Deep inside he had always been restless, unsatisfied. It was what drove him. Mediocrity would never satisfy him; he had to be the best, the purest, the holiest. He had to be right with God. He did not know where this desire came from, nor did he even ask such questions. His only introspection was to measure himself against the Law, and see where he needed to work harder. He had heard some mocking whispers about his zeal, but they did not embarrass him at all – he was eager to be the most learned student, the most zealous Pharisee that the world had ever known.
He had excelled as a student, and was already a known man in Jerusalem, though he was still young. He knew the Law, and he understood the politics of the temple. So he was horrified when a new sect appeared, even more horrified when they persisted and grew even after their rabbi had been crucified. In fact, they claimed that he had risen from the dead. What blasphemy was that! Even worse, they claimed that this Jesus couldn’t be produced to prove their case because he had gone up into the heavens and was, in fact, God. Next they claimed that his sacrificial death had superseded the sacrifices in the temple. It seemed they wanted to undermine the very bedrock of his religion. This must be stopped, and he was the man to do it. He was on fire to get rid of them and their heresy. He hated their Jesus and everything he stood for.
So there he was, one day, on yet another expedition against them (this time in Damascus), when his whole world came undone. Just as the hottest part of the day was passing, it was as if the heavens opened, and a light too bright for this mortal world shone down on him. There were no more shadows or evasions. And then a voice spoke, a voice whose beauty broke his heart. This was what he had been seeking, what all his zeal and effort were for. But the voice did not commend him. Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” it asked.
A horrible fear engulfed him. “Who are you Lord?” he breathed, his mouth dry with sudden terror.
There was no comfort in the answer. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” There were further instructions, and he obeyed them blindly, groping his way through a world gone suddenly as dark as the pit. It took him a few moments to realise that he could no longer see physically, the darkness inside him was so much darker. Where does a man go when he finds he has been fighting against the very God he thought he was serving so excellently? What is left except damnation?
The next three days were the worst of his life, as he sat in the darkness with his whole world unravelled. Then a man called Ananias came to him, prayed over him, and his sight was restored. And in that moment he understood. The very Jesus he had hated, was the one who had come to die for him, who loved him to death and beyond. In Jesus all his folly – no, his wickedness – was forgiven. And as Saul was baptised, in deep repentance, for the first time he truly knew the peace of God.