Is it possible to feel God’s presence in the midst of horror and torture? There are numerous histories of the martyrs that claim so. There are more modern reports that make the same claim. Shoshana Garfield, who has spent 20 years of clinical work helping people recover from experiences of torture and abuse writes in the Guardian about what she has learned from her clients.
“It is physiologically impossible, due to the way our brains process extreme pain, to keep awareness of faith in God at all moments; it is often not possible to retain the capacity for simple maths or even language under these extreme circumstances. It is either before the torture wipes out even our capacity to think, or feel anything but pain, or when the waves of all-encompassing pain recede, that faith may emerge as a balm of nourishment.
My clients tell me that their darkest moments have been when they felt deeply alone, bereft of even God. They despaired and were completely hopeless because of the thought that God was allowing the torture to continue, which in effect is either God’s powerlessness or implicit permission, either of which is devastating. And yet I have also been told many, many times by clients (often the same ones with these moments of shattering despair) that at other times they knew, deeply knew, that God was with them.
I have heard reports of angels singing comfort, of Mary and/or Jesus whispering to them, of feeling the formless touch of the Divine, of a dream of a prophet or a saint that was real. I have even had multiple reports of literal, physical divine intervention at intense moments of need, in one case dramatically saving the life of my client.
I believe that they are telling the truth. People who invent such stories tend to do so regularly as a result of their inability to distinguish internal and external reality or their compulsion to invent extreme stories, and hence would exhibit ongoing and multiple signs of psychosis and/or personality disorder.”
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