Paul and death : a study in psychological coping
Joelsson, Linda (2015-04-17)
Åbo Akademi University
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The present investigation looks into the attitudes toward death in Paul’s authentic letters, and puts them in relation to modern theories of psychological coping. Drawing on psychologically-oriented hermeneutic theory, and theories about psychological coping in particular, I argue that each case of psychological coping must be understood in its historical situation as strategies emanating from a specific person’s subjective appraisal (cf. Pargament, Lazarus and Folkman). Paul’s letters frequently refer to persecution and violent death. To aid in psychological coping is often integral to the purpose of the letters, which makes the perspective of psychological coping akin to their genre. In the course of a tentatively assumed chronological order of 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon, Paul moves from the perception of Jesus dying for the faithful to the understanding of dying with Jesus. His coping strategies concerning death are gradually transformed from conservative and deferring coping styles, to a more self-directing coping style, to collaborative and transformative coping styles, and finally to a new sense of deferring coping style in prison. The last case of deferring coping carries the traits of generosity and flexibility even in the face of death, which is in contrast to his previous letters. Through his correspondence, we see Paul’s attitude toward death transformed from denial to reaction, to processing, to acceptance (cf. Lindemann, Kübler-Ross, Bowlby, Parkes, among others). His strategies also shift in accordance with these understandings. Denial is accompanied by diversion, threat by aggression, processing by rumination, and acceptance by joy. The study shows the hermeneutic benefits of reading Paul’s letters as the rhetorically framed expressions of a person in a particular historical situation. The letters open small windows through which we can glimpse the coping process of a person of antiquity. In adopting the method of psychological exegesis, the study shows that the variety of attitudes toward death in Paul’s letters makes sense from the perspective of psychological coping. The psychological aspect of these letters is an underexamined richness that can extend into areas of contemporary individual and group identity, and from there to public policy and ethics.
- 614 Teologia