Conversions are central to the Christian religious experience. Everyone, I would think, remembers their conversion. I heard a prominent Reformed minister even go as far as suggesting that if you don’t remember your conversion, then you’re not one of the elect. Perhaps not to that degree, but simply put, conversions are an important mark on our identities in Christ.
As a Catholic, I realize that in some mysterious way I’m being converted daily. The more I chose to do good, the less I’m in bondage to sin and allow it to have dominion over me. The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthened me to be a better disciple of Jesus and live more according to virtues. Honestly, Catholicism has shown me how to love my wife even more in the Sacrament of Matrimony. The more I confess my sins, in the Sacrament of Penance, I receive forgiveness from Christ. The Eucharist is strengthening me with spiritual food for the journey. All great sources of conversion.
But I’m talking about the moment when a sinner opens their heart to God. That moment when a heart of stone is transformed into a heart of love. That’s a defining moment.
On the topic of the power of religious experience, two amazing conversions come to mind.
When I think of Blaise Pascal, Christian apologist, mathematician, and scientist, I appreciate the sorta “mental note” approach he practiced regarding his conversion. He is noted to have had two conversions to Christianity. Specifically, his second conversion influenced him to write a prayer and he subsequently had it sewn in his jackets. I like the idea of maintaining the transformation of God right at your fingertips. Literally everywhere he went, he could always turn to his conversion.
There’s no natural explanation to explain how someone’s heart can be transformed by grace. I’ve seen naturalism try to chip away the divine workings of conversion by offering their psychological analysis to the phenomenon. Is this really a figment of wishful thinking or self-fulfilling prophecy or is conversion evidence of a miracle? I think St. Paul’s conversion, the second powerful conversion, offers one of the most compelling cases for God’s existence and proof of Christianity.
Paul’s conversion is by far the most memorable. He was a well educated Jew, a student of Gamaliel, and a former prosecutor of the early church. However, on the road to Damascus recorded in Acts 9, he encountered Jesus Christ who asked him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Immediately, after his baptism, Paul was preaching in Damascus and the people questioned this move by asking, “Is not this the man who in Jerusalem ravaged those who call upon this name, and came here expressly to take them back in chains to the chief priests?” Considering Paul had a notorious track record, it’s clear that these people thought his newfound preaching was a strange event.
This same peculiar person went on to write the majority of the New Testament, topple the pagan world, and convert thousands. His legacy is enduring still to this day all because of the power of Jesus Christ transforming a sinner.
If that’s not a proof of something supernatural then I’m not quite sure what is. But see that’s how marvelous the power of Christ is. Transcends the natural laws of order.
I think we should apply the same criteria to Paul as we commonly assert to Jesus. As C.S. Lewis famously stated, Jesus was either a liar, lunatic or lord. Likewise, Paul was either a heinous liar misleading many, lunatic suffering from delusions or a real apostle.
Based on his words from the New Testament, Paul appeared to be a devout follower of his religion so I don’t think he was a liar. If so, he is responsible for one of the biggest mass lies of all time, the perpetuation of a false religion that he claimed to speak on behalf of God about.
Paul didn’t appear to be a lunatic, he seemed very rational and intelligent. He had to be. Reading his epistles, specifically, Romans requires a deep knowledge of the Old Testament. He was a hardcore theologian with a breadth of knowledge unparalleled. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus Christ wasn’t a mass delusion that duped the apostles. They had a real, life-changing, interaction with something that empowered them to martyrdom.
This leads us to believe he was an authentic apostle. Even the apostles were skeptical and afraid of Paul (Acts 9:26). However, with the help of Barnabas, after hearing his conversion and the workings of Jesus, the apostles approved of his apostolic work and therefore verified his conversion (30).
As I’ve written about before, we have to get off the pedestal of high Christian apologetics and bring God down to a level that’s easy to observe. Although I’m familiar with a lot of proofs for God, I find the basic ones more convincing. Typically these are the ones that trained apologists will attack as not being strong enough to counter attacks from skeptics.
Instead of inflating God with fancy and intricate arguments, we have more basic proofs that demonstrate God. An authentic transformation from a horrid sinner to a saint, which many Saints have demonstrated in previous centuries, points to God as the author of holiness.
Many people look at a changed life with wonder just as they did Paul. It’s only when a Christian tells them the source of the hope that’s within when the questioner can be lead to its author.
Conversions are all about man finding the light.
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