I began this series of blogs by theorizing what it might be like to have a face to face conversation with the Lord God Almighty, Maker and Ruler of Heaven and Earth. A bit presumptuous on my part, I admit; but it occurred to me while thinking prayerfully about even the possibility of such a “conversation.” I’m aware of theological thinking and writing which tells us God has already spoken. Clearly. In several ways, through the ages.
For example, one of the Psalmists expressed that thought this way:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-4.)
We’re also told by the writer of Hebrews that God has spoken to us through the prophets, His written word and the Living Word (His Son.). Hebrews 1:2.
I believe that is true. But speaking ‘to’ someone is different from speaking ‘with’ someone. I wasn’t thinking about some kind of séance or falling out into a trance or babbling incoherently in some indecipherable language. I was just thinking having a conversation, and that led me to think: Suppose God did decide to just converse with me. Wouldn’t it seem sensible that He’d begin such a dialogue with a question? And, I reasoned further, would such questions be any different from the ones He’s already asked some others of His children at another place in space and time? And if He asked, would He, out of simple courtesy, await an answer before continuing any conversation.
And, as I shared in earlier posts, I couldn’t avoid another question: For whose benefit would God raise any question? If He’s omniscient (has all knowledge), why would He need to ask anyone anything?!
At any rate, I found myself out there with Saul of Tarsus (not yet the man known to us as the Apostle Paul) on a mission and on his way to Damascus: His religion and way of life were being threatened. Therefore, he accepted the assignment to search out and destroy the heretics who were not yet designated as “Christians.” Here’s how the incident is reported in the book of Acts:
Acts 9:1-5, “But Saul, still breathing threats of slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, that if he found any men or women belonging to this Way (a word used for Christianity), he might bring them in bonds to Jerusalem. And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew near to Damascus, when suddenly a light from heaven shone round about him; and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” And he said, “Who art thou Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom thou art persecuting.”
This is another of the questions I’ve been considering. If you think about it a bit, I believe you can understand why I’m having difficulty trying to relate to it and taking more time than usual to address it. I haven’t considered myself to be guilty, or even capable, of persecuting the Lord. Persecuting the Lord!? Why would I do such a thing? How could I do it?
Nor do I believe the Apostle Paul viewed what he was doing through the lenses of that question.
Frankly, it is the kind of question from which I want to turn away. It should make any thoughtful person uncomfortable.
This was a question which the Lord posed to Saul of Tarsus. The problem with that was Saul did not view what he was doing as persecuting the Lord.
Why are you persecuting me? Saul probably didn’t even realize he was doing that. In fact, he was confident that he was serving God. Whole heartedly, but mistakenly. What remedy is there for such misguided zeal? Misinformed. Wide-eyed and wide open, he was doing what he thought was service for God, namely killing these new “religious fanatics” and just erasing them. They were heretics, as far as he was concerned, just a small, insignificant blotch on the religious scene, but a nuisance to him. The “small sect” had not yet even been named “Christians.” He felt his religion, based on centuries of teaching and tradition, was being threatened. Aroused, angry, very concerned, and perhaps frightened, he went to war and was endorsed fully by the best that religion had to offer in that time.
Organized religion can be completely wrong. And, as history has demonstrated so often in so many way, totally ruthless. You can be mistaken, misguided, and devoutly religious. And not even aware that you’re wrong.
What was Saul doing at this time? It appears that he was simply carrying out instructions. Trying to promote his religion by stamping out Christianity. He’d gotten caught up in a mania… controlled and compelled by group thinking. At first, he probably was just an observer. Next thing, he was holding the garments of those who stoned Stephen to death.
That does not seem to fit any definition of persecution that I know of. Is it possible to persecute Christ and not even be aware of it? Is it possible that you may think you’re doing Him a favor, when in fact you’re breaking His heart?
“Why are you persecuting me?” I didn’t realize I was doing that, Lord. How was I persecuting you? Is it possible for those who are ardently religious to be guilty of persecuting the Lord?
I cannot begin to answer that question for another, or ask it of you or anyone else. But I’m driven to think carefully and deeply about it if it’s addressed to me.
I’ll be back after I’ve had more time to think.
God’s servant and son, your friend and fellow student, ~donkimrey