About four weeks ago, I began choosing a passage from Scripture each new week to memorize in order to widen my retention of the Bible. Since then, there has been one in particular that has continued to impress upon me – Colossians 1:15-20.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
I know, lots of prepositions. But the heart of the passage is the preeminence of Christ. I believe if we could see life through this perspective, things would change. If we were truly convicted by the fact that ALL things were made through, in, by, and for Jesus wouldn’t our lifestyles look a little different? An ever-present struggle that constantly presents itself in my community (and I would guess most Westernized communities) is the misplaced perception of where we find our value. What I see is that it is so very easy to define ourselves by something that was meant to show us our inabilities. We spend hours studying for exams in order to get good grades that we believe will reflect our abilities to succeed. We overly commit ourselves to our jobs so that we can take pride in the fact that we did something well and be recognized for it. We look to our families or our significant others to know us and complete us in a way that no one else can.
And in effect, we trade worship for our Creator for worship of His creation. In my mind, I see no difference between this and something like alcoholism. The drunken state provides a pleasant satisfaction until it has run its course on the body. Then it tends to have painful consequences. But rather than realize that it is something that cannot satisfy, the behavior is to turn to the bottle even more fully and consume it on a higher level in the hopes that it will provide what is desired. The same happens with anything else. We don’t get the grade we want, we don’t perfect the project at work, we are mistreated by our mom/dad, dumped by our boyfriend/girlfriend, and how do we tend to respond? Study harder, work harder, hate mom/dad more, find someone better to date…we press in harder and raise our expectations without realizing they will inevitably disappoint us even more.
Even though this is a wicked lifestyle, I believe it has righteous God-given motivations behind it. Truly, we are applying ourselves to the lifestyle Christ wants us to live, but we are choosing the wrong end to provide our satisfaction. When God created, He did so intending for everything to point back to Him as the Founder and Perfecter of it all. These things are placed around us to reveal our inadequacies and inabilities so that we might run to our Lord who alone sustains and satisfies. He does not give us the responsibility of school so that we can be perfect students and take pride in our achievements, but so that we might realize how unable we are without Him and praise Him for His sustaining grace. Relationships are given to us so that we can realize how deeply selfish our hearts truly are and how unable we are to exist within them without His deep love and faithfulness. And that is meant to drive us to worship.
But instead, we look to the creation as our end rather than the Creator who alone provides for our needs. Paul says it like this:
“These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
The temporary satisfaction that we find in turning these shadows into idols meant to bring us value is actually a shallow glimpse of the glory we find in Jesus. We were created by God with a profound need for something to fill us, but somewhere along the way we forgot that He is that Something. He reminds us constantly that He is our hope in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), trouble (Psalm 9:9), exhaustion (Isaiah 40:29-31) – He is our Sustainer for everything (Psalm 75:3). So we shouldn’t be surprised by disappointment when we search for fulfillment in the shadows instead of the Substance. We should be appalled at the fact that we spend so much effort in trying to build value for ourselves through things that God created for the opposite effect. Jesus should be our addiction. When life beats us down, we shouldn’t try to run harder after the shadows of this world. They will always leave us thirsty.
But when we run to Jesus, He will give us living water and we will never thirst again (John 4:13-14). When we expect the things of this world to fulfill us when they were created to show us that we are in desperate need of Something beyond this world, we will be left wanting. There will always be the need for more because we will be searching for satisfaction in shadows that were never meant to satisfy. It is natural for us to desire more of something that we believe satisfies us. Only Jesus brings true satisfaction because He is the Substance of every shadow in this world. And when we forget that and choose to worship His creation instead, it is a cheap and exhausting trade.