Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes to Damascus

I take an Institute class at the university every semester. Yes, it’s about the free parking, but once I get to class, I feel so grateful that I am there. During the semester, school begins to take every inch of space in your brain, if you let it. And Institute gives me a chance to focus on “the weightier matters.”

This time round, I’m taking a class on the second half of the New Testament, Acts to Revelations. Yesterday, the lesson was on the conversion of Saul. Brother Millburn, the substitute, posed an interesting question:

“What was Saul thinking about on the road to Damascus?”

It was an interesting question. I read through the verses. There was little to go off of, but I tried to think about Saul’s situation. I tried to take some steps in his shoes. I noticed that it mentioned Saul was “yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” He had talked to the high priest about this new sect, these apostate Christians, and something needed to be done. I imagined him coming up with plans, about how to break them. I finally said, “Saul must have been brooding. About what he would do when he got to Damascus.”

But perhaps I didn’t have enough faith in Saul. Brother Millburn said, “Oh? What just happened to Saul? Do you remember that he witnessed the stoning of Stephen?”

That was true. If you flip back to that, that must have been a turning point for Saul. There, he had held the coats of those who went to take stones against the disciples of the Lord. Perhaps he was anxious then. He was agreeing, he was taking a firm side and condoning the death of those who had once been brothers in the faith. He saw Saul utter his last words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”

David O. McKay once wrote about that trip that Saul made:

Damascus is about one hundred and fifty miles north of Jerusalem, so it would take Saul and his attendants about a week to travel the distance. Perhaps during those few days of comparative leisure, he began to wonder whether what he was doing was right or not. Perhaps the shining face of the dying Stephen and the martyr’s last prayer began to sink more deeply into his soul than it had done before. Little children’s cries for their parents whom Saul had bound began to pierce his soul more keenly, and make him feel miserably unhappy as he looked forward to more experiences of that kind in Damascus. Perhaps he wondered whether the work of the Lord, if he were really engaged in it, would make him feel so restless and bitter. He was soon to learn that only the work of the evil one produces these feelings, and that true service for the Lord always brings peace and contentment.”

That did feel right. I could imagine those thoughts going through Saul’s mind. The Lord called it “kicking against the pricks.” Working against your conscience wears at you. I have done it myself more than I want to do in my life. You have to justify guilty feelings. You have to either pretend they aren’t there, or constantly convince yourself with logic that you are right. That isn’t what living the gospel feels like. In the end, living the gospel is the most natural thing we can do. All else leaves us feeling that something is lacking.

So try it. Try doing something you know you should be doing, but haven’t had the gump to do it yet. Perhaps it’s getting to know someone you see every day, but have never really talked to. Perhaps you need to clear up an unspoken grievance you have with someone. Perhaps its developing a good habit of praying or reading the scriptures that has somehow fallen away through the business of life. Following Christ makes things better.

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