I find it interesting that Paul was blind for three days and nights after he had a vision of Jesus. He was blinded by a light so bright that even at noon the light of the sun paled by comparison. Though all those with Paul were cast to the ground at the flash of the light, only Paul seems to have been blinded thereby. An equally interesting event occurred in the life of Jonah, the prophet. He was told by the Lord to go to Nineveh, a gentile city, and preach repentance toward God to those gentiles, but instead Jonah fled to Tarshish (or Tarsus), the city where Saul, the Apostle to the gentiles, was born. Jonah, too, spent three days and nights of deathly blindness but in the belly of the great fish.
I stumble across things like this by reading a word here or there that suddenly click in my mind and, like a flash of light, I must stop and consider something new, something I never thought of before. Is there any similarity between the blindness of Saul of Tarsus and the darkness Jonah was made to experience as he fled away from the Lord to the city of Tarshish? Both were sent to gentiles, both were fleeing from the Lord, for the Lord does tell Saul that it is painful for him to kick against the goads—the little pricks he was given to reconsider his chosen path (Acts 26:14; cp. Ecclesiastes 12:11).
Three blind nights whether spent in the belly of a great fish or the “bed and breakfast” of a man named Judas of Damascus must have seemed like it was forever. Jonah prayed, just as the Lord told Ananias that Saul prayed (Acts 9:11). In Jonah 2:1 Jonah prayed out of his blind night in the fish’s belly. He considered his predicament a grave, even death, far away from the presence of God (Jonah 2:2), yet, as he prayed toward the Temple in his mind’s eye (Jonah 2:4), Jonah knew God would hear (v.2). And though death was “about him forever” (Jonah 2:6), i.e. for three dark days and three nights, God heard and brought him up out of the pit, vomiting him upon the shore (Jonah 2:10), and off he went to Nineveh in obedience to the Lord’s command.
Just as with Jonah, so it was with Saul of Tarsus. It was like a new beginning—a new life was given; it was the Salvation of the Lord (Jonah 2:9; cp. John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; 1Corinthians 3:11), and symbolically Saul of Tarsus was buried in the waters of baptism and rose again to new life (Acts 9:18), and was obedient to the heavenly vision he received (Acts 26:19).
Three dark nights—they remind me of those terribly dark nights when our Lord, Jesus, lay in the tomb before his resurrection. Jesus specifically compared his time there with that of Jonah the prophet in the belly of the great fish (Matthew 12:40). What must those deathly, dark nights have been like for the disciples who trusted that Jesus was the Messiah, only to have their hopes crushed at the cross? Nothing is said of them during this time—almost like they were dead too. What can one say of the deadly, dark night of despair—despairing of life (Jonah), despairing of hope (the Apostles), despairing of self worth (Saul of Tarsus)? Indeed, despair is a deadly, dark wilderness—endless it seems at the time (cp. Jonah’s forever in Jonah 2:6), endless for the Apostles who lost all hope, perhaps endless for Saul, not knowing how he could ever be of any real worth to the one he had been persecuting, mauling the church as a wolf mauls its prey. Certainly he had no right to assume he would be so powerfully used of Jesus, as to change the direction of western civilization. Yet, the grace of God, the light of God is more powerful than the darkness of despairing of life, hope and self worth. Just as God called light out of darkness and life out of death, he is able… He is able to do much more powerfully than we can imagine. We—I—need to trust him.