De-mask Us On the Road to God: How an Appalling Saul became the Apostle Paul
Reader Brian asks, "You've alluded to this before -- and may have dealt with it in the comments when I wasn't looking -- but I am incredibly interested in your take on Saul of Tarsus becoming Paul. His mindset was quite hostile to Christ, yet he had an almost involuntary conversion. Or was it involuntary? So many who wish to serve their Creator fall short because of internal divisions, etc., but Saul absolutely wanted the opposite, yet he became the man who spread the Gospel more effectively than anybody. Did God reach out to him, or did he reach out to God, or is there even a difference?"
As a matter of fact, I was thinking about this subject just yesterday. For in a certain way, the story of Saul-->Paul is as central to the Bible -- and to the arc of salvation -- as several other scriptural "centers," or "axes," each of which seems to parallel or reflect back and forth upin the others. For example, one obvious center is in Genesis 1:1, with the creation (a Raccoon would say "origin") of the cosmos.
This cosmo-scriptural center is deliberately paralleled in John 1:1, which even begins with the same three words, In The Beginning. In both instances, "beginning" superficially refers to the "horizontal" beginning, as in the beginning of a sequence. But the deeper sense of the word has to do with the "vertical" beginning, which equates to the ontological center.
This center is not in space or time per se; rather, space and time are reflections of the center. "In the beginning was the Word" does not (just) mean "a long time ago," but in the center represented by each now -- the now being the horizontal center of time. This center is the "light that shines in the darkness," since light is precisely that which radiates through the now from the center to the periphery.
Now, a man was sent by God -- i.e., the center -- "to bear witness of the Light" -- i.e., the radiation from the divine center. His name was John. He was required because, although the light shines in the dark, the dorks don't get it, so they need a pretty in-your-face kind of guy to grab them by the tunic and point it out to them. John was just that man. As such, he represents another important center, a sort of "reflected center" who was not the light but who could see the light.
Jesus obviously represents the full embodiment of the center at the periphery. A couple of days ago we spoke of black holes, and how they pull everything into their vortex, so that nothing escapes. In a certain sense, Jesus might be thought of as the opposite, as a sort of "white hole" as it were, that pulls all of creation into its wake. You have heard of the esoteric tenet, "as above, so below," or, to be precise, "That which is below corresponds to that which is above, and that which is above corresponds to that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing."
Another fundamental axiom is the greater the cause, the greater the effect. Thus, if Jesus is who he says he was, then it should be no surprise whatsoever that his effect continues to ripple through existence down through the centuries, like a depth charge dropped from heaven into the ocean of existence. It is not "speaking poetically" to say that we are surfing one of those little waves right now, no? If not, what are we doing? Just sitting here making stuff up at 5:00 in the morning? Er, I don't think so. If that were the case, you wouldn't understand what I'm talking about. It would be perfect nonsense instead of perfect nonsense.
The Mystery of Golgotha represents an exact analogue of the mystery of creation itself. For if creation is God's kenosis, or self-emptying (and spontaneous and unnarcissary self-giving), then Jesus' work on the cross represents a parallel kenosis, a complete self-emptying, even into the "negative existence" of death.
For Jesus does not merely "die," but takes on the mantle of Death in order to join ranks with the great "brotherhood of the dead." As Balthasar has written, when it is said that Jesus descended into hell on Holy Saturday, "descend" (in his opinion; others may disagree) should not be understood in its active sense, but the strictly passive sense. He fell and fell and fell, just like humans, to the very periphery of existence, the furthest point from the light of the radiant cosmic center. Only once he hit bottom could the "fall" be reversed, the rock bottom nihil of dark death being the "relatively absolute" separation from God.
Now this is all well and good for God, Sons of God, Light, Logoi, hand-selected apostles, and the like. Where do we fit in -- regular guys and gals, ordinary stumblebums, rank and foul earthlings?
Here I think that Saul serves as an archetypal illustration of the divine center as it manifests in fallen man. For just as Jesus represents the center crashing into the periphery, Saul ultimately represents the perpiphery making its way back to the center.
In fact, Saul is not just an ordinary peripheral man who is ignorant of the Light, i.e. luciferian. Rather, he is like the ACLU or the MSM or the Democrat party. He is specifically at war with the light. He is "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord," perhaps even threatening petty lawsuits to demoralize the decent. In fact, Saul is the patron shitheel of the ACLU, since he didn't have to be a sneaky weasel with a briefcase, but could directly make "havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison." If Gitmo were in existence back then, he would be fighting with all his strength for the release of the Christian killers.
Thus, Saul represents another kind of center, a perverse center, even the "center of perversity." He is the "center of (not at) the periphery," so to speak, at war with the true center. Paradoxically, he must obviously be quite full of himself, the opposite of the self-emptying, radiant center. But his fullness does not bring peace but persecution, just like anyone with too much self esteem and time on their hands.
