We too often see those we read about in scripture as two dimensional. By this I mean that we see what they experience and the context in which it is experienced, but we forget much of the human element. Have you ever thought about what must have been going on in Saul’s head during the three days of fasting and prayer after his encounter with Jesus? Have you ever wondered why he was struck blind? What did this convey to the Jewish man (Saul) who experienced it?
We can easily see that the experience was life changing for Saul. We know he was a different man after meeting Jesus than he was before meeting him. Yet, Saul spent three days waiting, fasting, praying. He didn’t know if he would see again. He didn’t know if the one who appeared to him would forgive him. He had no idea what his future held, no idea if he even had a future.
In our day, with the opportunities available to the blind we still feel a sense of fear at the idea of losing our sight. I have bad eyes and have since I was nine years old. In High School an optometrist told me that at the rate my eyes were deteriorating I would be blind by time I was 28. Praise God this didn’t happen! Yet, at 46 I was diagnosed with early cataracts (which can be corrected when they get bad enough) and was warned that I am very close to having glaucoma (which can’t be corrected), so the possibility of losing my sight is very real to me. It’s very frightening, but I know that in today’s world there are many opportunities and tools for the sightless. The situation was very different in Saul’s day. Saul had much to lose, and the loss of his sight would have ruined him.
In those days the opportunities for the blind were very few and the public opinion of the blind was not positive. There were no jobs for the blind. The sightless were cast upon the generosity of others—either from family or through begging. For a Jew there were some very specific problems. The blind were seen as cursed by God (see John 9:2 for an example). Saul would understand that every one of his people who saw him would assume that he was guilty of some vile sin for which God had struck him. For a man whose whole life had been wrapped up in living according to the law of God (Gal 2:14), this would be shattering. His fellowship with the people and access to God would have been undermined as well. The blind could not enter the temple, but were required to stay outside with the most defiled. Saul appears to have been a member of the Sanhedrin, since he tells us in Acts 26:10, “and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” Many scholars agree that this vote shows Saul as being a member of the Sanhedrin. As a blind man, this power and authority would have been ripped from his hands. By experiencing Jesus, Saul had been cast down from a place of power and wealth into the role of a blind beggar cursed by God and barred from access to the place of God’s presence. This had to be going through his mind during those three days.
As a member of his society, Saul would have understood this. As a scholar of the Old Testament, Saul would also have been familiar with the imagery of blindness applied to a sinful people consciously refusing to see the truth. Saul would have understood that the Lord was showing him his own willful blindness to the truth. He would have understood this as a demonstration of his active rebellion against God—the same God he believed he had been serving. Not only did Saul’s reality get changed by this experience of the risen Christ, but his whole self-image was demolished. Saul the Pius was reduced to Saul the Cursed.
Imagine three days of inflicted blindness; three days of extreme depression; three days not knowing what would happen; three days to think the worst, when suddenly one of the people you had intended to arrest claims arrives to strip away the curse and lift you back out of the pit. Jesus had taken away everything from Saul, and through the hands of a disciple, Jesus gave it all back. It was not returned to Saul the persecutor, but to Saul the servant of Jesus.
Sometimes, when life is darkest, when we feel the most defiled and broken down, we have actually arrived at the point where Jesus is ready to remake us in his image. Don’t hang on to your expectations of the past, to your lost dreams of the future. Realize that everything he put you through, everything he let you got through made you into the disciple he chose to serve him.