Paul's Impact on Grief and Suffering, and Emotional Wounds in Psychology
by Joan Synder

  • Aspects of Psychology
  • Grief and Suffering
  • Emotional Wounds
  • Bibliography

  • Aspects of Psychology back to top

    The Apostle Paul has obviously influenced the realm of psychology. Many writers and theorists have written psychological works that reflect the influence of Pauline Theology. Paul wrote about the suffering and persecution under which he lived during his ministry, and he advised other Christians to follow his teachings when they encounter similar conflicts and trials. Paul cared about the inner man, and he gave valuable and inspired insight to psychologists and writers who want to explore the nature of man. Paul's influence on psychology has been quite broad; therefore, to illustrate his influence, only two aspects of psychology will be examined. The following essay introduces Paul's influence on grief and suffering and Paul's influence on the healing of emotional wounds. The material presented on these aspects of psychology should not be viewed as exhaustive; further exploration of the topics should most certainly be encouraged.


    Grief and Suffering back to top

    A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis is clearly a psychological work. Lewis struggles with the death of his wife and the agony that the loss has created. His thoughts are directly rooted in Pauline Theology. For instance, Lewis reflects on the nature of God. He is beginning to see God as being dreadful, meaning that God does not just ordain things that appear good to man (Lewis, 10). The apostle Paul would agree with that when he writes in Romans 9:20-21 that some things that God ordains may not seem rational to us, but for us to talk back to God would be like the clay talking back to the potter. God may, at times, appear dreadful to us because of our limited understanding. Paul writes in Romans 11: 34-35, "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has given to God that God should repay him?" C.S. Lewis and the Apostle Paul would agree that some things are just incomprehensible to man. Grief and suffering are not easily resolved.

    Lewis also states that although his love for his wife was enormous, there was a clear need in his life that no spouse could ever meet. The need for God could not be met by his spouse. Although Lewis emphasizes his overwhelming grief for his wife, he finds some comfort in the fact that his need for God was still present and that God Himself was still there (Lewis, 10). As Paul writes in I Thessalonians 4:13-14, it is not as if we do not have hope when a Christian dies. Jesus died and was resurrected, and God will one day raise from the dead those that believed in Christ. God is still present and cares for those who mourn. He offers hope to those who are grieving. However, Lewis also struggles with this passage from I Thessalonians. He writes,

    What St. Paul says can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves. If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope, 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood (Lewis, 24).

    Lewis strongly believes that the Bible should not be used for trite consolation (Lewis, 23). To him, a person who distributes "Biblical bandaids" implies that he truly does not understand the overwhelming reality of insurmountable grief. Trite consolations simply are not sufficient.

    Perhaps C.S. Lewis' best solution for dealing with grief ironically lies not in continual tears, but in praise. He did not want to stop loving his dead wife, and he did not want to forget her. The thought of not remembering her scared him the most. His solution was to offer praise to God for the time he had with his wife and for the gift of joy she had been to him. Lewis writes, "Praise is the mode of love that always has some element of joy in it" (Lewis, 49). Again, the Apostle Paul would agree. Paul's approach -- even in the midst of great suffering -- was to somehow rejoice (Philippians 4:4). Paul made it his practice to sing praises to God even when he had just been beaten or had just been put in chains. J. Knox Chamblin, author of Paul and the Self, writes, "To Paul's mind, joy does not await the resolution of conflict or the end of struggle; instead, it arises precisely amidst the conflict and struggle" (Chamblin, 22). Ironically, it is praise that leads those who mourn back to an understanding of joy.

    Not only could C.S. Lewis find joy, but also hope. He adds, "There is, whatever it means, the resurrection of the body" (Lewis, 59). Although the words should not be thrown around lightly, there is still deep significance found in the words. There is the hope of eternal life to all who believe, for just as Paul asks in I Corinthians 15:55, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"


    Emotional Wounds back to top

    David Benner, a Christian author and psychologist, addresses the topic of deep emotional wounds that people develop at all stages of life as the result of living in our fallen world. In his book Healing Emotional Wounds, Benner definitely embraces Pauline theology. Benner believes that people actually need to allow themselves to experience the pain that results from an emotional wound. Any defense mechanism that could possibly be employed to avoid dealing with the pain actually prevents the healing process. Benner cites Paul's words found in Philippians 3:10 that we need the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings (Benner, 33). J. Knox Chamblin author of Paul and the Self stresses that suffering is central to Paul. Chamblin cites I Corinthians 15:31, where Paul writes, "I die everyday," because he is identifying with Christ's suffering (Chamblin, 21). According to Benner, an emotional catharsis is a necessary part of the healing process (Benner, 70).

    Benner and the Apostle Paul would also be in agreement that everyone must acknowledge his or her own sinfulness in order to receive God's healing grace. According to Benner, we all take turns being both the villain and the victim (Benner, 102). Paul writes similar words in Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Benner believes that after the emotional release occurs, a person must intellectually or cognitively acknowledge before God that he is just as capable of hurting another person the same way he himself was hurt (Benner, 102).

    Finally, Benner believes that forgiveness must occur -- even if the person that needs to be forgiven is already dead (Benner,109). Benner acknowledges that forgiveness is not easy and that God must empower a believer to forgive his offender (Benner, 109). He defines forgiveness as the injured person being able to still remember the incident, yet the person who has forgiven will no longer experience malice toward his offender (Benner, 117). Certainly Paul agrees. In Colossians 3:8, Paul urges his readers to rid themselves of all malice. Paul continues, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13). There are obvious parallels between Benner's process of obtaining emotional healing and Pauline theology.

    There are many other writers and psychologists who have been influenced by Pauline Theology. Lewis and Benner simply serve as illustrations of Paul's influence on aspects of psychology. Many psychologists only gather their data from general revelation, or the observable world. The advantage certainly lies with the writer or psychologist who draws from both general and special revelation, which is found in Scripture. The Apostle Paul's inspired words of insight have clearly influenced the realm of psychology.



    Bibliography back to top
    • Benner, David G. Healing Emotional Wounds. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990.
    • Chamblin, J. Knox. Paul and the Self. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.
    • Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York: The Seabury Press, 1961.