The conversion story for Saul of Tarsus reveals some keys for our understanding of pursuing justice without Jesus.
Jesus brought a direct conflict into Saul’s life to get his attention—this man who was known for his righteous zeal doing God’s work needs to see what God was actually doing to redeem the world. Saul was blindly fighting in a way that was bringing great harm to his own soul.
KJV says, ‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’
It may be that in conflict you have felt like kicking some pricks. It is a slang term we use to describe someone who is selfish and inconsiderate. But while the Scripture is not speaking about that kind of prick, the result is often the same. If we get angry and self-righteous toward people, we also suffer great injury. The passage we are looking at uses the word ‘goad’.
A goad was a stick tipped with a pointed piece of iron. Used to direct and guide livestock, a goad prodded them to pick up the pace if they slowed while plowing. Ancient farmers poked their livestock just enough to steer them in the right direction. Oxen that fought the goad, kicking against it, often injured themselves.
The phrase became a proverb describing those who resist authority: anyone who challenged the gods was like an ox kicking against the goads. Paul, by persecuting Christians, had been challenging God’s authority, kicking against the goads.
When the blinding light appeared, it disabled Saul’s agenda. He would not see again until Ananias comes to pray for him. Conflicts cannot end if we insist on maintaining an exclusive perspective. We have to be blinded by a greater light and be humbled.
It raises an interesting question for religious people about our efforts to be on the right side of every issue and antagonistic toward those who disagree. Truth is hate for those who hate the truth.
When our mindset is to punish, humiliate and prove wrong we are hurting ourselves – kicking against the pricks.
We are persecuting Jesus when we persecute his brothers and sisters. Saul was changed after being confronted with the truth that his thinking about Jesus was offensive to God.