In todays devotion Justin Welby looks at how we cope with danger, reflecting on Paul's arrest in the Book of Acts
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, Men of Israel, help us!
This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place. (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.) The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.
While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, Away with him! Acts 21:27 - 39
Having been caught among them more than once, I know that crowds in fury are terrifying. Imagine Paul, in the temple, focusing on why he was there, suddenly being taken by a crowd, pummelled, dragged away, unable to make himself heard, unable even to get his breath. The Roman tribune, doubtless pumped up with adrenalin himself, arrives in the nick of time and is barely able to rescue him.
This is unexpected danger, moving from the normal to the critical level without passing through the stage of the threatening. Other examples might be anything from a sudden dramatic illness like a heart attack, to a riot, a burglary or a car crash, but the chief characteristic in all cases will be shock. Our bodies, like Paul's, will respond automati- cally with fight-or-flight physiology and with an emotional desire to hit back, to fend off, to escape or overcome.
Paul keeps his cool and his perspective, and avoids all the instinctive reactions. He then gets control of the situation temporarily, and speaks reassuringly. He demonstrates a model of conflict mitigation (although it does not work for long): avoiding an aggressive reaction to aggressive action, he finds a way of calming the fury and he seeks to explain him- self. The riot starts again after he has put his case to the crowd, because they refuse to hear (22:22). Not all problems are resolvable.
The challenge for us is that, since sudden danger causes us to react instinctively, if we want our response to be good we need correct and spiritual instincts. That means spiritual training, which is both possible and desirable. In Paul's case, his impulses were anchored in his life of prayer and in the knowledge of how to be content, whether circum- stances were good or bad. We too need that solidity of prayer, which becomes instinctive in us. A wise friend, talking about this, took me to the Jesus prayer ('Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner'). It's an easy prayer, borne into our breathing by continual rep- etition, becoming part of us. A simple verse from the Psalms (for example, 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want', 23:1) is another possibility. A good instinct is all that works when an immediate response is needed.
Taken from Guidelines published by Bible Reading Fellowship. Purchase Guidelines from Eden.
(Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton publishers. All rights reserved.)
February 7th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Ian Matthews