Did Paul struggle with past memories?

On Sunday Steve Light preached from Acts regarding the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Prior to his conversion he was known to be one seeking the death of Jewish followers of Jesus. He witnessed and may have provided support for the stoning of Stephen. Upon his conversion those Christians in his circles were wary of whether he was a changed man or merely using it as a ploy to disrupt new churches. These folks had visceral reactions to such a person because they had likely experienced great suffering and distress by Paul’s hand.

Today, Christians generally think positive thoughts about Paul. He is the human author of most of the NT. His words give instruction, comfort, rebuke. We know he was a former violent man but we don’t experience him that way.

SO, here’s my question. Do you think Paul suffered from unwanted or painful memories of past actions? How did it impact him? We know very little about this from Scripture. Yes, Paul admits his past. He thanks God for unmerited grace and favor. But, he doesn’t address the existence of memories.

My thought? I think it is very human to remember shameful acts we have done. In fact, let me be bold enough to say we must remember them if we are to be human. The bigger question is rather HOW we remember them? Volf’s The End of Memory (which I have blogged through here some time ago) is instructive in answering this question. 

How do you remember shameful images or memories of your past? Do they hold you back from relationships? Do they keep you paralyzed? Are you constantly trying to better yourself to make up for the past?


Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, memory, Psychology, sin

2 responses to “Did Paul struggle with past memories?

  1. william

    Regarding your question about Paul, it seems very likely he carried memories of his past actions (see Phil 3:6, 1 Tim 1:15 for example).

    Additionally I wonder if some of his zeal comes from his vivid awareness of God’s grace and mercy to him? Rather than being paralyzed by guilt he used it as motivation to spread the Gospel?

    This connects to your broader question. For myself, there are memories that hold me back and I try to ‘make up for’, but this doesn’t seem healthy. Maybe Paul’s a good example here, he lived out his thankfulness for God’s grace, not trying to undue or repay the past, but changing.

  2. Jeff McMullen

    Great post, thanks for writing it. I agree with William. I do think Paul remembers his past and Israel’s history. But, Paul remembers in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Over the last year, I’m realizing with greater depth how my skeletons really do keep me paralyzed and under the power of condemnation. I think it’s very hard to remember the memories of our past in light of Jesus, because it goes so against our natural way of remembering.

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