So, whose approval do you think I’m looking for: people’s or God’s? Do I sound like I’m trying to win a popularity contest? If I were trying to suck up to people, I wouldn’t be working for Jesus, would I? Friends, I want you to know that the story of Jesus I tell doesn’t come from other people. I didn’t get it from some storyteller who taught it to me. I got it in a vision, straight from Jesus himself.
I admit that when someone tells me he or she has had a vision from God, my first impulse is to be a little bit skeptical – no very skeptical. The problem with visions from God is that they’re impossible to confirm or deny. There’s no proof one way or the other. All you have to go on is what the person who claims the vision says. Even if that person is someone you like and generally have a high regard for, you still might wonder if their “vision” is a sign that they’re coming unhinged. Should you be concerned for them?
Still, you can’t disprove it either. Nor should you try. I’d suggest that the basis for buying someone’s claim about a vision from God (or any kind of vision, for that matter) is by watching to see if it makes any real difference in the life of the person who had it. Do they change their course of action. Do they take action change their life’s trajectory? Do they change their priorities? Do they focus in a way they hadn’t before?
In other words, even though you can’t duplicate their experience, or experience it vicariously through them, or see exactly what they saw, do they live as if what they saw was really real? If they do, then even if the way they describe it seems far-fetched, there’s probably something to it. Otherwise, take it with a grain of salt.
Paul may not have been perfect. He may not have been always able to implement things in an ideal way. He may have been abrasive. He may even have had some of the details wrong. And he was a terrible theologian. But what he says he saw changed his life. There was something to it, and his passion for it changed the world – maybe not precisely the way Jesus had in mind, and probably beyond what even Paul himself had in mind – and he pursued it without regard for what anyone else thought of it.
For better or worse, and probably both better and worse, Paul was, if nothing else, a visionary. Like all visionaries (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Adolf Hitler, John Kennedy, George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Albert Einstein – the list goes on) he’s not perfect. Visionary does not imply “good.” What makes them visionaries isn’t their goodness or perfection, it’s their vision that leaves the world a different place, for good or ill or both, behind them.)