He was, by any standard, a terrorist. His evil deeds grew out of a warped sense of his religion. Furthermore, he had tacit, if not actual, state support - authority to take innocent people captive. His name was Saul, but after experiencing an epiphany on his journey to Damascus, he was renamed Paul (see Acts, chapter 9).
Paul's epiphany was a spiritual revelation that not only changed his life, but also altered the course of history. The Bible, as well as other historical literature, contains many accounts of individual revelation that shape much of our lives today. One, which is celebrated 12 days after Christmas, notes the visit of the Magi as they brought gifts to the baby Jesus. These kings, as they are sometimes called, were of quite a different religion and culture, but they had received a revelation of the importance of this birth to the world.
The Bible records many other revelatory moments, but none of such immediate and dramatic consequences as the conversion of Saul. He was struck blind and then healed by a man of the group that he had come to take captive.
This story has great relevance today. It promises that even terrorists can see the error of their ways and become God's instruments of peace. Today's terrorists, no more than Saul, don't operate in a vacuum. What was the mental climate in which Saul was operating? What were the intended victims of his hatred doing?
There's no doubt that Saul's victims were aware of their danger and were praying, and there is little doubt about how they were praying. They were disciples of Jesus, and he had taught them to "pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). Also, he had taught them, at their request, how to pray effectively. Jesus' disciples are to honor the name and nature of God, and to recognize this holy creator as the Father and Mother of all.
Isn't it logical that this kind of praying being done by Saul's intended victims had something to do with his epiphany? Doesn't the prayer for deliverance from evil include both protection from evil and freedom from doing evil's bidding?
Saul must have been yearning, praying for the success of his mission, mistaken though it was. As often happens when one's sense of right is not clear, Saul was pushing his resolve with self-will. His real desire to serve God, however, and the disciples' desire to serve God naturally coincided. The result was not anyone's manipulating or controlling another, but the higher law of the God that is Love prevailing.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote in her main work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Saul of Tarsus beheld the way - the Christ, or Truth - only when his uncertain sense of right yielded to a spiritual sense, which is always right. Then the man was changed" (pg. 326).
As we continue to pray, may we not expect members of the Al Qaeda network to experience epiphanies and be changed? This is not a naive assumption, but a recognition of the power of prayer. Such prayer that God's will be done will also equip us to guide and comfort those awakening from their delusions and misinformation as they readjust their lives to serve the purpose of peace on earth.
In his poem, "Journey of the Magi," T. S. Eliot notes that the revelation of a better way of life was at the time "hard and bitter agony" for them: "We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, / but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation ...."
In the new dispensation, as lived by Christ Jesus, life was held to be so dear that Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. He also saved sinners by awakening them from their mistaken ways to apprehending and doing God's will. It may be "hard and bitter agony" to realize that one mistakenly has destroyed innocent human lives. But once having seen the new dispensation - that God is Life and something to be hallowed - no one will ever be at ease where human life is unvalued.
Today's use of the word epiphany has broadened from one-time dramatic revelation. Every individual revelation of God's goodness and supremacy changes one's actions and character. It contributes to the world's emergence from considering murder and suicide as a tool, to valuing each human life and working to elevate and preserve it.