Have you ever been reading somewhere and come to a place that just rivets your attention? You can't get past it, and keep coming back, over and over?
That happens to me now and then. This time, I have been reading in Paul's small letter to the Colossians. I find it amazing that there can be so much to digest in so short a letter. If I read Colossians every day for a year, I think I would still not fully understand all there is in it.
In this particular instance, I am struck by two words, each of which occurs two times: since and therefore.
Specifically, in chapters 2 and 3, Paul writes, "Since you have died with Christ..." and "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ...." And then, "Put to death, therefore, whatever..." and, "Therefore, as God's chosen people..."
As I go through my daily routine, it's easy to become caught up in the circumstances of the moment, to lose perspective and begin to understand things as if my life were a free-standing entity. But our lives - certainly if we claim to be born again, to be followers of Jesus - are not merely stand-alone collections of time and circumstances.
So Paul once again rocks my boat, telling me that I am dead. Dead. It's a word that should stop us with the radical finality of it. I died with Jesus when he was nailed to the cross. It's ironic that I have been at the same time among his executioners and among the chief beneficiaries of his death: I died with him.
What does that mean? Is it just some "spiritual" gobbledygook that Paul is throwing out? He's pretty good at that, you know. Or is there some practical, in-my-face truth that I need to understand? I think it's the latter.
For decades, I lived for myself, to satisfy my desires and do things my way. After all, who else was there to look out for me? And in it all, two important "things" happened. First, I made a self-centered, absolute wreck of my life. Second, I was in bondage to my own whims, and never knew it. I thought I was trucking along, doing pretty well, and was unaware of the deeply destructive damage I was doing both to myself and to others in my life. I was a terrible task-master.
But no more. I died. I am no longer alive. At least, the old me, the me that was intent on having its own way and "doing my thing," no matter what, is no more. Dead. A stinking, rotting corpse that needs to be buried.
But I can't live like that. I can't be dead and alive, and besides, it's not enough to only eliminate a negative. That leaves a vacuum, which can't continue. So Paul continues: "Since ... you have been raised with Christ...."
Hallelujah! I'm not dead any more! When Jesus died I died with him. The old me, the me that made me ashamed, is gone. Gone! And when Jesus was raised from the dead to a new and glorious life, I was raised with him! How cool is that? How boat-rocking is that?
He continues, after simply stating this profound truth, as though it's evident to everyone: "...set your hearts on things above.... Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. ...for your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
So this profound truth - I died and am made alive - should result in a change in the way I think, a change in my perspective on life. I no longer think of me and my wants and desires, but rather I see things from a larger and higher perspective. I see things from the perspective of God. How do I fit into God's plan? How does that truth affect the decisions I make on this day in this place?
Paul continues on with a couple "therefores." In them, he explains some of how these two profound truths play out in my thoughts and actions. What do I do differently, being alive with Christ, and with my life "hidden in God"? I won't address them here, because they are not my point. You can read them for yourself, in the second and third chapters of Colossians.
My interest here is more fundamental: How does it change my attitudes and thoughts, knowing that I died and am alive again? My attitudes and thoughts produce my actions. What is different in my mind with this astonishing truth?
It makes this chasing after my own wants and so-called needs into a nonsensical game, a game with no winner and terrible consequences. Why would anyone want to give his life for a little cartoonish parody of the real, rich life to which God has called his people? But we routinely do just that.
Do I trust that I am safe in him? Can I relax and enjoy him and being called by him, and not fuss and worry about not getting my way in life? These are no small matters.
So, once again, Paul has messed with my mind. If I had a boat - alas, I only wish I had one at present - it would be rocking to the verge of capsizing.
A lot to think about. I'll write more as I understand more.