A Hopeless Case
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Romans 8:3
After years of struggling with addiction and after multiple treatments and relapses, most of those close to me simply expected me to continue failing. I couldn’t blame them. If my past was any predictor of my future, my outlook was grim. I too, wondered if I was destined to continue my downward spiral until my life was utterly spent. At the time, I felt like a lost cause and those closest to me felt the same way.
Unfortunately, I often find myself thinking this of others whom I see struggling repeatedly. Sure, they may seem to turn things around for a few days or weeks, but the relapse is never far off and soon, they’re back at it. I start thinking in terms of hopelessness. You will never get clean. You’re going to die in your addiction. What a waste . . .
I’d bet that the early church thought of the apostle Paul the same way. Long before he wrote much of the New Testament, Paul was Saul, the man who watched over the stoning of the apostle Stephen. In today’s passage, we’re told how the Jewish religious leaders led a great persecution of the early church. Saul, in particular, is mentioned as ravaging the church, arresting and imprisoning many who followed Christ.
Most of those early Christians likely saw Paul as an enemy and a lost cause. They probably wished him dead and certainly never thought he would come to follow Christ. Saul was a hopeless case. Stephen didn’t think so though. With his dying breath, he prayed for those, including Saul, who were killing him. Though he never got to see it, Stephen’s prayers were answered as this lost cause went on to become radically obedient to Christ, spreading the gospel far beyond Jerusalem.
It’s a good lesson for me. As God transformed Saul, and as he transformed me, I must remember that there’s no one beyond his redemption. Thankfully, God specializes in hopeless cases. That doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed that everyone I pray for will turn their life around. It does mean that I should never write anyone off as hopeless. Daily, I must continue to pray and do what I can to point others to the faith, life, and recovery that God has shown me.