One moment can change the course of your life forever.
It might be the moment you fall in love, or hold your newborn baby for the first time. It might be the moment you discover that you’re holding the winning lottery ticket, or that you’re adopted, or that your spouse has been cheating on you with your best friend.
And, of course, it might be the moment you meet Jesus.
These things change you by introducing you to a new passion, a new responsibility, a new opportunity, or a new truth. And all of them have the capacity to dramatically change the way you look at the world, at yourself, and at others. Your world can turn upside down.
Saul’s conversion on the Damascus road illustrates how one central new truth can cause drastic changes in a person’s beliefs and conduct. Some things, of course, don’t change. Before and after his conversion, Saul remained a passionate, stubborn, and zealous man, and he retained the wealth of knowledge he had gained through his education.
But in his conversion, his passion and energy were redirected. I believe that he had always been zealous for God. Given what he thought he knew about Jesus, that zeal unfortunately translated into the vigorous persecution of Jesus’ followers, whom Saul took as traitors to the true faith.
It took a blinding confrontation from Jesus to show him the truth:
[Saul] 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.” (Acts 9:4-6, NRSV)
Historically, the people of Israel had always considered their persecutors to be the enemies of God (at least when they weren’t the instruments of God’s discipline). Likewise, when Saul persecuted the church, he was persecuting Jesus by proxy, the one whom he was now forced to address as “Lord.”
Imagine the effect of this realization on Saul, the zealous Pharisee. One who didn’t care much about the things of God might have taken a cavalier attitude: “Wait, you mean this Jesus guy really was the Messiah? Oops. My bad.”
But his comments about his past, scattered here and there through his letters, seem tinged with regret and repentance. While he is confident in his vocation as an apostle, for example, he also says “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor 15:9). All the things on his spiritual résumé, in which he had taken so much pride, were now just so much “sewer trash” (Phil 3:8, CEB) compared to being found in Jesus. Knowing how wrong he had been made him lean even harder into grace, the cornerstone of his preaching.
Luke tells us that after the blinded Saul got to his feet, he had to be led by the hand into the city of Damascus. He remained sightless for three days. He didn’t eat. He didn’t drink. Some take this as an intentional fast, and that’s certainly possible.
But it’s also possible that he needed the three days to begin to cope with the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that came with having his world, his very sense of identity, turned upside down. Anyone who’s had to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic revelation can relate.
Those three days gave him some much needed time to think and pray.
And it wasn’t long before Saul was ready to start turning Damascus upside down.