Ministry to Trauma Victims: Lessons from the Prophet Joel | Part 2

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In the first part of this reflection into how Joel responds to trauma, we have seen seemingly innocent people experiencing a national crisis. We have also seen a prophetic encouragement to return to God in the midst of trauma. In this second part, we consider the implications of this biblical model for us today.

God Restores; God Redeems

What happens after Joel’s call to return to God? The LORD responds!

Then the LORD became jealous for his land
   and had pity on his people.
The LORD answered and said to his people,
“Behold, I am sending to you
   grain, wine, and oil,
   and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
   a reproach among the nations.” (2:18–19, ESV)

God shows mercy and restores the grain and wine so offerings of the people may resume. God’s response of mercy extends to all elements of creation—the land that was dry (2:21), the animals that were groaning and confused (2:22), the plants that were withered (2:22), and the people who mourned (2:19–27). We find a reversal of the crisis—joy has returned, and order is restored to creation!

God makes a promise: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (2:24, NIV). One of the most painful aspects of trauma is the intense and long lasting sense of loss. All trauma includes loss. In my situation, I felt that I had lost several years of “living” due to suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and an inability to leave home most days, “wasting” endless hours in rehabilitation, general non-productivity, and, worst of all, delaying having a child until I was better. Those were years I could not reclaim. So God’s promise to “repay you for the years” is one of my favorite verses in Scripture. This is a promise of full restoration. To me, these are words of great comfort and redemption; they remind me to have hope for the future in my own life and the meaning God has for the suffering I have endured—that the years of my suffering are not lost and God will make things right in time.

So, God’s mercy is extended to all creation. What is the outcome of God’s mercy?

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
   and you will praise the name of the LORD your God …
You will know . . . that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other; . . .
“And afterward,
   I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
   your old men will dream dreams,
   your young men will see visions.” (2:26­–28, NIV)

Through the redeeming work of God, the people are provided for and the experience of God’s blessing leads to praise! Moreover, the people will finally know God—not because of anything they have done but because of the great things God has done.

After the restoration of all things, after creation has been brought back to order, God’s Spirit is poured out. The people will know new aspects of God and encounter God in new ways through the Spirit of God.

How Does Joel’s Response to Trauma Victims Give Us Direction Today?

First, Joel acknowledges the painful reality of the people’s suffering. He doesn’t gloss over their suffering or diminish it with an insensitive “oh you’ll be fine, toughen up” statement. No. Joel laments alongside the people. This represents a ministry of presence, of walking with the people that are suffering around us, of being with them in their darkest moments. Such a response is perhaps the hardest. It demands true empathy, understanding, and authenticity. We must invest time and give victims the gift of listening.

Second, by joining the people in their suffering and calling the people to congregate, Joel reminds us of the importance of community. The place of gathering together can be a place to find and offer healing, a place to share the burden of trauma with others. Community assures us that we are not alone and gives us the opportunity to share and be Christ to others. This is indeed needed in our world of increasing isolation!

Third, Joel directs people to call upon God’s character, God’s mercy. Joel’s message is not rooted in divine justice; but divine mercy. It’s not about whether the people are innocent or guilty; whether they deserve their suffering or not. All those issues are put to the side when we call on God’s mercy—mercy to respond to our suffering even though we don’t deserve it. We’ve all sinned, we’ve all failed. Joel calls us to take a humble stance before God and to put our hope in God’s compassionate, long-suffering, gracious nature. Are we called upon to pray in the most impossible, painful moments? Let us begin with declaring the compassionate nature of God and then asking for God’s mercy to infuse the situation.

Finally, Joel points us toward hope for the future. Joel stirs us to look beyond our physical, external situations by prophesying of a day when, after our circumstantial restoration, there will be spiritual restoration! A day when suffering has passed, and we will praise God, know God, and experience God’s presence and revelation.  Let’s pray for this day and point others to the day when God makes all things new!