Can you imagine Osama bin Laden becoming a Christian? Being baptized, publicly becoming a follower of Jesus and then directing the same enormous amounts of energy towards spreading the Gospel as he once had towards killing Americans and Christians?
Me neither, but that is almost exactly what happened to a man named Saul of Tarsus.
Saul of Tarsus was the Osama bin Laden of his day in Israel. He was radically Jewish and ruthlessly devoted to ensuring its purity by wiping out all traces of this new “Messiah Jesus” movement.
The difference between the two, I think, is that Saul was intellectually honest. When confronted with irrefutable new evidence, he actually changed his mind. A lot of people’s beliefs get calcified over time and they become resistant to change. It’s the “right or wrong, I’m right” mentality.
It’s just my opinion, but I believe Saul really did love God passionately even before his encounter on the road to Damascus. He just had missed the point of the Scriptures, like many of his fellow Pharisees.
Because of this, when he was apprehended by Jesus, he realized this really was the Messiah, alive again, and immediately began worshiping him. Paul was a lover of truth, especially intellectual truth, and he was willing to change course when confronted with the errors in his thinking. A good example for all of us to follow.
What does this have to do with Resurrection? What else would have changed this man, so entrenched in his belief that these Christians were blasphemers deserving death, but an encounter with the risen Jesus? That turnaround would be almost as unthinkable as Osama bin Laden doing the same thing, and then going on to write half the New Testament! Can you imagine what it would take to accomplish that?
Some have said that Paul’s Damascus experience was some kind of hallucination brought on by heatstroke, exhaustion, or some other such ailment. But really, that explanation doesn’t fit any of the facts of Paul’s life at all (not to mention, once again, the empty tomb). Don’t you think he wondered the very same thing after the initial euphoria of that spiritual high had passed? Of course he did. This was one of the great minds in world history—he would never have been duped into believing a mere hallucination for the rest of his life…especially with all the suffering it brought him (2 Cor 11:24-27).
I like to imagine God looking down at Saul (Saul is his Hebrew name, Paul his Greek name), seeing both his passion and intellectual greatness, and saying, “We need this guy on our team.” Totally wrong on all kinds of theological levels, but I still like to imagine it. =) And I think there’s is a kernel of truth in there somewhere.
And the church really did need him, too. Paul’s formidable intellect was the perfect complement to Peter’s bottomless heart—the nascent church needed both the heart and the mind to really take off. Peter gave the church its heart, and Paul gave it its mind.
But back to Osama bin Laden.
This is (was?) a man of truly great charismatic powers and organizational leadership skills. Can you imagine the good he could accomplish if he turned his energies towards building up the world rather than tearing it down? His life is a stark reminder that our choices here on earth really do matter. We are immensely powerful creatures, each one of us, with the free will to do what we desire. God respects our freedom enough to allow us to become Osama bin Ladens if we choose.
It may sound ridiculous, but I’d like to have that guy on our side. Well, on God’s side really. He could do great things. He could have been ‘Apostle bin Laden’.
Alas, it seems he has made his choice, and although I believe God can and does work miracles, poor Osama doesn’t seem capable of listening to differing ideas, unlike the real apostle.
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not its falsity.