Summary: When things aren't going the way they should be in our lives, the Lord is there; working, changing, helping us see straight.
Scripture holds absolutely no power unless is has a message for our lives. We come to the scripture in our context. We have issues that we want resolved. We have questions we want answered. We have doubts we want wiped away. And so, when we find ourselves in these moments, many of us often sit down, open our Bibles, and begin searching for answers. We look for the real, raw stories that seem to relate to our own stories and those stories and then we begin to pray for answers. And yet, there are some stories that just seem too far-fetched; we feel like we can’t relate at all, we think there is no message there for us, and so we turn the page and keep looking.
Such is the case, I believe, with Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road; it’s so dramatic that it puts us off. It’s so much easier for us to just let this story stay an ancient story that isn’t really all that relevant anymore; like the Tall Tales of the American Frontier. We come to this story, and others like it, and as we read, we cannot help but ask; did this really happen to Saul? Do things like this still happen to people today? Why hasn’t God ever appeared to me in this way? And then we start thinking about the stories we have heard. Occasionally, we will hear people talk about some miraculous transformative experience that is so completely amazing it’s almost unbelievable. Such stories can raise even more doubts in our minds. If we believe that God truly intervenes in such blinding, definitive ways, then why has it never happened to me or to thousands of others? Why does this happen so rarely? Does God pick favorites? Am I really in such a “great” state that God doesn’t need to “turn me around” in such a miraculous conversion?
Indeed, it’s very easy to come to this story of Saul’s conversion and to decide that it really doesn’t speak to our lives. To begin with, we’ve never encountered the Lord in such a way. But even beyond that, we aren’t anything like Saul was. We aren’t religious zealots “breathing threats and murder” against all our opponents; at least I hope not! But here’s the thing; we have all been on wrong paths. We have all done something, or maybe many things, that have been harmful to ourselves or to others. We have all been headstrong, stubborn, blinded by our own ambition, selfish to meet our own need, caught in addictive behaviors, and oblivious of the true cost to others or to ourselves.
I think you all know what I mean. On some level, we have all been on the wrong path. We have all been close-minded. We have been stubborn. In some way, at some point, we have all acted like Paul was acting as he stormed his way toward Damascus; we have felt such seething anger, we have harbored deep hatred, we have acted on irrational impulses. So, the truth of the matter is, Paul’s Damascus Road story is not so far from our own life and experience. And, just like Paul, eventually, we open our hearts and our minds to discover our many errors. It may seem unbelievable as we read some ancient book, but this really is the “stuff” of everyday life.
“Now [Saul] was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’” After that, Saul couldn’t see; for three days he was totally blind. And around that same time, Jesus appeared to the disciple Ananias in Damascus, and calling him to visit Saul, he said, “‘Go, for [Saul] is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.’…So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”
God is ever-present in our lives. Sometimes it may require patience and resolve and even change to see and understand that. But God is always there, bridging that chasm between despair and hope, between hatred and love, between life and death. God carries us when we can’t carry ourselves; God comforts us when we are sad; and God changes us when we need to be changed.
So the question for us to consider on this day, as we reflect on Saul’s Damascus Road conversion is: What is your blinding light? How has God approached you when you needed it most? What is it that helped you look at reality in a different way? What finally caused you to see where you bad habits would lead? What changed your mind and your heart? What was it that finally got through to you so that you saw the chaos your stubborn refusal was creating? Maybe it was a risk-taking friend who finally confronted us. Or perhaps it was the spouse who opened up to reveal the truth. Or the child who heroically “tells it like it is.” Sometimes it is just the vacancy of our own souls in the middle of the night that finally convinces us; something’s gotta give.