Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The questioning of a flashback – and the possibility of a particular New Testament insight

What is your opinion as to our argument that what Saul experienced on his way to Damascus was a flashback? For myself, I do not doubt that it was. The unfolding story, piece by piece, follows points that currently are made in the diagnosis of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There has always been in this, nevertheless, an element of discomfort for me.

That factor is not about Saul having a flashback, but rather, of what? What he saw, and heard, was of Jesus when he was alive. We have no other indication that Saul had any contact, whatsoever, with Jesus. Paul would later write a great deal about being “in Christ,” and make other references to experiencing the risen Christ, no references to encountering Jesus. The argument in our book is, of course, that this lack of references to the living Jesus is a element common to PTSD, avoidance. No one having flashbacks wants to trigger a repetition. But what of Saul?

Saul had experienced violence close up; he had guarded – in effect, held the coats – of those who were splashing about Stephen’s blood, brains, and gore. On his last visit to Jerusalem, when trapped into a confrontation with the religious council, he had wiggled out of it by recalling how he had participated in the murderous hunt for Jesus’ followers in the days immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion. There was blood enough to make for a flashback, alright, but that is not what knocked Saul flat and left him blinded.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus…” The emotional overwhelming revealed in this is not of confronting death, but rather devastated by shame. Paul will later think and write deeply about the Cross, but that is later, and has to do with his resolving of a more personal issue. It is a something arising from something that had happened between he and Jesus, but what?

I want to offer a suggestion, but I will delay it for a week to give you some time to consider the matter before I offer my thoughts on the matter. It comes out a story of Jesus being abused, common to all three of the Synoptic Gospels, each time linked specifically with Peter. No, I am not playing a game with you on this. It is too serious a matter for most of us. Serious enough to give you time to think about it.

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