Trauma destroys. Diane Langberg knows something of the specifics of that kind of destruction, for she has been counseling those who suffer from trauma for more than forty years. In Suffering and the Heart of God, she uses her experience as a counselor and an instructor to help readers learn about the conceptual and practical realities of trauma counseling. This collection of essays serves as an unparalleled manual for stepping into the hurt of others and pointing them to the hope of Christ.
The book is broken down into four parts, each highlighting a different avenue for considering the complexity of trauma and the hope of God. Part one introduces us to the conceptual issues of trauma, suffering, evil, and abuse. Here Dr. Langberg challenges the church to think more carefully and critically about the “psychology of evil,” to wrestle with our biases and assumptions. She also calls us to action, noting that trauma “is perhaps the greatest mission field of the twenty-first century” (8). These chapters set a tone for the rest of the book by establishing the horror of trauma and the challenge and responsibility of ministry. Langberg takes the care of trauma victims seriously and has no place for the apathy, distance, and trite simplicity of many church efforts to care for them. She is hard on us but in an important and powerful way. These chapters are essential for all counselors and indeed Christians to read.
Part two of the book turns attention to the specifics of “ministry in the context of Christian community.” She gives readers specific insights into the internal struggles of victims, looking at the power of shame and the of traumatic memories. She also notes the significant distinct difference between past trauma and ongoing trauma. She turns special attention to the abuse of power in the home and the church. Naiveté about these things will only further harm those who come to us for help. We must be humble enough to hear her warnings because of course, she speaks for real knowledge, not just a general concern.
Part three takes the conversation out of the church setting and into the clinician’s office. While this portion of the book focuses specifically on helping counselors, there is still immense value for a variety of readers in these four chapters. She walks readers through the nature of complex trauma, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. She also helps to establish some general principles for helping that will become important reminders and references for practitioners.
Finally, part four gives particular attention to protecting and caring for those engaged in counseling. If we are warned not to be “overcome by evil” (Rom. 12:21), then we need to pay particular attention to how we engage with the evil and suffering done to others. An ineffective counselor is one who is consumed by another’s sorrow, and instead of helping them navigate it becomes lost in it. Langberg spends the final three chapters of the book spelling out some help for preserving, protecting and safeguarding helpers. She does an excellent job of this throughout the book, making regular mention of it and even sometimes unpacking it in detail. These final chapters only further those earlier points by depth.
Overall this is one of the most important books I’ve read on trauma in my entire life! As a counselor and a pastor, I can think of no better tool to help me in caring for others. At times the volume is a bit redundant, the result of packaging a collection of essays as a larger work, but the repetition is not overly distracting. Langberg’s insights are amazing; she can weave together Biblical accounts with a fresh application like few authors I read and can string together a slew of pithy statements and insights that seem unprecedented in a single volume. I was blown away by the depth and value of this book. While Dr. Langberg is a bit more clinical than I am at times, Biblical counselors will be struck by her regular use of Scripture, her appropriate application of Scripture, and her emphasis on the cross as a necessary element of hope for victims of trauma. She utilizes the gospel in ways that very few so-called Christian psychologists do, and for that, she should be applauded and upheld and as an example. I cannot recommend Suffering and the Heart of God enough. Whether you are a counselor or just a curious Christian, this volume will provide excellent insights and helpful tools for caring for others.