Can we just talk about Paul's friends for a minute? His posse, if you will. Because here we have a group of men, a group of persecutors, who have just seen a brilliant light from heaven and heard a voice they can't make out, and they watch the most fervent among them fall to his knees and suddenly be unable to see.
And they don't run away.
They stay. They stand there and witness this entire event. (And nobody really knows how long this lasted. It could have been seconds or minutes or hours.) When it's over, they look at their friend, crippled, knowing that something big has just happened in his life. They consider the mission they've been on. They may be thinking about the next stop on their journey. They may be talking about what they're going to do to those *#$*% Christians when they get there. And so on. Then Saul raises his head and says, "We must go to Damascus. And you'll have to show the way." And they do.
It's remarkable because, I think, we live in an age in which we're always placing qualifiers on God in other people's lives. We're always judging what God is or is not doing, what He can be or cannot be doing. We're always telling people how to interpret the holy in their lives. Whether this is a measure of our own disbelief, our jealousy, our arrogance, our fear, or what, I don't know, but I know that when today's "friends" are standing on the road in the blinding light, we are more likely to pass judgment than to provide support.
We might see the blinding light and be scared. We might back off and decide we want no part of that. Whatever's happening in our friend's life, whatever God is doing, it's big and weird and scary. We don't want to interrupt and maybe more importantly, we don't want to be standing too close when the next bolt of lightning strikes. So we back away and leave our friend standing alone in the darkness, blinded by the light.
We might see the light and be jealous. God's never been so interested in us that He would do such a big thing. What's so special about so-and-so? We probably have a whole list of reasons why we might be more deserving of a God encounter. Maybe our friend is a younger Christian. Maybe he has a "more" sinful past. Maybe we have an aching emptiness that is only magnified by watching our friend be called into fullness. Whatever it is, we can't stand to see anyone, even someone we profess to love, receive more of a measure of God than we do. So we cross our arms and pout, unable to reach out and take our friend's hand.
We might see the light and start looking for the smoke and mirrors. God, if there is a God, doesn't do things like this. Not any more. Maybe not ever. It's all just an elaborate show and for what, we're not really sure yet. There must be some science to explain it. Solar flares, maybe. A brain tumor. Something. It's not really what it appears to be; it can't be. Because God doesn't work this way. Or maybe there's no God at all, in which case this is all even more elaborate a hoax. In our disbelief, we dismiss not only the whole experience but our friend, as well, invalidating him even as he stands there.
We might see the light and count it a distraction. We love to do this one, in particular. We believe so much in what we're doing, in where we're going, in the journey we're undertaking that when something unexpected comes along and interrupts, it's clearly "from the devil." It's "the work of the enemy." We tell our friend that he has not experienced God, but Satan. That it's been just a perverted voice speaking into his pure nature and not the other way around. We convince him that good is evil, that down is up, that back is forth. And we only confuse him, so he can no longer ask us to lead him to Damascus; he cannot trust what we say.
Whenever God seems to show up in one of our friend's lives, these are the kinds of reactions we have. We fear, so we leave. We envy, so we pout. We doubt, so we dismiss. We refuse, so we refute. And we call ourselves faithful while doing these very things. But our friends are standing there, waiting for someone to lead them. Waiting on someone to take their hand. Waiting on someone to say, "Yeah, I saw it, too" or "Yeah, I heard that, too" and "I don't get it, either, but you want to go to Damascus, let's go to Damascus. Take my hand; together, we'll go."
Saul's posse didn't have a way to conceptualize what they all just witnessed. They were likely afraid; it's not every day the heavens shine down so brightly and speak in an audible voice. They were probably jealous; all the cool things happened to Saul. They were probably confused, wondering what kind of spectacle this was; they might even have suspected the Christians of setting the stage. They were probably obstinate; they were on a holy mission, so this could only be a distraction. They were probably a lot of things.
But one thing we know for sure is that they were faithful friends. They did not abandon Saul; they stayed with him. They did not turn their backs and fold their arms; they reached out and took his hand. They did not dismiss him; they surrounded him. They did not confuse him; they consoled him. They did everything we expect a faithful friend to do.
I don't know about you, but I could use a lot more friends like these. ...And I often ought to be more this kind of friend.