Trauma, Children, and God

Children can experience trauma from a variety of experiences, including neglect, physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, death of a loved one, bullying, racial trauma, sickness, and more. Trauma occurs when children are exposed to an experience perceived as threatening or harmful and respond with intense fear that affects them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The compassionate and helpful response of parents or caregivers can help children who have experienced trauma to access spiritual, emotional, and physical healing. Helping children feel connected and loved, giving them opportunities to express what they’re feeling, providing any necessary professional care, and being patient with behavioral outbursts will all go a long way toward helping children heal. Knowing that God sees, cares for, and understands their suffering will help a traumatized child move forward in their healing. Reminding them that one day all pain and suffering will cease can help turn their minds away from anxiety about future trauma and toward promised future peace and joy.

God’s Care for Children 

Children who experience trauma are a sobering reminder of the reality that things in the world are not as they should be. Too often children have been passed off as a nuisance and a burden, something to be “seen and not heard.” But the Bible shows us that a child is someone made in the image of God and deserving of our care and attention.

When children suffer from trauma, it is critical that we understand God’s care for them, so that we can help teach and manifest the heavenly Father’s love and concern toward the hurting young people in our lives. 

Scripture has an incredibly high view of children. Jesus praised the humility and simple faith of little ones, and exhorted adult believers to imitate their humble and straightforward approach to God (Matthew 18:1–4). He also indicated that children can perceive spiritual matters that the “wise and understanding” cannot (Matthew 11:25). Likewise, in Psalm 8:2, King David highlights the glory God receives when little children praise him. 

Part of God’s law, given at Mount Sinai, was that no one should “mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:22). Indeed, God is one who “executes justice for the fatherless” (Deuteronomy 10:18) and curses anyone who perverts the justice due to orphans (Deuteronomy 27:19). The Lord says that no one should do wrong or be violent toward innocent children and orphans (Jeremiah 22:3). Not only does God want his people to love and care for children, but he calls them to do everything in their power to stop those who try to hurt, abuse, or oppress them: “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). Children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3) and a blessing; they are to be loved and protected. 

The tenderness and care Jesus showed for children during his earthly ministry is an expression of God’s heart toward the small, the weak, and the vulnerable seen through- out the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus often included them in his teaching, to the surprise of his disciples. In addition to his instruction about humility, he emphasized to the disciples that part of their duty was to receive little children, and insisted that it would be better for the person who causes a child to sin to be drowned in the sea than to continue living (Matthew 18:5–6; Luke 17:2). Later in the Matthew passage, Jesus says that children have a special place in God’s heart: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). 

When people were bringing children to Jesus so that he would pray for them, the disciples rebuked these people, thinking that Jesus had better things to do (Matthew 19:13). To their surprise, Jesus insisted, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). 

Part of Jesus’s ministry on earth involved healing children. In Mark 5:39, Jesus came into the house of a ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter had just died. Jesus said that she was not dead but only sleeping. After they laughed at him, Jesus said to the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41). Mark recounts what happened next: “And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:42). Similarly, in Mark 9, Jesus encounters a young boy who had been having demonic attacks. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him (Mark 9:25), and the boy fell down as if he were dead. Jesus took him by the hand and he was healed (Mark 9:27). Jesus, who calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), brings life and healing to children. 

Helping Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children. Jesus referred to children as messengers from God and made it clear that our treatment of children speaks volumes about what we really believe about God (Mark 9:36–37). 

In the Bible, God is One who stands with the vulnerable and powerless and speaks judgment against those who choose to use their power in ways that harm others. The oppressor unjustly uses force and deceit to take from the vulnerable. They think that no one cares and that no one will interfere with their plans. But God’s interest in the abuse of power is not passive. He is not at all resigned to injustice in a fallen world. The misuse of power to harm the vulnerable strikes against God’s holiness. Many pas- sages in the Bible speak out against violence and about God’s attitude toward those who repeatedly use it (Psalm 11:5; 37:9; Zephaniah 1:9; Malachi 2:6). 

God’s wrath is a source of positive hope for the victims of trauma. They need to know that God loves them and will destroy the evil that has harmed them. God is the refuge of his people and shows steadfast love by destroying those who “strike terror” (Psalm 10:18). The wrath of God in the Bible is often presented not as something to fear, but as some- thing on which to set your hope, as the consolation, refuge, and deliverance of God’s suffering people (Mark 9:43–49; Romans 12:17–21; Colossians 3:6; Hebrews 10:26–31; 2 Peter 3:10–12; Revelation 11:18; 15:1–8; 16:1–21). 

However, as we lean into God’s justice and help those in our care, we also remember that God’s justice often includes going to the proper authorities to report such abuses. In cases of abuse, we should use the authorities to help the vulnerable, weak, and abused among us. Failure to do so allows perpetrators to continue their cycle of abuse. 

As we react with shock and horror to the many ways in which children suffer trauma, we should be driven to step into these children’s lives, tangibly demonstrate Jesus’s love, and protect them. God’s deep love and concern for children should spur us to imitate his tender care for them and to offer them hope and a sense of safety. 

The compassionate and helpful response of parents or caregivers can help children who have experienced trauma to access spiritual, emotional, and physical healing. 

“How a community responds to individual trauma sets the foundation for the impact of the traumatic event, experience, and effect. Communities that provide a context of under- standing and self-determination may facilitate the healing and recovery process for the individual. Alternatively, communities that avoid, overlook, or misunderstand the impact of trauma may often be re-traumatizing and interfere with the healing process. Individuals can be re-traumatized by the very people whose intent is to be helpful.”[1]

How amazing it would be if the youngest victims could find healing and hope in their church community! 

As you seek to care for the children in your midst who are dealing with trauma, or to help others care for these children, I would encourage you to remember that you are not alone and God will have the final say. One day, he will put all things right. Until then, it is our privilege and calling to provide safety, comfort, and hope for those afflicted, and to walk patiently through this process with them as individuals made and beloved by the God who created the universe and holds it in his hands.

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

This blog post is related to a minibook, Lindsey and I wrote: Children and Trauma: Equipping Parents and Caregivers.

[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative, SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma, 17.