Acknowledging Grief and Trauma in The Bible
July 23, 2022
At The Conference on Death, Grief and Belief last weekend, one of the presenters — Dr. Jamie Eaddy — gave a brilliant talk about how the violence and trauma in the Old Testament (i.e, Hebrew Bible) is never identified as violent or traumatic. These events are not acknowledged as hurtful, and the pain of the people experiencing these horrors is never mentioned. God does not apologize or offer healing for the suffering he imposes through his random fits of rage.
As a trained theologian, I was shocked that I had never noticed this before. Listening to Jamie’s talk, dozens of bible stories ran through my mind. As the mother of a child who has died, I thought about all the parents whose children were murdered in these stories, for example, when god sends a bear to kill 42 children to punish them for making fun of a bald-headed man (2 Kings 2:23-25). The grief of their parents and the horror of this act is never mentioned. And let’s not forget that there are TWO incidents of slaughtering first-born sons (Exodus 11:4-5 and Matthew 2:16–18). In the first, it is directly via god’s command that the children are murdered. In the second, the command comes from King Herod, but in either case, there is no acknowledgment that his is a terrible thing to do. The parents of these children, along with their entire communities, are traumatized from experiencing mass child death. Yet there is NO mention of their grief, and no healing offered. I envision thousands of mothers crying and wailing as they hold their dead children in their arms, but the scriptures give us no such images. I think it’s safe to say that if women had written these stories, the pain of the mothers — and the fathers — would have been critically important to mention. But then I also know that a mother would never write such stories.
All these events… mass murder, rape, genocide, slavery, child abuse, colonization, etc. (along with laws requiring murder or torture for a long list of minor infractions) are treated as if they’re no big deal. We’re supposed to trust that god knows what he’s doing and that these events are somehow justifiable. This belief has desensitized millions biblical literalists to the sadism behind such ideas, and blinded them to the nature of the brutal psychopath that inflicts these traumas upon the people he “loves.”
It’s not hard to see how this connects to the callousness of religious conservatives who have political power in our country today. Denying basic human rights to women, and allowing assault weapons to be readily available to anyone (think: mass child death) are just two examples.
Apparently if it’s OK for god to do it, then it’s OK for us to do it.
You can hear Jamie’s talk — and all the others from the conference — by purchasing the conference recordings HERE.
For more on this topic, read this excellent article.