Patterns of destruction and corruption are at the heart of many problems today – from the abuse of power in politics to even the conflicts creating famine in Africa, as broadly discussed in a recent Monitor story (“UN says 1.4 million African children at risk in famine: Why there’s still hope,” Feb. 21, 2017). As we look for solutions, much of what’s needed is a change of course. But when answers require a redirection away from destructive behavior, is it reasonable to expect that we can see the change of thought needed for such a course correction?
This question is rooted in the fundamental and timeless inquiry of what we actually are. If we believe humanity to be stuck in repetitive cycles of selfishness, greed, indifference, and dysfunction, it may be difficult to believe a change of course is possible. But discovering our being to be God-created gives a basis for producing healing change.
A good example of this is seen in the Bible story of the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul, who was a persecutor of the early followers of Christ Jesus. As he was traveling on the road to Damascus en route to carrying out acts of religious-based terror, Saul met the Christ – that is, he had a vision of Christ Jesus that unveiled to him the error of his ways – and he was changed (see Acts 9). Saul’s encounter temporarily blinded him. Then his sight was restored, and he took on a new name, Paul, and a whole new mission to waken others to the transforming power he had experienced.
This power was the Christ, the true idea of God and man presented in Christ Jesus’ life and teachings. What had it given Saul that could produce such a turnaround? Contrary to the premise of man being made from dust and decay – as illustrated in the Bible story of Adam and his progeny (see Genesis 2) – Jesus taught that each one of us is a child of God or Spirit, who creates only good, as illustrated in the first account of creation (see Genesis 1). By looking deeper into the nature of man – for the physically unseen spiritual reality of God’s child, even when the human appearance was sin, disease, and death – he showed that we are spiritual and good. And it was this understanding and discernment of the spiritual man that gave Jesus power to cure the incurable, reform the incorrigible, restore life to the dead, feed thousands at once, and forgive those who struggled to live up to their full potential as children of God. He proved that no problem – no matter how deeply entrenched – is without a spiritual solution.
Paul described his vision on the Damascus road this way, “I heard a voice asking me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me? It is hurting you to keep on kicking against the cattle prods’”(Acts 26:14, International Standard Version). Kicking against the cattle prods is a good metaphor for reasoning in the wrong direction to justify bad behavior. Paul took the Christ-message to heart, changing his course from “dust” or matter-based thinking and living – where death and destruction are considered unavoidable elements of life – to Christ-based thinking and living, which wakes us up to our full potential for good as God’s children. He wrote, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22, New International Version). Paul’s reformation and healing illustrated that even the most inveterate wrong can be rooted out through Christ.
It is helpful to note that Saul’s transformation didn’t happen in a vacuum. He was compassed about by a faithful Christian community striving to follow Christ Jesus’ teachings in every detail. Saul witnessed the grace of Stephen, a disciple of Jesus and one of Saul’s victims, who forgave his own executioners (see Acts 7:58-60). He also met Ananias, another disciple of Jesus, who recognized Saul’s change of character and healed him of his blindness, smoothing the path for Saul to be accepted as a new man by a community who might have disbelieved that he had changed.
Following the path that Christ Jesus mapped out to love, bless, do good, and pray – even for the ones apparently intent to bring about destruction – we will discern and defend the real and true nature of God’s children, as blessed and as a blessing to others. No one is beyond the infinite and transformative reach of Christ’s healing power.