“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts”. (Zechariah 4:6)
To become a mature Christian disciple today requires a person to be free-thinking in the most open-minded and adventurous way, in contrast to an easy conformity to our current cultural worldview of naturalism, postmodern relativism, and skeptical indifference to God.
The bogus charge that the world levels at the Christian of “copping-out,” by using belief in God as a crutch to lean on…an escape-hatch from self-accountability to dump all of our problems off on…is actually the reverse opposite of reality. In many respects it is much easier to go along with the general tide of today’s popular culture, in which everyone’s opinion is relative, and the moral absolutes of right and wrong are conveniently fuzzy, than it is to be a true Christian engaged in an adventure of faith.
The great irony in our modern times is that the narrow way of the cross is in actuality the most liberating and open-minded route we could possibly follow. The discovery of the real truth about ourselves, the outside world, and the character traits needed to produce the experience of eternal peace in joyful living, sets people free in love to rise in triumph above the challenges, difficulties, and evils of this world (1 Cor. 13:4-7)…lessons that will outlive time itself.
The life of the apostle Paul is one in a long line of the biblical people of faith living their lives at the liberated edge of the danger zone of a God-composed journey of faith. Paul as Saul (Paul is the Greek equivalent…in English…of the Hebrew name Saul), the highly educated young Pharisee, personally cares so much about the truth and rightness of his Judaic religion and culture that he actively persecutes the rapidly growing threat of the “new way” of the Christian sect in Jerusalem, after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1).
But Saul the Pharisee is entirely wrong about the Christians. When Jesus of Nazareth miraculously appears in a blinding light to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, God intervenes in the life of Paul and sets his feet upon an unconventional path towards the discovery of the “all truth” of John 16:13. This surprisingly turns out, from the elevated divine perspective, to be perfectly in-line with the very passion that initially motivated Saul the Pharisee’s sincere but misdirected attack upon the Christian church. God’s narrowly specified adventure of faith for Saul/Paul opens up for him the very thing he valued the most.
God’s insertion of a new life-script at the perfect time in Paul’s life led to a journey of faith into the danger zone resulting in the unimaginably liberating outcome of Paul becoming one of the true champions of the Christian faith he once persecuted, and a writer of the divinely inspired New Testament Christian truths he so desperately sought as Saul the Pharisee mistakenly persecuting the seemingly aberrant early church.
Like Abraham’s adventure of faith twenty-two centuries earlier, God completely displaces the life that Paul would have lived in Jerusalem, with a life-script so unimaginable that part of the legitimacy of the transforming message of Paul to the polytheistic, idol-worshipping culture of the Greco-Roman world…was the reality of this abrupt, total turn-about in Paul’s life.
The great divide between worldly conventional thinking and the higher, living ways of God begins for Paul at this revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God on the road to Damascus. The journey for Paul to become a research scholar of “real” truth at the grassroots level begins through the lived-experiences of his God-composed journey of faith life-script to evangelize the first-century Greco-Roman world.
In Acts 9:10-16, the story is recounted of a Christian named Ananias living in the city of Damascus, who Jesus tells in a vision to go to Saul of Tarsus, currently in the house of Judas on a street called Straight in Damascus, and to “lay hands” of healing on Saul to restore his sight. In the vision, when Ananias objects that this Saul of Tarsus is notorious as a persecutor of the Christian church, Jesus answers: “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Certainly this part about Jesus saying that He will show Paul how great things he must suffer as a missionary evangelist to the first-century Greco-Roman world, was for the benefit of Paul to understand in advance the cost of the inevitable, balancing justice of payback that would come to Paul for the “much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). As Paul is being stoned, beaten, jailed, mobbed, forced to leave cities and towns, and generally opposed everywhere in this ministry (Acts 28:22), it would certainly help in the all-important human question to God in the midst of adversity: “why is this happening to me, God?” to be able to look at the dynamics of persecution towards Paul from the viewpoint of someone who had himself been the chief persecutor of the early church in the very recent past.
If God had chosen someone other than Paul as the first evangelist to bring the gospel message to the larger Greco-Roman world in the first-century, who was completely innocent of any such persecution of the early church, and was a recent new recruit filled with the naïve optimism of a reformer, they still would have been met with the same fierce opposition that Paul encountered. To be successful, this other person would have had to become quickly hardened to the potentially lethal reality of bringing God’s light into spiritual darkness (Jn. 1:5).