Imagine a book that’s part analytic theology, part trauma theory, part deep pastoral engagement, part Trinitarian theology, part gothic novel, and you might begin to skim the surface of the essence of Scott Harrower’s excellent book, The God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World. In a world filled with horrors and the traumas that they engender, Harrower seeks to understand how the Trinitarian God is at work healing shattered image-bears through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the Church.
However, before addressing head-on the aching reality of horrors, this book begins by seeking to understand them first against the background of Shalom – the wholesome state that God created and intended for his image bearers in the very beginning, centered on and in perfect, personal relationship with the Triune God. This Edenic state was broken when humanity committed ‘ontological transgression – transgressing into being like God’ (p. 20).
Such transgression opened the door for the harrowing of horrors – a reality that Harrower provides an incredibly clear taxonomy for understanding, centering on the concept of horror being a movement from life towards death. This reality of the transgression of death into the realm of life leads to the experience of trauma, breaking image-bears in their creative, relational, and moral functions. A state from which there may be no recovery. This leaves trauma-survivors with theological, existential, and anthropological problems – blocking their ability to truly live into their identity as image-bearers.
How does the Triune God speak into this reality? He does through his ‘consciousness as he relates to and interacts with individual and corporate human minds/souls for the sake of forming beliefs and concepts that are true and helpful to them’ (62).
God reveals himself in this way largely through narrative – as the narrative of Scripture meets and works its way into our own narratives of trauma and redemption, and as we experience ‘shared attention’ with God – looking through his perspective together with him: ‘For readers of the Bible who want to know God, shared attention involves the reader and God being strongly aware of one another as they cooperate in reading a text together’ (63).
This meets a focus of trauma recovery methods, namely, a focus upon narrative, and in particular the practice of undertaking ‘trauma readings’ of texts. Harrower employs this method to masterful extent in his gothic-horror reading of Matthew’s gospel, both as an exercise in empathy for those who have suffered trauma, but also in order to push a trauma reading to its final (hopeless) end, thus revealing its limitations for trauma recovery. What other choices, then, do we have that both take the horror of trauma seriously in all its aching reality and pursue hope? Enter the blessed reading.
The Triune God seeks mind-to-mind communion with his image bearers and is through this capable of restoring their perspective – taking it from trauma to blessed. Harrower demonstrates this through a ‘blessed’ reading of the Gospel of Matthew, particularly noting how Matthew’s gospel, from the blessed perspective given by the Triune God, provides paths that may enable a survivor to regain safety, story, and community. This continual use of the modal may throughout the book in regard to recovery stands out as wise and helpful in its ability to both hold fast to the real grounds for hope that survivors have for recovery through the work of the Triune God, but also remain realistic about the gutting extent to which trauma maims God’s beloved image bearers, and thus not be too quick to rush to triumphal solutions.
This book is one of the most stretching books I’ve read in the last year – academically, emotionally, pastorally, and creatively. I found myself having to think till my head ached about issues related to the problem of evil. At times I laughed with geeky delight at the working in of literary gothic-horror themes, even while being impressed at just how ‘fitting’ they were for the discussion. At least once I needed to put the book down to cry and pray through horrors that have touched my life and lives of those I love. So I warn you, this book may not be an easy read, but (my goodness!) it’s a good one. Highly recommended for pastors, theologians, practitioners working with trauma survivors, and anyone seeking to understand and live into the story of the triune God’s work of restoring Shalom to his shattered image-bearers.
I thank Lexham press for sending me an advance copy of this book