay.” Love it. He’s establishing his legitimacy based off of his own fragility. “We have this treasure in jars of clay, we’re not the greatest of people, we’re not the most competent. But we’ve been given this treasure in jars of clay to show the surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us.”

The way that he’s seeking to validate himself as an apostle is by saying that, “I know my own frailties, my own shortcomings, but God’s using those to demonstrate that He has the power. That He is the one that is sufficient, not me.” And then he segways into a section where he begins to talk about the hardships that he’s faced in this ministry. “We’re afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not driven to despair.” Verse 9. “Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed. Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus. So that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.”

What he does throughout this entire letter of 2 Corinthians, is that he establishes legitimacy of him being an apostle based off of the weaknesses that he has. Based off of the things that he has faced. Chapter 12 he goes on to say that, “Are others a servant of Christ? Well, I’m a better one.” He’s being sarcastic here. “I’m a better one. Let me talk about why I’m a better one. I’ve been through far greater labors. Far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I’ve received at the hand of the Jews, the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. A night and a day I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys, and danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people. Danger from Gentiles. Danger in the city. Danger in the wilderness. Danger at sea. Danger from false brothers. And toil and hardship through many sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and in exposure.”

And as if that weren’t enough, he has pastoral anxiety. Pastors can experience this. Apart from all these other things, there is a daily pressure on me. The anxiety for all the churches. You know, I don’t know how you define trauma. But I think you can fine it somewhere in here. You think about the pressures, you think about the beatings, you think about the shipwrecks. You think about all of this significant trauma that Paul has faced. And what he does in chapter 4, verse number 16, is he shares how he works through those difficult moments.

So why are we not destroyed, as we think through this? Why are we not forsaken? Why is it that we’re not driven to despair, look in verse 16 with me. We don’t lose heart in this ministry. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. Verse 17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison. As we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Despite the hardships that Paul faces, he enumerates them in chapter 12. Despite all of that garbage, all of that trauma, all of those difficulties that he’s gone through, he introduces this idea that he’s not overwhelmed, because these light, momentary afflictions are working something for him. They’re preparing something for him. That the glory that is to come is far superior than the affliction that he’s facing here on this earth. Hardships haven’t gone away. You study his life, they don’t go away. But those hardships don’t overwhelm him. The momentary afflictions that we are facing in this life, are working for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison. That’s what he says. But then he says, how does he know that to be true?

Look in verse number 18. “As we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” How in the world does he endure through these great difficulties? Well, he doesn’t look to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. He has a certain way of viewing the world. He understands that all of the heinous things that he’s experienced in his ministry, that they’re not it. That’s not all that there will be. That all of those things are actually working for his good. An eternal weight of glory that’s prepared for him.

Can I just suggest to you that that’s worldview? That’s a certain way of you viewing your suffering. Dare I say, your “traumatic moment”? That God has equipped you with a biblical worldview to say that, “That traumatic moment can work for me an eternal weight of glory. That trigger–,” if I want to use PTSD terminology, “That trigger, that can work for me an eternal weight of glory.” That’s a world view that we use. When we look at that and we say, “I’m not defined by it, it’s not who I am. That hardship is working for me an eternal weight of glory. As I look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.”

It’s no wonder why David says in Psalm 63, excuse me not 63. Thirty-six, nine. He says this, “In your light do we see life.” When I see things from God’s perspective, I truly begin to understand. It’s what Paul’s doing here. He’s saying that when I view my afflictions through the eyes of faith, then I recognize that those afflictions are actually working something far superior to their light, and their momentary. It’s no wonder why just seven verses later he goes on to say that the Christian life is on that is characterized by walking by faith, not by sight. A way of viewing the world.

So secular research would say that those who have a religious worldview respond better to trauma. Why is that? It’s because those who have faced significant, traumatic moments, they know what to do with them. They know how to interpret them. They know how to interpret car accidents and natural disasters. They know how to interpret trauma, like combat. It’s not to take away all the physical influences toward these things, but it’s to say that they know how to respond to them. They know how to respond to loss.

The Bible informs us of how we respond to loss. That it’s okay to mourn. We’re commended for mourning with those who mourn. We’re commanded to mourn. Just differently from those who have no hope, 1 Thessalonians 4. So your mourning, in light of what this traumatic event has brought, it’s okay. The Bible informs the way that we do that. The Bible informs how we respond to regret. Perhaps we were the one that traumatized. We were the one that made the decisions that cost others. The Bible makes it clear that God uses our sinful, and foolish, decisions to still advance his purposes. They’re still under His sovereign control. And oh, how we wish we could do them again. Oh, how we wish we could go back and make that decision again. But the Bible still informs us of what we can do now, going forward, in light of our foolish mistakes. The Bible tells us what to do with regret.

The Bible tells us what to do with guilt. If I’m standing in a room among believers, hey we know a lot of what to do with guilt. We’ve been very guilty throughout our life. But the saving work of Christ is about mediating and atoning for guilty people like us. So maybe we’re ministering to someone who is guilty. Maybe we’re ministering to someone who feels guilty, because of that traumatic moment. The Bible knows what to do with that. The Bible knows what to do with anxieties and fears. That’s what the APA calls PTSD, after all, an anxiety problem. I don’t know if you remember that Jesus squarely addresses both of these in the Gospels. This is how you respond to your fears, you look to God the Father who is good, who provides, who knows.

The reason why those who have a religious worldview can respond better to trauma is because they know what to do with it. They know how to interpret it. Brothers and sisters, if we were really going to be helpful to people going through PTSD, we’re going to help them by helping them with God’s words. They can view their trauma the way God views it. And they can respond to their trauma the way God wants them to respond to it. When we do that, we’re truly being helpful toward them.

So I want to suggest the reason that two people can face the same trauma, one develop PTSD, and the other not, is because PTSD is highly interpretive. The way that you view the trauma shapes your response to that trauma. Think of Kim. Think of Kim’s response. “I thank God for that road, especially, because those bombs brought me to Christ.”

We can be totally comfortable as biblical counselors, suggesting that there are things that influence the way that you interpret what is traumatic. It shouldn’t bother you in the least. Body, environment, social influences. But what we have, is we have the hope of offering that in light of all of those things, God gives you a better worldview, as revealed in His Word.

If you’ll just trust Him. If you’ll just be willing to let His truth be authoritative over your truth, you will see change. We can truly help those with PTSD find lasting change. Because the way that we do that is we, like, Paul, we equip them to look with the eyes of faith, not at the things that are seen but at the things that are unseen. We truly help them as they look at that original trauma through God’s worldview, and as they respond to it from God’s perspective.

Thank you guys for allowing me to be with you through this conference, I’ll have the privilege of being back this afternoon. May God give us wisdom as we seek to minister to those with PTSD.


  • Milton Vincent
    Milton Vincent has served as Pastor-Teacher of Cornerstone Fellowship Bible Church since 1992. He is the author of A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love, a book that emerged from his chronic struggle to understand and rest in his standing as a justified one before God. What started as a few notes on an index card morphed into a spiral-bound booklet, and then into its present published edition which has brought gospel help to many. Milton and his wife, Donna, were married in 1987 and have four grown children and two grandchildren. He is a graduate of Bob Jones University (BA) and The Master’s Seminary (MDiv) in Sun Valley, CA, where he also served as a Faculty Associate. Most of all, Milton is a sinner saved by the grace of God through Christ, and he delights to speak of God’s amazing grace to all who care to listen.

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