As we have been reading lately, psychologists are finally catching up to the self-evident truth that "self esteem" is neutral at best, but usually destructive. Most of the problems in the world are caused by people with too much self esteem -- dictators, criminals, politicians, newspaper editors, etc. Because they are so full of themselves, there is no space for God, which requires self emptying of one's own (false) center. As Paul would later say -- I'm paraphrasing here from memory, "It is not I who live any longer, but Christ in me" -- i.e., the real center at his center, rather than the bogus center of the hypertrophied ego. One or the other must go.
Since the false center of the ego represents an ontological nothingness, its resultant darkness envies the light. This envy is the dreary joy of the joyless, who simply spend their petty lives grinding away at truth, beauty, and virtue, as do so many lie-roasted academia nuts. Nowadays they might call it "speaking truth to power" in order to elevate themselves in their own eyes. Or they might give each other academy awards, or Pulitzers, or Nobel prizes, or even Daytime Emmys.
These external supports are all necessary to prop up peripheral man and disable his consciousness of guilt. No doubt if Saul were alive today, he would have been given a Nobel Peace Prize for his important work in combating extreme Christianism. He would join the ranks of other recent winners -- men and institutions at war with the center such as Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mohamed El Baradei, the U.N., Al Gore, etc.
But then, on the "road to Damascus," as the cliche goes, Paul has a profound experience that unmasks and violently pulls him from the periphery to the center. In its own way, this event is as principial as its reverse, when the center emptied out to the periphery in Genesis I and on Holy Saturday. For quite suddenly, in an instance of true "quantum change," someone who had been at war with the center snaps like a rubber band into its opposite. If you can imagine the big bang as an infinite point radiating outward to the periphery, this would represent the opposite of that movement: a deusorienting implosion as dramatic as an underwater volcano in Upper Tonga.
The first and last step (and every step in between) on the spiritual path is "repentence," which actually comes from the Greek metanoia which is simply to "turn around." Instead of turning our back to the central sun, we look around and see it face-to-facelessness. Instead of running away from it, or struggling against it, we embrace it, like flowers that naturally orient themselves to the sun and open up or "surrender" in its presence.
Saul "opened up," and in so doing died to himself, in the same way you would die if you opened up your abdomen with a bowie knife. At once he was in the presence of the central light which "shone all around him" (for how could it not, if one's eyes are open?), and fell down like Saul t' the earth. Yes, in such circumstances we all fall what seems like a long distance. But in reality, it's just back to the ground, the same ground you were crawling on to begin with.
"Saul, why are you persecuting me? You're acting like a freaking ACLU goon. What's up with that?"
"Homina-homina-homina.... I was scared about the imminent Christo-fascist takeover, like I read about on dailykos... But w-what do you want with me?
"Before getting into that, why don't you just assimilate what's happened so far? Go have a little clubhouse meeting with yourself. Walking on water wasn't built in a day."
"B-b-but I'm blind. I can't see anything."
"Yes, I know that. This is not in the Book I've been sketching out, so you'll have to read between the lines. The point is not that you are blind. Rather, the point is that you can no longer "see" your previous world. It no longer exists because it never really existed. It is gone. Finished. No more. Ceased to be. You are now in the land of the Real, but you do not yet have the extrasensory organs to see it. You are like unto someone who is snowblind. The problem is not darkness, but too much light. Now get lost for a few days, unplug, chill, relux and call it a deity. And turn off your cell phone! If any Romans call, you're not home, got it?"
We are then told that Saul spent the subsequent three days without sight, without food, and without liquid -- i.e., closed to the horizontal -- and simply shut up in his existential darkness. One cannot help but compare this with Toots' "long weekend" in the drunk tank. While some blasphemers suggest that the visions were a result of delirium tremens, we know better.
This, of course, parallels the Jews' 40 years of wandering in the desert, Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the bewilderness, and ultimately the three days of the passion. In each case, "emptiness" at the periphery (i.e., "wilderness," "desert") is a prelude to "fullness" or "resurrection" at the center. Specifically, Saul's emptiness is filled with the Holy Spirit. He is charged with a vertical mission, for if Jesus took care of the R & D, then surely Paul was the marketing department. He is to spread the good news of the center to the periphery, to "bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel."
Paul has a new name and new vocation (which means "calling"). His earth name is gone, as is his sickular mission. Now he has a divine name and a divine mission. His sight is restored, but it's not like the old sight. Rather, he is granted the gift of 20/∞ cʘʘnvision, as "the scales fall from his eyes." Then he arises and stands in the divine ground as a truly Upright, Tripedal Man, an I-AMissary of the center instead of a bipedal beast of the periphery.