Deep as the Sea: Letters to Survivors of Trauma

Title of Work:

Deep as the Sea: Letters to Survivors of Trauma

Author of Work:

Timothy C. Bourman


Pastor Aaron Voss

Page Number:


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This book by Timothy Bourman, pastor at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church (WELS), is “an extension of [his] doctoral research on addressing trauma with the gospel” (back cover), and it is also shaped by Bourman’s personal experience with trauma in his life. 

He says, “I want to provide the resource I felt was missing for survivors when I needed it the most” (viii). To do so, Bourman pulls from his theological training, his academic research, his pastoral ministry, and his personal experience to compose “a series of letters inviting all trauma survivors to find refuge in God’s Word” (back cover). 

Before the reader encounters those letters, the prologue expands on why Bourman wrote the book and wades into technical language related to trauma, such as its common effects—intrusion, constriction, and hyperarousal. Bourman adds “spiritual loss” to the list (x). Bourman then briefly explains the effects of trauma and encourages survivors to expect that God will provide a variety of people who can serve as their “recovery team, ministering to the survivor’s body, mind, and soul (xiv). 

Confident that God’s Word has a psychological effect on people, Bourman concludes his prologue by saying, “I have purposely chosen not to write a memoir of sorts. I want to wrap you up in Jesus’ story. I want to move you from death to life, from the cross to the empty tomb” (xviii). 

The letters to survivors are grouped into three different stages of recovery (safety, remembrance and mourning, and reconnection), and Bourman speaks to each stage’s spiritual needs. Like a sermon, each letter draws from a specific biblical text, many of them from the Old Testament. 

After the letters are concluded, the epilogue zooms out to “give insight into how these letters are woven together into an entire book” (103). Bourman further explains the stages of safety, remembrance and mourning, and reconnection. The book also provides good options for further reading and a question guide for readers. 

Because of my personal inexperience with trauma, I feel unqualified to evaluate how well Bourman’s letters serve as “a comprehensive model of healing” for survivors (back cover). But I picked it up precisely because I have not gone through trauma. If a pastor hasn’t suffered trauma, how does he minister to those who have survived it? I hoped this book would better equip me to do so, and I feel that Bourman does help form a pastor’s lips, ears, and heart for such situations. 

Regarding what should be on a pastor’s lips, Bourman highlights the power of vocatives. His first proof is Lamentations 2:13, from which the book’s title also comes: “What can I say for you? With what can I compare you, Daughter Jerusalem? To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, Virgin Daughter Zion? Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” (NIV). 

Vocatives can be invoked in the privacy of the counseling room, but they can also be heard in public. Pastors can minister to survivors by carefully and thoughtfully crafting their sermons with well-placed vocatives to address their people. Bourman encourages the use of names that are compassionate, new, and resilient (23). Names that are truly compassionate, new, and resilient are rooted in the power of the gospel which confers a new status on souls who have become dear children of the dear heavenly Father. 

Bourman also helps tune a pastor’s ear. Instead of simply pitying those with PTSD, Bourman suggests that we recognize they may have something to teach us about what it means to pray the petition, “Deliver us from evil: 

You know what I think is a more dangerous disorder [than PTSD]? I will call it pre-traumatic naivete disorder or PTND for short. … You tell me—whose imagination is closer to the truth? The one with PTSD or the one with PTND? The one who knows that disaster can strike at any time or the one who thinks he lives in a world where no one dies? Let me tell you something. Sometimes, the mountains do fall into the heart of the sea. (28) 

Bourman also shapes a pastor’s heart for the culture of the congregation he serves and for practical applications he can give survivors. As for the culture of a congregation, he observes that “too much of the church has participated in the desert of tears” (36), and that “the loss of the lament is real and costly” (36). He makes a strong case for pastors to evaluate the ways they and their congregations are approaching trauma. For Bourman, a scriptural approach to trauma lets believers know it is OK to lament in a godly manner that still approaches everything in a gospel-centered and Christ-centered way. He concludes, “Scripture, and laments in particular, makes healing God’s work” (36). 

As for a pastor’s heart for individual circumstances, Bourman’s final two letters have gems on vocation. He shows how vocation can help a survivor reconnect after trauma. Pastors can assure survivors that God-given vocations are always “just the right size” (92)—neither too big nor too small. This is important because survivors are coming off “an extraordinary event” and “returning to life means returning to the normal and the ordinary” (100). So, it can be helpful for pastors to frame things by starting “at the end”—that we are loved by Jesus and that those closest to us need to know his saving name. Starting from that end goal brings clarity and “gives to us a mission that is personal, springs from love, and is truly right sized” (95). 

Again, I feel hesitant to grade this book as a model for healing, but judging by the fact that the book quickly went out of stock at Northwestern Publishing House, it seems to be the resource people need. It certainly is “filled with empathy” and reminds the reader “that no matter how deep your wounds feel, you’re never truly alone” (back cover), because it wraps the reader up in the story of Jesus. 

If Greg Schultz’s The Problem of Suffering, Mark Paustian’s symposium essay “I Am Convinced,” and Bourman’s preaching/podcasting (The Notable Podcast) overlapped in a Venn Diagram, this book would fall right into that overlap. And while sometimes I questioned how much the author might be reading into a verse or how far he was trying to stretch some imagery, overall, the book has a compassionate tone of “I know where you’re coming from,” displays careful research and exegesis, and speaks to the heart in a direct and pastoral way. 

Each letter is short, and the entire book can be easily read in an afternoon. The prologue contains about one-third of the footnotes because it deals with technical language. After that, the letters are conversational but not kitschy, simple but not shallow. It would make a great audio book. 

Should you read it? Yes! If you are a survivor of trauma, it will speak the gospel into your heart. If you are looking to grow in your counseling, the book not only helps inform your mind about trauma but also shapes your lips, ears, and heart. Bourman reminds us not to race past the Old Testament on the way to Romans 8. He shows us how to speak of the devil as a real enemy with real power but whom Christ has really defeated. Bourman also is unapologetically Lutheran. He focuses on Christ’s death and resurrection and draws on the Lutheran Confessions and Martin Luther’s theology of the cross. We, too, can lean into our Lutheranism as we serve survivors. 

Pastors might also do well to have a stack of these in their church libraries or offices to hand them out and say, “I am here for you, but I think this can be part of your recovery team as well.”