Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Generational Trauma of David’s Assault of Bathsheba

Written by: on April 13, 2022

“When the brain’s alarm system is turned on, it automatically triggers preprogrammed escape plans in the oldest part of the brain. As in other animals, the nerves and chemicals that make up our basic brain structure have different connections with your body,” informed Bessel van der Kolk in his work The Body Keeps The Score. [1] Ultimately, the acclaimed research psychiatrist and therapist notes, the human anatomy is built for survival.

In this fascinating glimpse into human trauma history and research, van der Kolk lays out the challenges of past trauma and its mastery over the present reality. He talks about trauma as leaving an imprint from our past that can be transformed by having physical experiences that directly contradict the helplessness, rage, and collapse that are part of trauma, thereby regaining self-mastery. [2]

For the author, trauma does not just have emotional effects but a whole bodily and spiritual experience, laying out how brain chemistry, physiological systems, psychological functioning, genetic makeup, and reproductive inheritance are affected. He frames this around the language of the imprint of trauma physiologically and psychologically. “When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. But because their left brain is not working very well, they may not be aware that they are reexperiencing and reenacting the past.”[3]

The effects of trauma on brain function and decision-making strongly connect to the work of Daniel Kahneman, Pragya Agarwal, Daniell Nettle, and Lieberman, as we have seen the body’s impulsive and sophisticated thinking, conscious and unconscious bias, behavior, and relationship with others are all connected to genetics, experiences, and cultural influences. 

However, all is not lost or recoverable. According to van der Kolk, “We have also begun to understand how overwhelming experiences affect our innermost sensations and our relationship to our physical reality-the core of who we are.”[4] Not necessarily a proponent of medication as the end all be all solution for trauma, the authors lays out the importance and practices of mindfulness, yoga, self-leadership, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), among other methods.

As a faith leader, I couldn’t help but think about trauma from a theological and biblical view. I specifically zeroed into the story of Bathsheba, who was a victim of sexual assault from the king said to be ordained by God and a man after God’s own heart.

While I let that statement sit there for a moment, I want each of us to consider how recently we might have heard or taken this interpretation of the events of 2 Samuel 11-12? 

Most of us were raised to see the glory of David, the giant slayer, who must have had a lapse in judgment when he saw Bathsheba bathing in eyeshot of the palace. Perhaps we were even taught that it might have even been her fault, maybe her intention, to be revealing herself to the king. “But, after all,” I can hear my many childhood preachers say, “David was just a man with uncontrollable desires.” 

For many, if not most of us that grew up in the Evangelical tradition, we were not trained to understand nor see the highly patriarchal lens of the Biblical writers, nevertheless the modern interpreters.  

However, when you begin to see Bathsheba through the lens of psychotherapy, trauma comes front and center. And one can only wonder how that trauma affected her for the rest of her life, her relationship with David, and generationally through her children. Genetic and generational trauma especially come centerstage when you see the later years of David, Bathsheba, Absalom, Amnon, and Tamar. 

If given the opportunity, I wonder how van der Kolk would assess the imprint of trauma in the royal family of the united kingdom of Israel and Judah. 

As faith leaders, the tools to spiritually equip people to begin to examine their trauma from a theological lens is at our fingertips. Many, if not most, of the practices the author argues for in the fifth section of the book have their roots in ancient spiritual disciples, such as meditation, breathing, and writing. However, as church leaders, we must also recognize that spirituality is a healthy companion to proven psychotherapy practices, helping restore and remap the lives of those facing unspeakable trauma. 

[1] Bessel A. Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score (New York: Penguin Books, 2015), 55.

[2] Ibid., 4. 

[3] Ibid., 45. 

[4] Ibid., 21. 

About the Author


Andy Hale

Associate Executive Coordinator of CBF North Carolina, CBF Podcast Creator and Host, & Professional Coach

6 responses to “The Generational Trauma of David’s Assault of Bathsheba”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Andy: so good.

    From your perspective, how do you determine if trauma is something addressed from the pulpit or better left in individual/small group settings? Just from my engagements with our chapel programming at my university, we try to be intentional about having the resources available in advance if we know there is a topic being addressed from the stage that may trigger trauma for our students. Interested to know your process in knowing how/when to handle more sensitive topics from the front.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Andy, great post. Provacative illustration, but a very important one to acknowledge and address. Perhaps more than ever given the “many scandels” in the church today… but I wonder, how new are they really? I mean, like you said, we see a LOT of scandals from David on, and of course well before then too.

    Stepping into your new role, how do you envision you can help reshape the conversation of “trauma” and sin in the denomination you are a part of?

    PS, I am responding before Sunday, in part for you;)

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    I hadn’t thought of the story about David and Bathsheba in that way before. Books like this week’s offering can bring insight into so many familiar Biblical stories. I had some of the same thoughts you bring up about the role of faith when dealing with trauma. There is so much more healing that can happen when you bring God and faith into the picture. It puts everything into perspective and sets an individual on the right course to wholeness. Great post.

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Andy, thank you for your summary of this week’s reading and for connecting it to the story of David and Bathsheba! Amen, brother! I appreciate you taking to task the patriarchal lens that is all to common in how we read and hear and engage with the biblical narrative. The amount of trauma in the whole biblical text is quite shocking if one is attentive to it. You highlight both the importance of spiritually/theologically equipping people as they engage trauma in their lives AND van der Kolk’s emphasis on regaining self-mastery as critical to the recovery journey. I’m curious how you see/experience spiritual/theological insight contributing to a person or community’s self-mastery journey as they recover from trauma (or build resilience to persevere in a healthier way even as the residue of trauma remains)?

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Andy thank you for connecting to Bathsheba! I have done a sermon about the rape of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband by our esteemed king David. People were shocked by the imagery. I appreciate your point about the trauma endured by Bathsheba.
    How do you think trauma impacts our personalities as described by Nettle?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Andy thank you for linking this book to the very real example of Bathsheba. It does give us hope that the God we serve is able to help us bring healing and hope to others. Could you expound a bit more specifically on how you implement “ancient spiritual” disciplines within the congregational setting?

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