Obedience in Limbo

Phil Christman

Read: Acts 24

And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. (v. 27)

The accounts of Paul’s imprisonment often startle me with their simple accuracy. Two thousand years later, this is still how people and systems behave. Roman justice moved with the spastic rhythm and bizarre inefficiency of governments everywhere; it was often at cross-purposes with itself. (One contemporary example: innocent people who have been wrongly imprisoned often come home only to learn that their false conviction remains on the record, and that they still must check the “felon” box on job applications.) Felix, in his dishonesty, his indecisiveness, and his sensitivity to every political wind, was a classic bureaucrat. His type is familiar to those who deal with the justice system.

What strikes me more is Paul’s clearheadedness and simplicity of purpose even in the teeth of a system designed, in its irrationality and whimsicality, to destroy precisely these qualities. Felix keeps him for two years in a state of confusion as to whether he’s going free tomorrow—or never. Living in such a holding pattern is torture: you never fully feel you’ve started or finished anything, nor can you truly rest. Six months in such a state breaks most people. Paul remains unbroken because he actually believes what he says to Felix: there is a resurrection (v. 15). Though Paul’s time was wasted, he ultimately lost nothing. —Phil Christman

Prayer: Lord, when others steal or waste our hours, comfort us with the knowledge that our time was always yours.