Bearing The Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, And Pastoral Care, by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger
This book is written by a pastoral theologian to an audience of people engaged in the ministry, largely contained of previously released articles. In discussing trauma and its unbearable nature, the author speaks to people who are intended on being familiar not only with the Bible, but at least somewhat interested in aspects of non-violent communication, discussed in a couple of the articles, rituals of restoration within congregations, as well as counseling and the need for ministers to take care of their own spiritual state to avoid burnout and sexually acting out. This is a book that is written with pastors in mind, because it is unlikely that most pastors would particularly relish this sort of material being read by members, and it is likely that few members, unless they had a background in seminary language, particularly strong interests in communication, and the sort of personal background that would lead to one reading about trauma. Such readers exist, but they are not likely to be a large number of people, even though this is likely to be a somewhat helpful book for such people, with some caveats.
In terms of its contents, this book is divided into seven articles, six of which have been published before in Theology Today, Forgiveness and Truth, A spiritual Life, Pray Without Ceasing, and Theology In Service To The Church. The seven articles deal with pastoral care, compassionate witnessing, forgiveness, self-empathy, prayers of lament, practicing koinonia with believers, and building a restorative church that is able to overcome crises and personal conflict. After the articles there are two appendices, one of which gives the DSM criterion for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the other which provides a diagnostic for secondary trauma/burnout among pastoral counselors. This is theology with a practical bent, yet at the same time it is designed to appeal to a certain type of pastor, one who has experience and interest in counseling, one who wishes to be more skilled in communication and conflict resolution, and someone who is comfortable with being a Christian but who is also comfortable with seeing matters such as faith and living together in a perspective that matches with Buddhist concepts like interbeing and the African idea of ubuntu. Not all pastors are going to appreciate the author’s focus on socially liberal matters, including a distinct lack of concern about biblical standards of personal morality.
Nevertheless, despite these issues that are likely to detract from the interest of some ministers, and the fact that the language is sufficiently dense to scare away most readers who lack a firm grounding in counseling and therapy from a practioner’s standpoint, this book does have a lot to offer. For one, the book gives plenty of reminders that the experience of trauma is related both to context and to the feeling that someone is impossible to handle where there is no belief in protection or assistance available at the time, and that forgiveness is something that comes out of experiencing God’s grace, not something that can be coerced effectively. The author is quick to know that what is impossible for man (or woman) namely forgiving the sorts of traumatic deeds that people have to deal with, is nevertheless possible with the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, and that genuine reconciliation, where there is repentance (including a change of behavior) is the goal, even if that goal cannot always be realized because of the hardness of people’s hearts. For all of this book’s jargon and politically correct mindset, this is a book that seeks to present gracious treatment of people suffering from evil, and reminds us that but for the grace of God, we are full of great evil and darkness ourselves, and that our burning against the injustice of evil is simultaneously a call for ourselves to repent and be reconciled to God. That is a point worth reflecting on.