"And it came about, that as he journeyed, approaching Damascus, that a sudden light surrounded him, and he fell to the ground". Acts 9:3.
Some situations, we feel, need very immediate and lasting solutions. Hopefully, ones which will go in our favor.
This morning I was listening to a radio snippet, where the 'expert' being interviewed was fervently advocating that the answer to current extremism in some parts of the world was education - tell it like it really is, and such radicalism will go away. I found myself thinking immediately of what was reported in the news this week - the youngest recruit bomber from the UK, who should have been taking exams this month, blew himself up because of the conviction that this was the best way to serve God. Education, at least in the conventional sense, didn't do anything to stop such surprising extremism.
Another snippet I heard yesterday really spoke to why. The call to truly become part of something deeper than ourselves can be totally compelling, especially when we are in a period where we are looking for meaning and identity - if we happen then to hear about a cause, for good or for ill, that can cater to that need, we can quickly be drawn towards it.
Saul was a man of deep convictions, especially when it came to how we define ourselves and our relationship to what is true. He viewed Christianity as a poison aimed right at the heart of that reality, and his response was to zealously seek to uproot and destroy such a horrible lie, but something troubled him. As he heard Stephen speak about the ugliness of miss-placed zeal and understanding regarding what God truly required, he experienced a jolt in his soul - a recognition that there was a radical sickness, in himself and all of us, which meant our best convictions can be so easily warped into something violently wicked.
Saul was by no means alone here.
David, raised to kingship over Israel, reached a point where he lost his way and gave in to desires and passions that reside in every human heart (Matthew 15:19), and thereby destroyed himself and several others amidst a period of selfish betrayal of all that God required of him (and us). Fortunately, for these men, and for all who are willing to hear, there was a remedy that is far better than seeking to 'educate' our way out of our malady - God the Father can set us free through His beloved Son (John 3).
It's so often the case that until we're truly, truly, desperate, we run away from the one thing that can help us, because we know it will mean an end to our selfish greed or evil or just plain stubbornness, but so often, when we finally do, we find rescue, costly though it may be.
The answer to radicalism today is something wider, deeper, richer, than we can possibly imagine - it's is God enfolding us in the love which caused Christ to hang at Calvary, breaking our sin, our death, in His own poured-out life. It seems stupid and foolish, and so very contrary to our self-confidence, our noble estimations, but it is indeed the power of God, which makes all things new.
Life is often taken up with a process of hurrying around, trying to find something, anything, that will provide some measure or resolve or satisfaction to our troubles, but if we only stopped and considered things soberly for a few moments, we'd realize that such answers won't fix the wound, satisfy the hunger, we all share.
We were made for something larger, which is why young men and women especially will always flock to radical endeavors, no matter how high the cost.
Will we allow God to take hold of us, before death and sin leave us empty of life?