“So much trauma.”
Those were the words of Agatha Harkness, the beguiling villain of WandaVision, the wildly popular Disney+ series that released in early 2021. Shortly after its release, Forbes magazine named it the most popular show in the world. Millions were obsessed with it. I proudly counted myself among the enthralled fanbase.
When Agatha—a powerful witch in the Marvel Comics Universe—spoke those words, it captured the essence of this unconventional show. Superhero movies are about epic battles, expansive universes, and tantalizing special effects. While WandaVision had all of that, the technological brilliance was to be eclipsed by the deeper narrative thread that kept people coming back week after week—trauma.
As the story is told, Wanda Maximoff, one of the most powerful characters in the world of comics, endured countless loss and grief. As a child in the fictional war-torn eastern European city of Sokovia, Wanda lost her parents when an explosion obliterated their home. Many years later she would suffer the excruciating loss of her twin brother, Pietro. And then, just a few years thereafter, she would endure the traumatizing loss of her soulmate, a powerful yet immensely tender Synthezoid named Vision. (I’m choking up here, people.)
Loss after loss led to Wanda—a superhero who had the ability to create alternate realities—to cosmically hijack a people in New Jersey, creating a new town called Westview. Through her unlimited capacity and bottomless grief, she fashioned a world—including the stunning re-creation of her lover, Vision—but in the process, imprisoned all the residents in Westview to an existence that rendered them characters in this alternate reality.
As the television series drew to a close, Agatha led Wanda through a series of painful memories, with the purpose of discovering the secret to how Wanda created this pocket dimension. In a scene reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, Agatha serves as a guide reviewing Wanda’s past. It’s at the moment of revisiting the painful death of her parents that Agatha dramatically exclaimed, “So much trauma.”
Yes indeed, Agatha.
Trauma in the Bible—and in Us
WandaVision is a story of how unprocessed trauma imprisons us and, in the process, unwittingly spills over to inflict pain onto the people around us. In this respect, the show is an apt metaphor for the world we find ourselves in. Trauma is a profound force that fractures our world. And followers of Jesus must embrace it as a category of spiritual formation.WandaVision is an apt metaphor for the world we find ourselves in. Trauma is a profound force that fractures our world. And followers of Jesus must embrace it as a category of spiritual formation. Click To Tweet
If loving well is the essence of following Jesus, it requires our patient exploration of the stories beneath us, particularly the stories of our trauma and woundedness. To varying degrees, we are all carrying some level of pain, stored in our bodies and psyches. In this, we share much in common with the people of the Bible.
It’s impossible to read the Bible without recognizing the ever-present stories of trauma therein. I don’t mean that the Bible contains explicit sections that explore trauma systematically. But the Bible contains many examples of traumatic events and the long-lasting effects of it. As theology professor, Corinna Guerrero notes in an article entitled Encountering Trauma in the Bible:
Anyone who can sustain reading the Bible beyond the first chapter of Genesis will notice that there are difficult passages. The Bible’s stories are forged out of murder (Gn 4), rape (Gn 34), dismemberment (Jgs 19; 1 Sam 18), kidnapping and forced marriages (Jgs 21), forced migration and infanticide (Ps 137), slavery (Ex 21; Lv 25; Dt 15), genocide (Jos 1-12), cannibalism (2 Kgs 6-7), political corruption (1-2 Kgs) and social desolation (the Prophets). The metanarrative of salvation history is laced with loss.
Yet, with all this data before us, many in the church have not welcomed a more trauma-informed understanding of ourselves and those in our world. This resistance is not new.If loving well is the essence of following Jesus, it requires our patient exploration of the stories beneath us, particularly the stories of our trauma and woundedness. Click To Tweet
The Wounds of Jesus and Our Wounds
In her book Resurrecting Wounds, Boston University theology professor, Shelly Rambo explores the gospel story and its relation to trauma. She seeks to trace some of the ways prominent voices throughout the church have related to the wounds of Jesus and the connection insights have in our world. Among many questions this story presents, there’s one that we must wrestle with: If Jesus carries the scars from his traumatic crucifixion, do we carry our respective wounds into the age to come? I cannot answer definitively, but there is something noteworthy about Jesus retaining these redemptive wounds.If Jesus carries the scars from his traumatic crucifixion, do we carry our respective wounds into the age to come? Click To Tweet
Rambo carefully explains that not everyone in the history of the church believed that the wounds Jesus carried were permanent. In particular, she singles out the most influential theologian out of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin, to underscore her point.
In Calvin’s commentary on the gospel of John, he teaches that the wounds of Jesus were temporarily kept for the sake of accommodating Thomas’ lack of faith. In short, Jesus showed his wounds to convince Thomas that it was indeed Jesus who was before him. The wounds, then, were not permanent, but incidental—not a major part of the story. Rambo, however, argues that Jesus’ wounds were more than just a minor detail. They were a significant matter, with crucial implications for our lives. On this matter, I side with Rambo for a few theological reasons.
In maintaining his wounds Jesus once again shows himself to be one who—even in a resurrected state—identifies with broken humanity. Additionally, the wounds Jesus carries speak powerfully to his followers. We are all called to be wounded healers, and part of the healing requires us to be present to the wounds we have carried. In one especially notable quote, Rambo says, “The logic of ‘wounds’ in Christian thought is mixed. With wounds at its center, it has a curious history of erasing wounds.”The wounds Jesus carries speak powerfully to his followers. We are all called to be wounded healers, and part of the healing requires us to be present to the wounds we have carried. Click To Tweet
I find much solace in Jesus maintaining the wounds on his risen body—for three reasons in particular:
- The resurrected wounds of Jesus remind me that our wounds don’t have the last word. In Jesus’ body, we simultaneously see broken humanity connected, but subjected, to his glorious resurrected reality. In the wounds and trauma that mark our bodies and minds, those clinging to Jesus are given great hope that our wounds are not to be the controlling narrative of our lives. Yes, we might have experienced great pain, but something greater than pain is to be at the center—the healing grace of God’s love forms the center of our existence.
- If Jesus carries his wounds on his body, we don’t need to carry the shame of our trauma. There’s often a great deal of shame that comes with experiences of trauma. But Jesus shamelessly retains the marks because they have been reconfigured.
- The wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body serves as a much-needed reminder that each one of us has been, or will be, wounded in some way. This awareness is necessary to deepen our commitment to becoming a healing presence in this world. The world is a broken place. The wounds people carry are layered. Being rooted in love requires a conscious commitment to becoming the healing presence of God in a wounded and wounding world.
What our churches, leadership, and world need more than ever is a robust theology that sees the wounds we bear as places for patient exploration and compassion.
Of all people who should be able to navigate the very real traumas people face, it’s Christians. We serve a Lord who was brutalized and traumatized (the word, trauma, literally means “to wound”). The church needs people who can help others face and be healed of their wounds. There might be no greater task in our generation.Of all people who should be able to navigate the very real traumas people face, it’s Christians. Click To Tweet
Rich Villodas’s latest book—Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World—released July 12. Get your copy to learn how we can step beyond distraction and division to love more like Jesus. Rich’s new work contains an extended chapter on the power of healing our trauma as a formative hope for the world, which he unpacks here using WandaVision as metaphor.
 Shelly Rambo, Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma, Baylor University Press, 2017, p. 145.