Friday, September 17, 2010

Cracking the Code of the World

Cast plastic resin, cobalt blue, glossy finish. Two mounted disks revolving about a fixed pivot. Concentric rings of letters and numbers in low relief. The Secret Decoder Ring - holy grail of cryptology, time-honored discloser of encoded mysteries, unscrewer of the inscrutable. Maybe you had one of these growing up. This was one I remember fishing out of a box of breakfast cereal once upon a time.

It’s a great toy. Why? Because it taps into that part of us that reveres mystery, that little pilot light in our souls that’s ever burning and flames high in the presence of veiled truth. It’s that thing in you that loves nothing more than learning the secret that reveals the concealed. This is the part of you that knows that you don’t even know you, that you are yourself a profound enigma moving through a reality that just crackles with hidden depths. It’s the soul-level thirst for something that will unriddle the riddles of life, something that can crack the code of the world.

Right now I’m living in east Asia and - let’s be honest - my best efforts notwithstanding, everyday I swim through swarms of symbols I can’t begin to understand. It’s true. Nevertheless, the fact that I can’t make heads or tails of much of it doesn’t keep me from perceiving that they mean something.

As we noted last time, there’s a sense in which the entirety of life is like this. There’s meaning to be had out there, and it’s palpable. And here’s the thing. If we genuinely want to live the spiritual life, the life we were made for, it’s imperative that we grasp, in some measure, this inner-logic of the world. The spiritual life is, after all, not a life of fantasy or make believe- as some may have it -, but one lived in concert with deepest truth. It’s a life that finds its individual meaning in conforming to the overarching purpose that guides all things.

In the second chapter of Colossians, Paul gives expression to his desire that his readers attain to “the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” According to the sacred text, it is Christ, the God-man, who is the key that unlocks the meaning of the world.

As we’ve observed, when God entered our world, becoming just like you, he came to bear and indeed be the meaning of history. But how are we to understand this? Are we just speaking in further riddles? What does it mean to be the meaning of history? Here we must tread lightly, because we’re dealing with ultimate truths. Fortunately, the New Testament doesn’t leave us in the dark on this score. Paul goes on to say: “In Christ all of the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been given fullness.”

Fullness. It’s one of my favorite words in scripture. In Christ the vacuousness and vanity that marks the plight fallen man in a fallen world gives way to fullness. It’s a fantastic word. But how exactly does Christ take the shell of our lives and the hollowness of human history and bring fullness? He does it by welding our broken lives to the superabundance of his own. He does it by taking the wreckage that is you and fusing it to his own person, a person in whom God lives in all of his overflowing realness. This he does that he might swallow up all of your poverty and give you his richness. Not a bad exchange.

Paul goes on to expound a mystery that is at the vital center of scripture, that Christ is able by virtue of his infinite Spirit to unite to himself people like us so that his life becomes your life, his death your death, his resurrection your resurrection. Your storyline, which you have frankly ruined, is eclipsed and his storyline becomes yours. In this way his life becomes the life of the world, the life of all those throughout history who come to him, and coming, believe.

This is the God of scripture. This is the God who gives fullness. And, in the words of an old writer, “If God be not thus, he is less than the God we crave for and the world needs. This is the holy love that deserves to be almighty.” A truer word was never spoken.


  1. Josh, I agree when you say fullness is what God gives (i am paraphrasing here) but how does he do it is my question. What becomes of the desires misdirected or of the evil hearts?? Do we ever, Christ and us, come to complete unison apart from in Heaven?

  2. That is the great question isn’t it? How does he do it? The answer is, I think, a long one. But a thumbnail sketch looks like this: By faith in Christ we receive a new state and nature in him. This state, which exists by union and fellowship with Christ, is what the scriptures call the new man. This new man is endowed with power, privileges and qualifications that are altogether absent in man apart from Christ. He is the man who lives in and through the fullness of Christ.

    The Christian life is all about (to put it in biblical language) putting off and dying to the old man (the man who is spiritually dead, corrupt and beholden to the law) and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, in all of his fullness. It is learning to die to the killing letter of the law and learning to live and walk and work according to gospel principles and the Spirit of Christ in us. It involves partaking, by faith, in all of the powers and benefits that come from union with Christ. It entails learning to live and move through life wholly in this way. We often get confused because we think that dying to the old man simply means “stop doing bad things and start doing good things.” But this is not it at all. If anything it’s this thought that keeps the boot of the old man on our neck.

    There is a sense in which our union with Christ, even in this life, is perfect and complete. We are one Spirit and one flesh with him. However, there is another sense in which, experientially, our enjoyment of Christ is imperfect. This is in part true because the faith, by which we partake of and appropriate the saving benefits of Christ, is mixed with much unbelief in this world. The warring between the Spirit and flesh, the new man and the old man is why we feel such terrific tension in this life.

    So, you’re right. We will not know experientially the perfect fullness of Christ in this life. Here we know it by faith, and live and move according to faith. In the age to come we will know the all-surpassing fullness perfectly by sight.

    There is so much more that must be said on these things and I hope to explore them in great depth in future posts. I really think that one of the great problems is that we say things like “walking by the spirit,” “living by faith” etc. without having the least idea what those things really and truly mean. But I think that there are solid biblical answers. So, keep asking great questions and maybe we can find some great answers together.

  3. I have to say, I struggle with the notion of leaving the 'old man behind' since it is me and its all I know, besides, behavior is deeply ingrained in us by upbringing, culture etc. What do you make of addiction or men of great faith falling flat in their faces in repetitive sin?

    thanks for blogging.


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