Saturday, March 01, 2014

Three viewpoints, one journey

We are men who do what we are told. We have always believed that by serving the High Priest we are serving God. We go where we are told to go, we guard whom we are told to guard, we arrest those whom we are told to arrest. So what are we supposed to do when it all changes? We knew Saul, we knew he really hated those Christians, and the way he talked about them as we journeyed, he had us quite convinced that they were hateful and dangerous people who must be stopped and removed at once – a poisonous tumour on the body of Israel. And then, there we are, on another hot, dusty day on the road to Damascus,  when we suddenly hear a loud sound and there is Saul on the ground, crying out something, while we stand around with no idea what to say or do. We had had no orders about such things. Then, the moment passes, he rises to his feet, but his eyesight was gone! We continued on our way, very carefully, since a blind man’s horse must be led, but it soon became obvious that Saul had completely changed his mind about these people, and no longer wanted to pursue them at all. Instead he wants to join them now. Seriously, we wonder if he has gone mad!

The wiser a man thinks he is, the more a fool he turns out to be! I was so, so sure that I was right, that my hatred for these followers of Jesus proved what a godly, zealous man I was, and that my zeal would win God’s favour just like it did with the Levites who stood with Moses against the immorality in the camp. How little I really understood anything about the God I claimed to be serving! In the instant between one breath and the next my whole world turned around, for I encountered the very Jesus I had been persecuting, and learned that he was my God!  A man needs silence and darkness to process such things, and darkness I was given. In broken penitence my body now wore the blindness that had so characterised my arrogant spirit, but it was no longer terrible. The same God who had sternly rebuked me had drawn me to Himself in tender mercy and let my eyes be darkened for a space so that I might know that He was no fever dream, no delusion brought upon me by the heat of the day, but my only life and hope and joy. It is hard for a strong man to yield himself to be led and tended by others, but even in that humbling there is relief and joy, for in my darkness I am beginning to see truths that I never guessed before.

What is a man to do when God asks him to take literally the command to love his enemies? Well, he obeys, but with much doubt and fear in his heart! At least, since I cannot speak for all men, that was my experience. God Himself came to me in a vision and called me to go and restore the eyesight of Saul of Tarsus! How could such a thing be? This was the man who had been our foremost persecutor! Could I trust him? And also (for we who follow Jesus are already only too aware that God make call us to martyrdom at any time) what of the issue of justice? Surely Saul must be punished for the way he had treated God’s people? Yet God was calling me to bring him healing! It took me much wrestling in prayer before I understood, but when I did I was stunned afresh by the depths of God’s grace. Of course Saul must be healed and restored, for isn’t this exactly why Jesus died? A mighty work of reconciliation was done upon the cross, so that god might restore us to Himself. Saul is just one picture of the way this works for all of us, as God turns us around towards Himself, so that we may see his arms are open wide in love and forgiveness. With gladness then, instead of fear, I went out to find him, for Saul is no longer my enemy, he is my precious brother.

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