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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Forgiveness After Trauma by Susannah Griffith 
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It's probably not surprising that there were times while reading Susannah Griffith's "Forgiveness after Trauma: A Path to Find Healing and Empowerment" that I had to stop because I was crying.

At times, I was remembering.

At times, I was reflecting.

Still other times, I was crying tears of joy at realizing that Griffith had been able to put into words what my own theological exploration of forgiveness had taught me about the often controversial role of forgiveness for survivors of trauma.

So, yes, I am a trauma survivor. I'm a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida. I'm also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault as an adult. My first 25 years of life or so were pretty much defined by trauma, traumas at times perpetuated by the lack of compassion around me, very often from faith communities and others in professional roles.

Life is different now, though forgiveness has always been one of those areas that has challenged me as a person of faith and simply as a human being.

So, it was with some hesitation that I approached "Forgiveness after Trauma," though I've been in the healing journey long enough to know that it's when I feel that hesitation that I need to move gently into that resistance.

I'm glad I did.

Weaving together both personal testimony and biblical exegesis, Griffith has crafted a vital and necessary story that Teresa Kim Pecinovsky has appropriately called "a trauma-informed ethic of forgiveness," a description I can't possibly say in any other way.

Griffith explores what the Bible says - and doesn't say - about the biblical call to forgive. She creates a safe literary space to explore this call and helps her readers understand this command in ways that focus on healing and restoration. She frames forgiveness around broader concerns including lament, anger, accountability, release and birth, and reconciliation - all these broader concerns receive their own chapter and are explored fully both in terms of practical counsel and theology.

Griffith uses the term, and I love this, "trauma-informed forgiveness," a term that balances God's forgiveness of sinners while also centering survivors of trauma and abuse to empower healing. This lens also empowers those who have been harmed in other ways including within religious institutions.

Along the way, Griffith weaves into our reality her own story. At times, "Forgiveness after Trauma" reads like a suspense/thriller as Griffith shares her own testimony that starts off like so many - Meet someone. Fall in love. Get married. Have a child.

Along the way, things begin to change. Griffith's husband began to exhibit signs of mental illness. The home that had once felt safe and loving no longer did as behaviors intensified, intimidated, threatened, and so much more. Instead of being being enveloped and protected by the Church and those agencies assigned the task of protection, Griffith was met with ridicule, blame, and admonishment. These are experiences many have had and many continue to have mostly resulting from poor theology and a belittling of God.

The beauty of "Forgiveness after Trauma" is that Griffith builds her framework alongside her slowly revealing testimony. She learns. We learn. She applies. We are given a safe space to apply.

If you're looking for a book that will wallow in self-pity, this isn't it.

If you're looking for a book that will reinforce long existing religious tropes and stereotypes, this isn't it.

If you're looking for a book that is uncomfortable with emotion, this most certainly isn't it.

Griffith undeniably believes in forgiveness, though not in the usual ways we've so often been taught by mostly well-meaning yet often misguided pastors, pastoral counselors, etc. She builds the well-researched framework here in such a way that I may have found myself shouting "Yes!" more than once.

Griffith rejects, at times quite passionately, so many long existing religious tropes and stereotypes that it felt as if I'd stepped into a chamber of religious fresh air.

And, of course, Griffith creates a safe space for and deeply encourages deep lament, gut-level anger, and so many other emotions that we're often taught shouldn't exist within our sanctuaries.


So suspenseful is Griffith's "Forgiveness after Trauma" that I found myself nearing the end almost breathless in anticipation of the resolution of Griffith's journey with this trauma (or at least current resolution).

Beautifully written, thoroughly researched, and constructed with compassion and discipline, "Forgiveness after Trauma" is one of those books I have no doubt I'll refer to time and time again.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic