Colossians: An antidote to cynicism and despair

I’ve been living in the book of Colossians a fair bit recently, diving in some mornings after coffee with God, and at other odd times during the week.  Over and over again, I’ve found myself saying, ‘this is the truth that we need right now – at this anxious, polarized time in history, when it appears that so much all around us is either collapsing (think Egypt, Syria, Greece, the Eurozone), or built on untruths (think every campaign ad about to baptize your sensibilities).  From the moment we wake, the news and sales pitches become a petri dish in which fear, cynicism or “who really cares” isolationism will be born.  None of these responses are helpful though, because we’re called to shine as lights in the midst of all this consumerism, and commidification of human souls.  Though there are many places in the Bible that can offer hope and an alternative, I’m increasing convinced that Paul’s message to the Colossians is uniquely situated to become a source for grounding, reorienting and recalibrating. Here’s why:

It speaks to the collapse of modernity because it’s written at a time when the earliest shades of modernity were present in the form of the Roman Empire.  Expansionism, colonialism, and the unchallenged supremacy of the nation state were all part of life in Colossae.  If you were privileged (ie: male, citizen, land owner) you’d enjoy unrestricted peace, prosperity, and safety in exchange for unquestioning loyalty to the powers of the state.  Sound familiar?

These days one might substitute, “the global economic machinery” for the state, as consumerism and economic growth appear to reign supreme in every corner of the globe, and our loyalty is manifest through shopping, and consuming. But there’s writing on the wall, warning us that the entire enterprise is unsustainable – environmentally, economically and politically.

Paul says that there’s a better way, that we’re citizens of a different kingdom, with different loyalties enjoined upon us, loyalties leading to intimacy, celebration, healing, hope, justice.  We needn’t fear the collapse of other empires and philosophies, says Paul, because there’s an unshakeable kingdom already here but not fully revealed.  Because it can’t be shaken – we needn’t fear and in fact can be people of hope and confidence, no matter who wins the coming election, or what the market does in the coming days.  This is remarkable!

It speaks to the despair and cynicism of post-modernity.  One of post-modernity’s challenges is the lack of anchor.  There is a paralyzing fear of commitment that arises when people believe that nothing is knowable.  This creates both relational and ethical dilemmas for post-modern people who are afraid to land; in relationships, in employment, in politic, in sexual ethics.  This rootlessness is, to say the least, disconcerting, even for those who’ve chosen it.  Is there any way to land, to commit, to drop anchor?

Paul says yes – says that, though Christ’s kingdom has depths that are beyond knowing, because we believe that God has spoken, we’re called to a life giving ethical construct, a way of living that frees us from treating one another as objects, that grounds us in a contentment and security that’s independent of our net worth, or our nation’s GDP, or whatever other metrics we’ve bought into that our world tells us make life meaningful and successful.

Paul’s exhortations regarding sexual, political, and economic ethics are all ripe with meaning for this very moment in history.  He offers us, for example, a profound basis for covenant sexual relationships instead of simply crying out for abstinence.  This same positivity bleeds through his econ0mic and political ethics as well.  As I look at the landscape of our culture this summer, I can see that Paul’s letter is a word for this time and place as much as for any time and place.

I’ll be teaching through Colossians starting this coming Sunday.  All the sermons will be available here, but if you’d like to go a bit deeper, you might consider reading Colossians Remixed, which is a relatively new work (post 9-11) that helps us better grasp, not just Colossians, but the grand narrative of the story God is writing in history.  It’s a bit weighty, but also written in a sort of dialogue style, so as to be accessible to a larger audience.  It’s available at Bethany in our book kiosk, or online.

In addition to posts about various encounters saints have had with God in the mountains, I’ll also be offering some posts from Colossians throughout the summer, but often through the back door, using sex, money, politics, and more as the basis for diving into Paul’s great letter.  I hope you’ll join the conversation.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://thomasrengstorfassociates.com tom rengstorf

    This is great. We have been in Turkey for the last week and walked the streets of Ephessus. The Bible really does become alive when you see the architecture, read about the history and learn more about what life was like 2000 years ago. My family is sharing with each other the new testament stories about Paul and his journeys now. Before it was a great inspiration/revelation, now it has new understanding and meaning.

  • Todd

    Colossians Remixed is a wonderful book! I love the discussion beginning on page 82 regarding subversive poetry and the importance of our imagination.
    Grace and peace,
    Todd

  • Ryan Hofer

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on modernity, post-modernity, and Colossians. As I read, my eyes will be pulled around the blog page, to the advertisements for soap, clothes, and pop-up sweepstakes offers. Money and desire; the call for denial enjoys a purity that can be sought after as bodies clench and societies collapse. Some sayings of Jesus rock me out of the longing to apply my ideas zealously: just give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, no one is good except God, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. These days, I’m nudged towards the immanence of divinity, whether that be on a mountaintop, in a new economic order, or in a village at sea-level. It’s nice at the summit for a short while, but it’s lonely, and the air is thin.


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