“Ministers describing themselves in these terms today would be advised to take a sabbatical.”
Richard Dormandy is summarising the mental state of the apostle Paul in his Second
Epistle to the Corinthians. There are plenty of commentaries telling us about the inadequacies of the Corinthian church, and Paul’s response to them. Richard Dormandy’s concern is rather the inadequacy of Paul himself – at least when he was writing this letter.
Richard is Vicar of Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill, and teaches on the Readers’ Course in the Diocese. In this very personal and pastoral study, he comes clean about his own hesitancy about working on Paul – the apostle who for some Protestants can do no wrong, and for some liberals is branded as a repressed bigot. It was having to teach about Paul that forced Richard to read him seriously.
Richard’s researches have revealed a deeply human side to Paul, an agonised man emerging from a period of extreme anxiety, longing for a compassionate response from his readers in Corinth, unable initially to accept their help, yet who gradually rediscovers God’s grace after a period of deep darkness in his life, and is fired up to write his greatest epistle – to the Romans. Through careful use of word study and vivid illustration, Richard reads between the lines of Paul’s Second Letter, to find a man who at this stage of his life needs help. Richard reminds us of Paul’s break with Barnabas, leading to a sense of self sufficiency in ministry, then a time in prison, physical illness, a sense of failure in his dealings with the Christians in Corinth, leading to what today we would call ‘burn-out’. Many of the symptoms of reactive depression are found in the ways Paul expresses himself. At times he is overcome by fear and self-hatred, even despairs of life.
Richard takes us through all the main themes of the Epistle, looking for clues about Paul’s emotional state and responding emotionally and pastorally to what he finds. The breakthrough comes when Paul sees his story in a fresh light, and is enabled both to embrace and begin to make sense of his afflictions. He sees again his life in Christ, rediscovers God’s love for him, and reassesses his ministry as a servant of God. We should be very grateful to Richard Dormandy for this creative and fresh approach to Paul, and for introducing us to a very human side to the great Apostle which can serve as a great reassurance to us when we are going through it, as well as a pointer to the grace of God which is ‘sufficient’ to hold onto us in our weaknesses.