I believe all of the original Apostles were mystics, along with many others who followed them, because I think Christianity was meant to be understood mystically. But the volume of documentation we have regarding Paul provides a stronger witness to the mystical nature of his life and service.
Regardless, though we have numerous documents on Paul’s life and ministry, more than anyone else other than Jesus Himself, there is much that we still do not know. Most of what occurred during the life of Jesus and the early church was not documented. Even something as simple as a letter, which we take for granted today, took a significant time commitment and required great expense to produce in that day. Also, much of what did exist has been lost to us, deteriorated by events in time. As a result, history is to a large degree a mystery, especially history related to the ancient world.
So, we must approach topics such as these with great humility because there is so much we do not know. Consequently, I offer these thoughts as a personal opinion based on a combination of documentation from both scripture and other historical sources, the perspective gained from my own mystical experiences, and personal intuition I have developed over the years. Using these tools, I have attempted to piece together a puzzle that I believe demonstrates the mystical nature of Paul’s experience and testimony.
By mystic, I mean one who pursues spiritual meaning in oneness with God. I also think it is characterized by the application of spiritual gifting and powers that transcend the physical world. This would include miracles, healings, exorcisms, dreams, visions, etc. These occurrences were commonplace in Paul’s life, following his conversion. Many other factors also point to Paul’s mystical nature. The three that stand out for me the most are his conversion, his visions and dreams, his out of body, or near-death experiences, and finally, his revelation on our oneness with God, and the mysterious cosmic nature of Christ.
Paul’s conversion is one of the more dramatic examples we have of Christ mystically making His presence known to another person. The following passage from Acts demonstrates this.
“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this Way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” (Acts 9: 1-7)
This description of Paul’s conversion is full of insights. He was on a mission from the High Priest in Jerusalem to capture people who were following the Way in Damascus. He was to bind them and deliver them back to Jerusalem. He was also outraged, breathing threats of murder and slaughter against the disciples.
As they were almost to Damascus, a light flashed suddenly around Paul, and he fell to the ground. It is possible that Paul was the only one who saw the light, which would explain why he was the only one who fell to the ground. When it comes to spiritual awakening, God’s touch is often personal not public, reserved for only us to see. This individual touch both lights our way and separates us more unto Him. Even when dramatic, God’s light often goes unnoticed by others. Upon seeing the light, Paul fell to the ground, which probably meant that he fell to his knees, as they were probably on foot to Damascus. The other two men remained standing.
Then a voice asked, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Paul was originally named Saul. Paul answered, “Lord, who are you?” It is interesting that he referenced him as Lord, as he heard the voice from heaven, yet Jesus had to introduce himself personally. Like he was familiar with the voice but had never connected it with a name. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” At this, Paul was shocked. I imagine that the images of the horrified faces of all he had unjustly captured and thrown into prison, came streaming back to his attention, in living color.
The phrase ‘kicking against the pricks’ is used to describe the futile backward kicking that an ox or donkey does when they are prodded. The pricks are the barbs used to get the beast’s attention. The use of this phrase is telling. It means that Jesus had already been prodding Paul. His bitter persecution of the disciples was the stubborn kicking against such prodding. Paul needed to be touched dramatically by this reality.
Does this sound familiar? How often do we kick the hardest against the things we know to be the truest. Aren’t many of our most significant failures the result of such resistance? We often go to great lengths to protect our false sense of power. Lashing out angrily against anything exposing vulnerability. How many of our sins are simply the product of an unwillingness to listen to that humbling voice we all know.
Despite Paul’s stubborn kicking against the Lord’s prodding, Jesus showed great mercy, asking only that Paul stand to his feet and proceed to the city, where he will be told what to do. When we think about the prospect of forgiving someone who has done us great harm, we should remember the Lord’s mercy. We should also not forget Stephen’s prayer to forgive his executioners before his death, as Paul looked on with approval. (Acts 8:60) I have often wondered if Paul’s very conversion was the product of the power of Stephen’s forgiveness. There is great power in forgiveness.
Finally, Paul’s conversion left him temporally blind and his companions speechless. Paul was blind for three days, temporarily separating him physically and spiritually from everything he had previously placed so much dependence. The same number of days Jesus was in the depths of the earth. This powerful man was suddenly utterly dependent on another for aid. Powerlessness is the genuine tunnel to oneness with God. Only when we let go, do we trust.
His companions were also stunned and quiet, silenced by fear over a mysterious voice whose source they could not see. Isn’t this often what occurs when we encounter God? Less dramatic perhaps, but aren’t we always blinded to some truth we were convinced of before our encounter. And so often, our companions are left similarly speechless by the changes they observe in us. Changes, they can only partially understand. Anyway, Paul’s silent cohorts fearfully led the humbled Jewish leader into town so he could prayerfully await the Lord’s promised instructions.
The importance of dreams, and visions also add to the mystical nature of Paul’s conversion. God communicated to both Paul and Ananias in visions as they prayed. Paul that a man named Ananias would come and pray for him, and he would receive back his sight. And Ananias, with instructions to go Pray for Paul.
Ananias initially argued against going to pray for Paul, due to the evil that Paul had done to the disciples in Jerusalem. But the Lord prevailed on Ananias, by telling him the role Paul would play in bearing His name to the gentiles, the Kings, and the children of Israel; and the great things Paul would suffer for His name’s sake.
I think God wants to speak to us more today in dreams and visions. Our culture’s materialistic bias has robbed us of fully experiencing this and many other gifts. In this vision, God also told Ananias about Paul’s calling and suffering independent of telling Paul, adding a degree of authenticity to Paul’s calling. This also demonstrates the importance of dreams and visions as a means of spiritual communication. If we publicly appeal to a dream or a vision today, as a means of demonstrating authority or authenticity, we would be laughed at. Professing to be wise, our culture is often very foolish, and empty.
The scripture continues,
And Ananias went his Way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the Way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened… (Acts 9: 10-19)
When Ananias prayed for the future apostle, Paul’s old eyes symbolically fell to the ground as scales that had blinded him. He saw the world anew, a condition that always follows spiritual awakening.
“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (Corinthians 2:3-4)
Paul was immediately baptized. Though he was hungry from fasting for three days, he strengthened his spirit in baptism before strengthening his flesh. After his baptism and a meal, Paul hurried to the synagogue and began teaching. This spectacle of the former persecutor teaching the Gospel, amazed his hearers. He also confounded the Jewish Elders with his proofs that Jesus was the Christ, as the Holy Spirit harnessed all of Paul’s great learning towards a new mystical awareness and direction.
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (Corinthians 2: 6)
Paul’s conversion, complete with a light and voice from heaven, dreams, visions, miracles, and a newly minted spiritual understanding and power, became a mystical hinge on which the Lord would open the gospel to the gentile world. In a dramatic moment in time, God demonstrated, for us all, that true spiritual power, stems from humble dependency and oneness with God beginning with this dramatic conversion.
To Be Continued
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