Today the Church of England remembers the conversion of the Apostle Paul. It’s a pretty momentous day in the history of the Church. Here was a fierce opponent of the fledgling Christian Church, transformed by a revelation from God in to one of its most strident early missionaries. He developed a strategy for mission, evangelism and church growth which worked and has been the pattern for a large majority of efforts made by Christians to grow the Church since his lifetime. He got it done. Something in the revelation he claims to have had of and from Jesus Christ truly transformed this man, filling him with the power of the spirit, and with grace, grace enough to last a lifetime, and to change the world.
I’ll admit that at various times in my Christian life, I’ve thought Paul a little arrogant*. He often seems to make statements about his closeness with God, the rightness of his doctrine, his way of doing things that give the sense that he thought highly of himself. I know there’s a lot more to it than that, before readers tear their hair out, but to me at least, he doesn’t come across as a likeable chap, one who would be easy to get along with. At points I’ve wished that a good portion of what he wrote wasn’t in the Bible at all.
And yet, and yet, there’s a key phrase in one of the readings we use to remember him today which speaks so powerfully to me today. He writes that the gospel, the good news which he received, which he passes on to the Galatian Church here, is not of human origin. Indeed not! It is divine. It is from God. Good news, from God, for all.
The good news of Jesus Christ, that relationship with God is available for all people, is divine. Those of us who talk or write about God might have the occasional insight worth exploring, or route of thinking worth following, but the good news itself is about more than just a series of strong arguments or propositional statements. The good news is Jesus. What changed Paul’s life wasn’t a heightened or further enlightened understanding, it was a meeting, a transforming relationship with Jesus.
I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I’m right or wrong. I like to be right. I think most of the writers and actors in scripture were the same. For each person, each family, each community, each nation, it is the revelation of and relationship with God that makes the difference, though. By all means seek a greater understanding of doctrine, a deeper relationship with God, if need be, but don’t lose the wonder of relationship in the process.
*Isn’t that arrogant of me?