The Genesis of Trauma {an awareness and outworking}

When my body began showing deeper marks of the fall, I was perplexed by the working of the Godhead within such a broken body, mind included—anthropology, biology, and theology existing together, if you will. I was also curious to see how this part of my story was being grafted into the larger story God is writing in the lives of those He loves in redemptive narrative. When there is a lot of turmoil, it always helps to back up. So I went way, way back. I went back to the garden, back to Genesis, and was further humbled at the mercies in both life and death and the way these fundamental processes are spoken of in scripture. Their existential out-workings near, I began to see saint – sinner, Law – Gospel parallels. I am going to spend some time laying some foundations before moving forward. 

We are complicated beings and these are difficult things to talk about, but in an attempt to “know thyself” and know {more of} God, I hope to take it slowly and attempt, not fully aware, yet sure hope-filled steps. I would like to ask, friend, that you hang in there with me. We have to be made aware of darkness before we are moved toward the light. 

Life and Death in Scriptures 

The world is made and deemed good by the Word. Everything was alive and thriving. Man is created. More specifically, man and woman are created in the image of the Trinity, called very good, and given instruction and dominion over creation. Given the description of the setting, senses are used to experience the Glory of God from the very beginning; the visual of the garden, the implicit smell of all things lush and fragrant, the earth beneath their feet, with the sounds of rivers and all the animals accompanying God and these first humans, walking together. Then out of the trees, pleasant to sight, adorning the landscape, and good for food, two are differentiated with particular purposes. The first tree, the Tree of Life, offers perpetual walking with the Lord in the garden and is not prohibited. Then, there is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It offers a consciousness of what lies beyond the garden, exclusive then to the Universe-Maker and celestial beings. Death did not exist. What a peaceful dwelling it must have been. 

Because every other being is created and not Creator, an expectation is given. The authority is His, and doesn’t belong to the creatures. God, the Designer, Creator, Sustainer must be obeyed. The first law, not eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is given to man. To go beyond the boundary requires a complete break in submission to God’s authority and falls away from His perfect will. After Eve joins Adam, he is given the task of naming the animals. When he does not find another being suitable for sharing his life, God gives him one. It is implied that man communicates to woman the call to obey God. 

But they don’t. They eat and are immediately ashamed. They both knew they had done wrong and knew there was something now inherently wrong. 

The terrible lie is believed by the first two human beings, who, in their desire to be their own god, didn’t trust the way He created the world to work. We, in our fallen flesh  as descendants of Adam and Eve follow suit. We want to be God, autonomous, holding the knowledge of good and evil in our hands without it changing or affecting us. But we were never meant hold it. We were never meant to taste that fruit—the fruit of having knowledge only God can rightly deal. Try as we might, creatures cannot assume the place of the Omniscient, Omnipotent Creator. The realization changed us as a people. 

The consequence is both a curse and a mercy. There are different effects felt from the fall on the man and woman. The removal from safety, provision, and peace to danger, toil, and distress was surely traumatic for them both. I don’t use the word trauma lightly. I hope it speaks loudly to better appreciate perfect security turned full enmity—enmity with God, with each other, and with creation—even with their own created bodies. In light of this desire, the most feared, shared destiny sinks down into their souls “for you are dust, and to dust you will return”. 

Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden and away from the Tree of Life, for to disallow perpetual dwelling in fallen flesh is mercy. I cannot imagine going from paradise to the prison of a wild world. There is no going back. 

Now, bodily death is inevitable and necessary. It is brutal. It is ugly, perpetuated in every story from the very first family. It threatens. It lurks. Man kills man with mere years from the fall within the very first family. Perversion from creation and intention is not far behind. Animals kill man and so do famine, disease, and pestilence. Plants die. Animals die. They are killed for protection and for food. They kill one another. To trace death in scripture is to simply read scripture. All of creation is subjugated to it. It is the punishment for all lives lived under the curse. It infiltrates everything— from systems to cells. Sickness, aging, hunger pains, genetic variation, (I can’t even imagine all the implications) are just the beginning of what this means for humanity. 

I wonder what it felt like to have a body sustained to a body sick? I wonder how the first marital argument went for the first couple? I wonder how it felt to have everything provided to having to toil to eat? From being sustained to suspicious of the other creatures around you? The questions swirl. The answers aren’t pleasant, especially as we trace humanity from that point onward. 

Mercies New from Then On

At some point, God instilled in human beings self-preservation, for who would desire to live in this fallen state? Peace has been replaced by all kinds of sufferings both physical, relational, spiritual, and emotional. There are new laws in place as well as new processes and consequences. With all that we know now about how our physical brains change as a result of trauma and stress, it would have been fascinating to study a scan Adam or Eve’s brain and measure brain function pre- and post-fall. 

Since the fall, our desire to preserve ourselves is regulated by pain and fear. Death bring pain and fear and we are designed post-fall to avoid it. Yet, it is unavoidable. These new sufferings are also gifts, the kind that makes one wise and compassionate, and are instilled to sustain. To deny our created, finitude-instilling sense that we protect ourselves at all costs from dying is denying our very humanity. 

As with all good, created gifts, this mechanism goes awry. It is tragic when self-preservation is suppressed for whatever reason. The wake is devastating. And on the other hand, just like autoimmune reactions attack good cells, our bodies can be convinced that danger is emanant. Most times, the reaction is trauma induced, stemming from a time when a threat was very much a reality. Our brains shift to defend, to induce a response again regulated by pain and fear. 

~ This was what was going on behind the scenes of my first panic attack. ~

All of this sounds completely dreadful doesn’t it? We are told something in scripture that in contrast, brings hope. Take a minute and read the verses from 2 Corinthians 4 of the Welcome page. 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (v. 16-18)

Because I am fallen with Adam and Eve, my flesh has been given the gift of self-preservation. It is a good gift. Yet, the continual renewal of my soul is worked through death -and- resurrection. The Law in particular brings death—a ministry of death as 2 Corinthians 3 says. My soul panics in response, because panic is what my flesh knows. It is protective. It is defensive. Yet, soul-self-preservation is precisely the opposite of what I eternally, fully, wholly need. I cannot save and preserve my own soul. 

This is the body the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell—the body subjected to sin. 

My body and soul are integrated here, in this space post-fall, pre-redemption, before body and soul are whole. And it feels like warfare. But despite the conflict, God promises life