Monday, July 23, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 26:2-14

As I mentioned last time, King Agrippa had a thorough understanding of Jewish teaching, and Paul was banking on that as he plead his case. (v.2-3)

Unlike so many today who express their beliefs without any supportive reasoning, Paul's entire presentation of his defense is a logical framework of evidence based on rational deduction. While conversations about faith today often go no further than strong expressions of sincerity and conviction, Paul takes the approach of presenting the facts and asking his listeners to use reason to come to a conclusion about the truth.

Paul appeals to the fact that his former lifestyle is known widely by the Jews opposing him. He was a strict and zealous Jew, as well as a Pharisee. (Pharisee's were known for heavy interpreting of religious law, and were also responsible for adding further restrictions and rules to pre-existing laws.) So Paul was among the strictest of the strict. An intensely devoted religious Jew. (v.4-5)

This was important for Paul to establish because the stronger he makes a case for how different he was before, the more reason and logic demand an extraordinary event to suddenly change Paul's entire way of living. (An extraordinary event like the resurrected Jesus appearing and speaking to him in broad daylight.)

Paul also points out that, despite this massive change in his life, he's not in opposition to God. Far from it! He still hopes for the same things that many (though not all) Jews hoped for at this time: God's restoration of Israel and her twelve tribes, preceded by the bodily resurrection of the dead. (v.6-7)

An influential segment of Jewish religious thinkers (the Saducees) did not subscribe to the idea of bodily resurrection. Paul knew that some of those listening (including King Agrippa) probably didn't believe in it either. But Paul appeals to reason in connecting the power of God to the controversial idea of resurrection.

You could almost restate Paul's argument today by saying, "This is God we're talking about! The one who created everything out of nothing! (Think of that for a second. There was nothing, no molecules, no atoms, no matter and then instantly...EVERYTHING!) Why in the world would you, who say you believe that God created everything from nothing, think that one man's resurrection or a billion resurrections is an outlandish idea?" (v.8)

Paul then returns to emphasizing his former life, further making the case that a supernatural event would be required to change him so suddenly and drastically. Paul was formerly convinced he should do everything in his power to oppose the followers of Jesus. He may have been a member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish council of religious rulers) but was likely too young to have been. However it at least appears that he was commissioned by them to hunt down Christians even in foreign countries, lock them up, and try to torture them into renouncing Christ or blaspheming and therefore be worthy of execution. (v.9-12)

After all of this setup, Paul describes the moment when Jesus appeared to him, and also includes the fact that others were with him when it happened. Further evidence that his accusers and judges could verify. A liar would say he was by himself and a lunatic would have been the only one to see the vision. (Not to mention that Paul had exactly zero to gain by making up the entire story of his vision. In fact he obviously had everything to lose!) (v.13)

As a rampant fan of fantasy and science fiction, I love exploring the ideas and "what ifs" of the universe. But if I'm not careful I forget to turn that switch off and dwell on what is real. Now and then I can have little thoughts enter my mind such as "what if my faith is a bunch of crap? What if I'm deluding myself?"

So awhile back I started constructing a document (that I'm still working on) called "The Theology Of Paeter". This document describes what I believe about God and why. It explores and eliminates inferior lines of reasoning until it arrives at the conclusions that make the best sense of the available evidence.

It's similar to what Paul is doing here. He's presenting a collection of data and asking his audience, by implication, to come up with a scenario that more logically fits the evidence. As I try to make alternative theories work (in this case for example, Luke inventing much of Paul's life story, Paul lying, being crazy or spontaneously becoming a big "Jesus Fan"), I see that the scenario I have to buy into in order for a given alternative to work is actually way more far-fetched than believing that Jesus really was and is God.

In Paul's account, Jesus, who so identifies with his followers that he himself experiences their pain and persecution, confronts Paul with what he had been doing, adding "it is hard for you to kick against the goads".

Now that's an odd phrase, isn't it?

A goad is a long stick with a pointed end used by ancient farmers to prod cattle and move them forward. When cattle resisted and kicked against it, they only ended up injuring themselves. Jesus was not simply confronting Paul with his sin. He was pointing out that the only thing his sin was accomplishing in the long run was injury to himself. (v.14)

When God wants to bring about change in our lives, and we resist that change, we aren't thwarting his plans or winning anything of substance for ourselves. God is not a cosmic killjoy. If he wants to change something in us that will involve discomfort on our part, it's because what we're already doing is far less good for us then what he has planned, and may even be doing us harm.

God loves us more than we can comprehend. He loves us just as we are, but too much to let us stay that way.

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