Post-Traumatic Jesus: A Healing Gospel for the Wounded

"I was immediately centered by his view of the Christmas story through a post-traumatic lens; Mary and Jesus were human, one of us, and experienced trauma."

David W. Peters
Westminster John Knox Press, 162 pages | Published February 21, 2023

David W. Peters draws on St. Paul’s central message – “we proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) – to connect traumas in the lives of those on the margins with Jesus’ own trauma. Peters – an army veteran and Episcopal priest – shares his own stories and those of others that describe family, sexual, historical and domestic traumas, as well as stories of suicide.

Peters provides context from Jesus’ time while applying Bible stories to our modern world. I was immediately centered by his view of the Christmas story through a post-traumatic lens; Mary and Jesus were human, one of us, and experienced trauma. Before revealing the good news, Peters makes strong claims — for example, wondering if Mary consented to be pregnant with the child of God (he concludes that she did). He brings the experiences of the holy family to offer comfort to those carrying trauma.

Peters has clearly invested in his own healing process, which he brings to the biblical text. While I appreciate his process and admire his efforts to incorporate Jesus, I wrestle with the ways in which he seeks meaning in the trauma stories of others — perhaps they would describe their own journeys differently?  For example, when Peters uses the biblical language of  “fishing nets of alcohol dependence” to create parallels with his own and (his assumption of) others’ experiences, I wondered if they would agree with this description.

I also struggled with what I perceived as Peters’ perspective that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to address trauma. For example, when he writes “every experience we have in our bodies is contaminated by our trauma,” he seems to propose that the traumatized are condemned to impurity by acts they most likely had no control over, and now must take on the added burden of healing. This kind of generalization limits the multifaceted ways we live post-traumatic lives, therefore limiting the interpretation of a post-traumatic Jesus.

Ultimately, Peters’ central message is centered on love, and it is this language that brought me back, even when I encountered rhetoric that (unintentionally) shames. For example, Peters lovingly writes “God’s presence in a place is the healing” but then assumes, “(w)e cannot face the reality that we might be loved, cared for, noticed.” For those who can look past this language, the benefits of a post-traumatic Jesus could be great.

Though I do not always agree with Peters’ interpretation, I do believe that his book can be part of a healing journey, and I believe that the Holy Spirit might call readers to find healing through this book. It could be a useful resource for those processing their own trauma, particularly a small group exploring each chapter together. Peters loving language comes through as he describes the Samaritan who “wraps up his wounds in love and care.” May your trauma be wrapped in love as beautiful as this.

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