PTSD Spirituality: When God Fails Your PTSD Wounds

To survive and heal from the spiritual dimensions of PTSD requires a right relationship with God.  But most of us are immediately prevented from engaging God in a properly ordered relationship.  We require a mature relationship with God.  We neded to be at peace with God, but are not.  Why is that?

In many cases we are hindered in our spiritual development by the immature decisions of our parents, our churches, and popular culture (TV, internet, peer pressure – not cool to be a believer with chaste morals).

This post is one of a series about Having PTSD and Still Finding Peace.

Left to Drift at Age Twelve

Usually folks quit learning about God when they are around age twelve.  Their parents quit dragging them to Church or Synagogue.  Some actively deny their children the opportunity to learn about spiritual topics.  They say:

“I want my children to choose for themselves.  So I won’t teach them about God.” 

Parental Abdication

They abdicate their parental responsibility and opportunity to protect their child’s soul.  They prevent the child from ever acquiring the actual basis to make an informed choice later in life.  The decision not to teach their own child is in itself a theological decision to allow others to raise their child for them.  In the parenting department, Captains Courageous they are not.  This abdication makes their kids vulnerable to sects and cults and generally ignorant of the religious basis of western culture. 

If the parents employed the same logic for their child’s dental hygiene and inoculations, then it would be a question of what would kill them first: tooth decay or the pox? 

 When God Looks Like Santa Claus

Regardless, most of us quit actively engaging God around the time we are twelve.  And for a twelve year old, God is a lot like Santa Claus.

 Later, when you survive trauma and get PTSD, you discover the Santa Claus version of God is not big enough to handle your new real world traumatic experiences.  Many people then reject God then and there.  Their pre-teen level of understanding God is not big enough, not mature enough, to deal with real problems. 

 Santa don’t do trauma well.

 When you are having the experiences of a nineteen year old and watch your friend get shot in Iraq, a twelve year old’s God can’t carry the freight.  If you are older and you are assaulted and raped, a twelve year old’s God will not be able to help you.  If you experience real trauma, then Santa Claus will let you down.  If you think God is only Santa, then it makes perfect sense to deny God. 

 Grown up problems require a grown up’s God.

The Church’s Neglect or Abuse

Part of the responsibility for keeping people immature about God is due to the Church itself.  Unfortunately it has at times driven or neglected people away from the worship of God.  I wish I could say this was only true of intolerant fundamentalist sects.  But even some parts of my own Roman Catholic Church have driven people away from the worship of God. 

 Actually it is due to the failed priests and bishops who have placed themselves first and their parishioners in last place.  And, while it is true these failed clergy are a minority within the Church, they are a very loud, proud, vocal minority that gathers a lot of attention.  They have gathered so much attention that some feel that only such as they represent Christ’s Church on earth.

 Many flee because of abuse:

 Through pedophile scandals, cover-ups, and arrogance, many have lost faith, not so much in God, but in the personnel who administer the sacraments and teaching.

Others are lost due to neglect.  They have questions, but the priest or bishop will quack about wanting to watch Jeopardy or Friends and ignore the seeking soul.

 When their own Church seems to turn them away, people are alienated (and rightly so) and, sadly, ripe to be plucked by cults, sects, or the angry atheists.

Renewed Call to Holiness

Pope Benedict has recently renewed his call that Bishops aspire to holiness and he has also apologized for the pedophilia (both generally and specifically).  At least we are now going in the right direction. Yet, in the meantime, many have had their relationships with God jeopardized by the very people who should have taught and loved them.

Fundamentalism’s Tame Angry God

On the other end of the spectrum are the fundamentalists and the PTSD soul wounds they induce on some of their number. 

 One of the difficulties with fundamentalist views of God is that they are convinced they have God all figured out and he will come when you call him.  You can learn everything there is to learn about fundamentalist theology in under two years, it is fixed and does not allow for the mystery and wonder and luminosity of God.  Worst of all they fail to realize the unending depths of love and compassion that is God.

 Often, God is their pet and they walk him on a leash. 

When your two years of working out the minor algebra of God is done, you can then inflict it on others.

The God of a fundamentalist is angry, vengeful, limited, and lacks mystery, love, and compassion.  It is not the God who loves you no matter what and who allowed his own son to take your sins and die from enhanced interrogation techniques at the hands of government agents trying to stop insurgents.

PTSD Induced by Fundamentalism

For many, having been saddled with this kind of god has given them PTSD: Fundamentalism induced PTSD.  And the PTSD symptoms of fear, anger, and loss of trust can be as bad for these survivors as someone who has been raped or in the military.  Their spirit has been damaged.

It is always a privilege to work with Fundamentalism induced PTSD survivors.  Getting through the anger and suspicion is a challenge.  But the liberation and redemption they feel when they learn God really loves them is wondrous. 

They discover that the small petty god of the fundamentalist is neither real nor can it harm them anymore.  They discover God is immense and they are loved and they have value.  They discover that God is Love (1 John 4)

Your Mileage May Vary

We hope that none of the above applies to you.  Rather, you kept learning about God all along, and your church and clergy were excellent and soul nourishing, and you have resisted pop culture’s emphasis to have sex with more people than you have toes on your feet.  In that case you have a better start at a lifelong mature relationship with God.  And that will help preserve your soul from the ravages of PTSD. 

Learning to Date God on a Regular Basis

In the second part of our discussion on Peace with God we will look at the positive aspects of meeting and dating God. We need to constantly grow our relationship with God.  Discovering that God is boundless love and is there for us in our joys and our sorrows can heal our souls from the wounds of PTSD.   Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Yep, I can relate to having to recover from an abusive ministry, and other traumas (mine were infant-adult). Wondering if you could “listen” as I try to express something; I saw and felt something new as I prayed this a.m., and read articles on your website.

    Here is an analogy that has helped me, that of a kidnap/rescue operation. I was kidnapped as a baby, from “God’s House”, a healthy safe one, and brought to live, along with many other children, with my wicked step-father in his house. I suffered trauma, DID, etc, but survived. To keep it short and simple, I accepted an invitation to be rescued and was led across town to my real Father’s house, a beautiful safe home. But I still hid and protected myself; I.e. the flight-fight-freeze-fold habits were firmly in place. Then slowly but surely I began to trust, and receive love. This a.m. I saw myself waking up from a DID comma, looking around, and seeing Jesus and other safe ppl gathered round. I read your article about Jesus being both human and divine and what that means, and for the first time, I connected emotionally to that Truth and Reality, not just with head-knowledge or the struggle to believe.

    I prayed yesterday for resilience, as I felt that crippled broken limbs have been “set”, been knit together, but now I need to do the “physical therapy” part of learning to start moving them, no matter how painful and scary this may be. Gotta get circulation going, muscles exercised. Gotta learn to walk! Guess that is also what happens when one has been in a coma for a good while… And little young parts of me are integrating, and a Newly Created Whole Me is being Formed and Resurrected. WOW!!!

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