Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Paul 2: Excerpt from the first chapter

I didn't intend to share the first chapter of the Paul novel here, but I wanted to know what people might think of this excerpt. The setting is Paul about to appear before the Areopagus in Athens:
Paul relished the opportunity to speak to them. To be sure, Athens was not the impressive city Paul had imagined it to be. It may have been a great city in the past, back in the days of Pericles and the philosophers. But to Paul it was nothing compared to a city like Tarsus, where he grew up. Paul grew up in the third largest city of the empire, and he was most at ease in big cities like Corinth and Ephesus.

Paul had read some Stoic philosophy way back, when for a short time his parents put him in a Greek gymnasium in Tarsus. That was before his parents sent him off to live with his sister in Jerusalem in his late-teens. He found some of the Stoic philosophy attractive, although he had no time at all for the Epicureans.

For example, the Stoics believed God had a will for your life and that it was pointless to fight against it. You should love your fate and in all things be content, no matter your circumstances. Later when he studied in Jerusalem, he found very similar teaching in some of the Essene writings. God had divided up humanity into the sons of light and the sons of darkness. You had no real choice in the matter as to which one you were.

Of course he was a Pharisee at the time, not an Essene. He found the Pharisaic approach a bit more balanced. God had a will to be sure, but we needed to work our way through life making the best choices we could, toward what we understood to be God’s goals. He would make sure his way was accomplished, and you would know where you stood in that plan by how it all turned out.

Even as a Pharisee, he leaned more toward the School of Shammai rather than that of Hillel. The School of Shammai was more about action. God would accomplish his will while you were working to accomplish his will. The school of Hillel was more passive. Let God do what God will do.

He kept some of his views along these lines to himself, especially when he began pursuing the daughter of the famous Hillelite Pharisee, Gamaliel. Gamaliel very much took the passive view of God’s will, much more than Paul did. He was famous for saying that God would work out his plan even if we did nothing.

That was not Paul’s way. Paul was a man of action. He was a doer. He did give the issue a second look when Jesus revealed himself to him. So many followers of the Way were Essenes. Paul could agree with them that God decided who was chosen and who was true Israel. Yes, surely God was in control of all that happened in the world ultimately.

But it was his job to find out who those chosen ones were. He scarcely took the time to connect the dots. The things he affirmed about God’s control over the world played almost no role at all in how he went about his mission. He proclaimed the good news as if anyone could be saved. He urged his converts to remain faithful, believing that those who were right with God today could end up not being right with God in the end. And those who seemed chosen for destruction might actually turn out to be saved in the end.

Yes, somewhere behind the scenes God was mysteriously directing the whole process. But getting there was full of human choices and Paul ruled out no possibility because of this or that theory. His part was to do whatever he could to see as many saved as possible. God would sort out the details.

No comments: