“Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5)
There’s always a danger in reading “between the lines,” and especially when we read between the lines of the Bible; there is simply too much we cannot know about the story behind the story, and too much we cannot understand about the context and culture of biblical people and events.
And yet–sometimes there is light to be found between the lines of the Bible. The spaces in between the lines may not lead us to hard and fast conclusions, but they may ask us to make room in our own lives for new possibilities, to ask new questions and seek new insights.
Paul’s conversion is a familiar story, but between its lines I found myself surprised. Here, at a pivotal point in his life, Saul speaks only one line: Jesus appears to him on the road, and in verse 5, Saul asks “Who are you, Lord?”
Presumably, Saul isn’t actually mute after his conversion… but Acts doesn’t record another word from him until he joins the other disciples, goes to the synagogue, and there proclaims: “[Jesus] is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
Saul’s two lines of dialogue: “Who are you, Lord?” and “He is the Son of God.” Asked, and answered.
And then—nothing more, for four chapters. We are told in Acts 9:26-30 that Saul tried to join the disciples, but they didn’t seem to trust the change in him. We can’t hear him, but we are told he spoke boldly in Jerusalem, and argued with the Hellenists, and that the believers sent him off to Tarsus (for his own good?). Then the action of Acts turns to Peter, and we don’t hear from Saul again until Acts 13. The most prolific voice in the New Testament was surely not silent—but we cannot hear him just yet.
Not until he knows who he is.
Not until “Saul, also known as Paul,” was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:9). Saul–for the first time, and from then on–known as Paul. He had been converted to understand who Jesus was. Then he was converted to understand who he himself was, in the Spirit. And only then do we begin to hear him in full voice. At last, he speaks; and the rest of Acts and much of the rest of the New Testament resound with Paul’s teaching and preaching and arguing and correcting and encouraging.
In our world, talking the most and the loudest is the best–and sometimes the only–way to be heard. (Some might suggest that this was true for Paul too!) But here in-between the lines, between Saul and Paul, between the Damascus road and the mission trail, between knowing the Christ and knowing himself, there is an openness, a quiet space, in Saul’s story. There, between the lines of text, in the silence between lines of dialogue, I wonder: what is the relationship between conversion and conversation?
Have we so surely recognized Jesus that we are willing to proclaim him without restraint?
Are we willing to keep quiet while God works to change us?
Or can we even be heard at all until the Spirit has made us new?