God and the Victim: Traumatic Intrusions on Grace and Freedom

God and the Victim: Traumatic Intrusions on Grace and Freedom

God and the Victim: Traumatic Intrusions on Grace and Freedom

God and the Victim: Traumatic Intrusions on Grace and Freedom

Synopsis

Christian tradition holds that an individual's ability to respond to God's graceto love both God and neighboris not wholly vulnerable to earthly contingencies, such as victimization. Today, however, trauma theory insists that situations of overwhelming violence can permanently damage a person's capacity for responsive agency. For Christians, this theory raises the very troubling possibility that humans can inflict ultimate harm on each other, such that some individuals' eternal destiny can be determined not by themselves but by those who do great harm.
Jennifer Beste addresses the challenges that contemporary trauma theory and feminist theory pose to deeply-held theological convictions about human freedom and divine grace. Do our longstanding, widespread beliefs regarding ones access to Gods grace remain credible in light of recent social scientific research on the effects of interpersonal injury? With an eye toward the concrete experiences of trauma survivors, Best carefully considers the possibility that one can be victimized in such a way that his or her receptiveness to Gods grace is severely diminished, or even destroyed.
Drawing on insights present in feminist and trauma theory, Beste articulates a revised Rahnerian theology of freedom and grace responsive to trauma survivors in need of healing. Her thinking is characterized by two interconnected claims; that human freedom to respond to Gods grace can in fact be destroyed by severe interpersonal harm, and that Gods love can be mediated, at least in part, through loving interpersonal relations. Offering crucial insights that lead to a more adequate understanding of the relation between Gods grace and human freedom, Bestes important theory reconfigures our visions of God and humanity and alters our perceptions of what it means to truly love ones neighbor.

Excerpt

I never imagined as a fourteen-year-old growing up in Minnesota that there was a two-year-old girl named Audrey in Tennessee who was about to be raped for the first time by a man that her mother, a prostitute, had brought home. At the time, my own worst fear was striking out yet again in front of peers on my Softball team. I survived, of course, and seven years later, as Audrey’s sexual abuse finally ended, I was thoroughly enjoying college. Eventually our paths crossed: Audrey, following her third suicide attempt at age eleven, had landed in the same psychiatric hospital where I, an MDiv student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, was working part time as a mental health care intern. On the day we met, Audrey shared the advice that she never had the chance to follow herself: “Never let a man take sexual advantage of you.”

During the next two years at this hospital, although I met many sexually abused children and adolescents, there was something about Audrey that disturbed me the most. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on left me disoriented for hours after each shift. Audrey never seemed to interact directly with anyone. Preferring to sing to herself, the blond-haired eleven-year-old with piercing green eyes had a dreamy and whimsical demeanor, an image I could never quite reconcile with her bandaged wrists. During reports of each patient at the beginning of my shifts, many of the staff would describe Audrey as pathetic and hopeless.

I asked her psychiatrists and counselors, “Can’t more be done for Audrey? What’s really in store for her? Is there any hope she’ll . . .

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