Colossians is one of the very first and still one of the greatest Christian poems ever written. It encapsulates beautifully and movingly this vision of integrated wisdom, and gives it, breathtakingly, a human face:
He is the image of God, the invisible one,
The firstborn of all creation,
For in him all things were created,
In the heavens and here on earth.
Things we can see and things we cannot,
Thrones and lordships and rulers and powers –
All things were created both through him and for him.
And he is ahead, prior to all else
And in him all things hold together;
And he himself is supreme, the head
Over the body, the church.
He is the start of it all,
Firstborn from realms of the dead;
So in all things he might be the chief.
For in him all the Fullness was glad to dwell
And through him to reconcile all to himself,
Making peace through the blood of his cross,
Through him – yes, things on the earth,
And also the things in the heavens.
The balance of the poem (in rhythm and words), its deep roots in the ancient traditions of Jewish wisdom highlights the stupendous claim that the God who made the world, with all its parts and pieces, is now active in remaking it, restoring it, healing it, and renewing it; and that the means by which he has done the first and is doing the second is the person, the man, we know as Jesus Christ. He is the mirror in which we discover who the creator really is; he is the One through all things were made, and through whom, by his death and resurrection, all things are now being remade. Paul, in writing or quoting this astonishing and very early piece of poetic theology, is claiming for Jesus Christ what the ancient Jewish wisdom writers claimed for the figure of Wisdom – the wisdom by which the world was made, the wisdom you need to be a fully alive human being, the wisdom by which the living God inhabits his world, breathes into it his own warm life, and brings about within it the fulfillment of his strange and beautiful purposes.
The to-and-fro in early Christian theology and poetry between creation and new creation has been underplayed in contemporary theology until very recently. When, as has so often been the case, redemption has been understood in terms of escape from the world of creation, then of course Christian faith understands itself, and is understood by outsiders, in terms of a hiding away from the realities of the world. Faith and public life, religion and politics, private devotion and academic study, are then seen as antithetical. But where the fully biblical vision of God’s dealing with evil and corruption within the created order in order that the new creation may be born from the womb of the old – when, in other words, we embrace the vision of Colossians 1, built on the rocky foundation of the death and resurrection of Jesus then it becomes clear that those who claim that death and resurrection as the center of their life, those who love Jesus and seek to follow and serve him, are called to be his agents of new creation, and that this involves exploring, understanding and celebrating the old creation and discovering its inner dynamic in order to better pioneer the new world in which the old is to find its glorious fulfillment.
This of course involves us in public and political life, as it did for Paul and the other early Christians. We can’t help that we shouldn’t want to avoid it. And it ought to be that we can begin to speak clearly about issues that our politicians now can’t help addressing about which quire clearly, they don’t know what to say. Their modernist politics and their postmodern moralities provide them with no bearings, no guiding principles, to steer through the suddenly more complicated world they face. But we who follow the Jesus of the New Testament, who come to our tasks with Colossians 1 in front of us, ought to be able to think these things through afresh; namely, to address the newly complex questions of our day with the robust worldview of creation and new creation within which they can be understood and fresh ways forward within our world be found.
In Christ, Paul declares a couple of paragraphs after the poem of Colossians 1, to hold all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden and waiting to be found. This doesn’t mean, as some lazy Christians might assume it means, that as long as you cherish a devotion to Jesus you don’t need to bother investigating the richly varied and many-sided glorious world we live in. On the contrary, it means that just as we are commanded by Jesus himself to recognize him in the faces of the poor and needy, so we are commanded by this passage to discover Jesus, again and again, behind the stars and spiders, the mathematical formulae and musical harmonies, to see and hear him through the telescope and the microscope and the stethoscope, to meet him in the pages of history, to greet him in the blazing beauty of art, and to bless when we understand."