Connections 05.01.2022: The Unsaid and the Unseen

Acts 9:1-12, 17-20

Between Saul’s dramatic conversion and the beginning of Paul’s ministry, the storyteller of Acts records four chapters in which Saul is “radio silent.” We don’t hear the voice of the typically talkative Apostle between Acts 9:20 and 13:10. In the early verses of chapter 9, Saul’s own conversion experience seems to reflect a similar story. After he is struck by a bright light on the road to Damascus (9:3), Saul’s last recorded words before he is changed are not a proclamation but a question: “Who are you, Lord?” (9:4). Then Saul says nothing more until after he has been changed, when in 9:20 he publicly and dangerously declares the answer he heard from Jesus: “He is the Son of God.” After this confession, we don’t hear him again until 13:10, when he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, becomes known as Paul, and his conversion from zealous persecutor to zealous Apostle is finally complete.

Saul’s initial conversion is not only silent, it is also sightless. Blinded by the light, he only hears the voice of Jesus (his companions, though not struck sightless, also see nothing but hear a disembodied voice). Saul’s conversion is an interior experience, which he does not express in words and does not experience by sight. Through it he is utterly vulnerable and must trust those who would lead him and who would heal him. He does not enter into a time of clarity and autonomy, but of darkness and dependence.

We may expect that conversion from not-faith to faith relies on us saying the right words when we come to “see the light,” so to speak. Paul’s dramatic, even iconic conversion story does not include Paul saying—or seeing—anything at all. Saul prays no sinner’s prayer, and he confesses no regret, intent to change, or commitment to Christ. Saul’s conversion does not hinge on anything he has to declare or anything he is able to observe.

He is changed, then he proclaims and confesses Jesus. He is changed, then he receives vision.

He’ll spend the rest of his ministry proclaiming his failures and Christ’s grace and expressing new ways to view faith and faithfulness. But he is converted—fundamentally remade—speechlessly and sightlessly. Before he can use his true voice, he must open his ears—to the commanding words on Jesus the road and to the welcoming words of Ananias. And before he can see himself in a new life, a new name, a new calling, he must open his heart to be willing to be led, to be served by the elder disciples’ healing hands, to be freed as the scales fall away.

Discussion

  • What is your conversion story? How did it happen “externally”—by what you saw, heard, and spoke? How did it happen “internally”—by the invisible work of God in you?
  • How do you engage your senses in your faith life? How do the things you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste contribute to your experience of the holy? Have you ever found yourself unable (or unwilling) to use your senses? How did you experience God differently in that situation?
  • Do you think of conversion as an opportunity to proclaim what you know? Paul’s one response to Jesus on the Damascus road was not a proclamation but a question. What questions would you ask God today? How do questions, more than proclamations, open us to being changed by God?
  • Read Acts 9:13-16, focusing on Ananias’ role in Saul’s experience. How did Ananias have to listen to God differently, and to see things differently? Who are the guides in your own life who responded to God’s leading and participated in your conversion, your healing, or your growth in faith? Give thanks for these elder disciples. Ananias also had to trust God that Saul was not to be feared. Are there people you think of as dangerous or untrustworthy? How might you follow God’s surprising call to welcome and to serve such unlikely disciples, as Ananias did?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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