Darkness to Light: Healing PTSD with the Gospel

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a dreadful condition. What was once referred to by the U.S. Military as “shell shock” is a very common condition among service members and veterans today. Some suffer more so than others, but it is routine for wounded warriors to struggle for many years with the long-term effects of wartime trauma.

Even before entering the ministry of counseling, I personally witnessed the terrible, life-altering effects of PTSD. I was stunned to see a very close, childhood friend of mine had changed dramatically after serving our country abroad. He had just returned home after multiple tours of fighting America’s battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His demeanor was different. His hands shook. His front teeth were stained dark brown from chain-smoking on many nerve-racking patrols on the frontlines. He could not be in a grocery store, or even a place of worship, without becoming extremely anxious and fearful.

My dear friend that I had spent nearly every weekend with during our junior high and high school years, never wanted to see or hear from me ever again. What happened? He did not try to give me an explanation. He was struggling with the fearsome effects of PTSD.

You may have heard the expression, “All gave some. Some gave all”. It is difficult for us to see what was given up by so many soldiers who came home. For sufferers of PTSD, it was the tranquility of spirit that we take for granted every day. Yet, many sufferers of PTSD have never served in the armed forces.

If you can, try to imagine the children who survived the school shootings at Uvalde, Parkland, Sandy Hook, or Columbine. Try to imagine the police officers and brave citizens who faced down mobs of criminals burning down cities during the race riots of 2020.

Try to contemplate those who grew up suffering daily, childhood abuse from unloving parents, grandparents, uncles, or other family members.

For years, we did not even have a proper term for this disorder. Today, we know what they all have in common is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD-inducing events leave their mark on the casualties who endure them. It may be induced by war or another violent event, but the result is the same.

Certainly, none of us will make it through this life unscathed. We all live in a fallen world of sin and we feel its traumatic effects at times. There will be trials and hardships for all, but not everyone manifests the symptoms of PTSD which, according to the Mayo Clinic, include four distinct, cognitive categories:

1) intrusive memories, 

2) avoidance, 

3) negative changes in thinking and mood, 

4) changes in physical and emotional reactions. 

Symptoms typically vary over time, and they vary from person to person. The Arno Profile System indicates that in-born temperament affects the severity of symptoms, and how sufferers will react to them. 

Some may be more inclined to experience negative changes in their thinking or mood after experiencing trauma, while others never experience anything beyond bothersome intrusive memories.

Some may remain severely disturbed on an emotional level, while others avoid and suppress the psychological impacts of trauma, having little emotional reaction. Some cannot recall memories of the traumatic event at all, or only parts of it.

Common among many sufferers of PTSD is the hurt and shame associated with what happened to them (or what they witnessed happening to someone else). Even when there is no logical reason for having feelings of guilt, these feelings tend to latch themselves onto the person who experienced the traumatic event.

The recurrent, unwanted memories cause distress, and they involuntarily relive the pain over and over again. This is a subconscious, self-inflicted torment having nothing to achieve in the real world except to cause profound misery and pain to the PTSD-sufferer.

The trauma sometimes manifests in sleepless nights, upsetting dreams, depression, thoughts of hopelessness, feelings of detachment, or a lack of interest in maintaining relationships and being with the people they once enjoyed seeing. Some have described their emotions being stuck in a state of “numbness” which prevents them from experiencing life in a way they once did.

The New Testament Book of Acts provides us with the biographical account of Saul of Tarsus (later known as Apostle Paul). Retelling his own story to King Agrippa, Paul explains how he had been moved by God to leave the path of destruction and begin a new path of righteousness. He calls this abrupt change, “darkness to light” (Acts 26:18).

Paul relates how his radical transformation took place so that others could also open their eyes to what is true and follow his example. In this way, many would be delivered from “the power of Satan”, receive forgiveness of sins, and a place among those who are made holy by faith.

Even though Paul was formerly ignorant and unbelieving, Christ appeared to him and called him “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). He had traumatized and murdered many believers in Christ before knowing the gospel, but God called him anyway (cf. Acts 22:4, 5; 1 Tim. 1:13).

When he realized that Scripture foretold “Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles,” everything changed for him (Acts 26:23).

The dark veil of unbelief was lifted and he could see! Paul understood that he did not have to hurt anyone, including himself, any longer. Christ had set him free!

Sufferers of PTSD are afflicted with darkness. They have experienced or witnessed something so heinous that their hearts cannot escape the darkness and live in the joy and peace of God’s light. No matter how much they want to be released, they are entrapped in a deep, dark place.

By dwelling upon the darkness this world is in, or by participating in it themselves, they only drift deeper and deeper into darkness. Sadly, many have taken their own lives, or committed horrific crimes against others, because they did not know a way out of the pain.

Like Paul, we can be “rescued” from the evil deeds of fallen humanity (v. 17). We can be set free from the traumatic effects of sin, whether the darkness was brought on by our own sin or by someone else’s.

Without the illuminating good news of the gospel, PTSD- sufferers are just managing symptoms. Sadly, many people do not understand that finding escape to the light is accomplished by hearing the gospel of Christ and believing it (cf. Rom. 10:17).

They must reach the heart of the traumatic experience with the medicinal application of “the message of light” (Acts 26:23). This paradigm shift of faith provides access to all of the healing and deliverance that God offers.

It starts with a glimmer of truth but it increases, like the morning sun, to eliminate every dark shadow in our lives.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”

Proverbs 4:18, 19

You may feel completely alone and unable to take the pain of another uncertain day, but we learn from God’s word, the Holy Bible, that none of us are alone when we approach God in faith. Paul boldly said,

“for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance”.

Philippians 1:19

He also advised,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6, 7

And Apostle Peter urged,

“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6, 7

Thank God we have a Savior who can “sympathize” with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Because he suffered like us, he is able to “deal gently” with our ignorance and confusion (Heb. 5:2).

He is able to brighten up our dark lives with his truth so that we will stumble no more. He makes the false and destructive thoughts dissipate, and he brings us closer to our Heavenly Father!

The PTSD-sufferer must remember that Jesus endured much trauma, too, even to the point of suffering a traumatic death on the cross. In fact, he carried the sins of the whole world at Calvary. Who else can say they suffered to this extent?

Christ endured the cross “for the joy set before him, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). He did this so that we would not have to endure the shame of PTSD. He did this so that we can be freed of the endless torment of “fight or flight” feelings.

He did this to grant inner healing to our emotionally-numbed state. Through Christ we can love again, experience joy again, and rest easy again. He did this so we could have “the light of life” (John 8:12).

Knowing the gospel heals PTSD. Trusting Christ heals PTSD. Praying in faith heals PTSD.

He died and rose again for our deliverance. Let us allow the message of Christ to dwell in us richly, with all wisdom (Col. 3:16). Let us learn how to live with new purpose and strength by the supernatural help of his Spirit (Eph. 3:16). Let us “forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:13).

A new day full of light awaits! – Michael A. Hildreth

Scroll to Top