Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 NASB

Wretched – Have you been taught that this verse is a cry for personal salvation? Are you the product of Augustine’s error, claiming that this is Paul’s personal pre-conversion state of mind? Do you employ theological categories when you read this verse, or do you hear the heart of a man who is experiencing the deepest form of traumatic abandonment? How you answer these questions might tell you more about yourself than about Paul.

Of course, we could follow the well-laid-out trail of Christian exegesis here. We could investigate the phrase talaiporos ego anthropos (”wretched man I am”) as if Paul is speaking about that “all important” question: “Where will I go when I die?” We could be diverted by a “Sinner’s prayer” message. Or we could look at this another way. Paul is writing about the natural, emotional trauma of discovering we are disconnected from our own lives, living apart from our real selves that we have hidden away in order not to experience pain that resides in us. We could notice that we are wretched, not because we fear Hell but because we are afraid to be vulnerable on earth. We could read this as the cry of our own souls, murdered by our fear of rejection following personal disclosure.

“Liberman argues that the natural impulse of all emotions is simply to move through us. It is only when we hold them within that they get stuck. And although other people in our lives appear to be the source of our unresolved emotional issues, they are simply external mirrors of our inner experiences. We project our relationships with ourselves onto others. These unresolved emotions are usually primary factors that keep us from being fully present in our relationships. In this sense everyone we meet in our lives offers us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly.”[1]

Do you think God is concerned about us? No, not about whether or not we will “get to Heaven,” but about who we are now—how fully we are alive in this moment. Do you think God cares that you are afraid to be real? Does it matter to Him that you have a mask? That you feel separated from those whom you love the most? That you desperately want someone to know you, all the way through? Isn’t this what Paul agonizes about? Romans 7 isn’t about getting saved. It’s about belonging, being accepted unconditionally, in order to be alive now! Does Heaven really matter if you can’t be free to be yourself now? “What is suppressed pain? . . . it is the disconnection from the natural rhythm of the self during the interference. Paradoxically, pain means, ‘I’m not in full contact with myself.’”[2] Does “salvation” mean transition through pain or do you have to wait until it’s all over before you can be free?

Topical Index: pain, trauma, salvation, Romans 7:24, wretched man

[1] J. O. Steenkamp, SHIP: Spontaneous Healing Intrasystemic Process: The Age-Old Art of Facilitating Healing, (Pretoria, South Africa) 2002, p. 75.

[2] Ibid., p. 21