to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lent, day 20: Fighting Fire with Fire (Colossians 1:22)

Yesterday’s post was about how the fundamental problem that plagues humanity is humanity. Our alienation from God stems from our own minds and actions rather than simply the devices and maneuverings of spiritual forces. Nothing we do, not even the most rigorous, pious or theologically astute religious practice, helps us overcome the problem.
Yet Paul speaks of reconciliation to God and of a peace that overcomes our hostility. How could such a thing be? The term ‘making peace’ (εἰρηνοποιέω, eirēnopoieō) would resonate with the Colossians and all inhabitants of the Roman world. The Romans made peace (the Pax Romana) by pacifying their enemies through military might and strategic cunning. Such forceful measures, especially by those of superior status and strength, were only natural, reflecting a reality even the gods themselves acknowledged. Well, most gods.
The God we know through Jesus Christ is different, not playing by such rules, even though his status and might are immeasurably superior. His solution to human rebellion is the opposite of force. Where the noble Romans would demonstrate their greatness, God surrenders himself to utter accommodation since “in him (Jesus) all the fullness was pleased to dwell” (1:19). Paul himself explains this peculiar statement in Col 2:9: “for in him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” God’s fullness is present in Jesus Christ and, to make it very clear what this means, Paul adds the word “bodily.” The theological term for this is ‘incarnation’ or ‘en-flesh-ment’ of God.  
In short, God - the source of the Proverbs - embodies the age old proverb by fighting fire with fire. Or, rather, fighting flesh with flesh. While humans could not save themselves, God nevertheless opts for a very human remedy. The Son, the one through whom and for whom all things were created, becomes a creature and in his creatureliness restores the order of the universe. He alone is the human who was not alienated from God, who was not hostile in mind.
But beyond accommodation, God in Christ surrendered himself to the very powers that had usurped him, again and in particular, humankind. Paul is quite graphic in communicating this: 1:20 - ‘making peace through the blood of his cross’ - turning upside down the notion of Roman peace making by enduring one of the chief tools of that endeavor. And again, 1:22 - ‘he has now reconciled [us humans] in his fleshly body through death.”
We’ll look at this again later when addressing Col 2:13-15. Here and now, it is enough (!) for us to simply focus on the way of God. He will have us, but not by force. He takes us through yielding himself to us, becoming what we are yet defying what we do.
God created us humans to know his love and to respond in kind. When we refused him and rejected his love, he did not give up but rather did for us what we would not do for ourselves. In Jesus, we have humanity as it should be. Indeed, with Jesus, the world is restored - all things are reconciled through his bloody cross. And the only part we played is to make the denial final, to kill the Enfleshed God, to finish our rebellion. God allows us to achieve the desire of our heart so that he might achieve his.
More about this later.

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