the upper left corner

I am not a formally-trained theologian. I am a formally-trained rhetorical scholar. I look at arguments or explanations or descriptions in the Bible more as conversations than as systematic theological statements.  I want to see the people behind the words, to consider why a person would come to say that.

Yesterday, you read my attempt to think and pray through Colossians 1:15-20. It was hard, because I was thinking it had to be theology.

After I wrote that, a group of guys talked about the original text. On a whiteboard, we listed every title or description or role that Paul uses to describe Jesus. Then we started discussing. It was the kind of conversation that, for awhile, I sat back and listened.

While listening, I was looking at the upper left corner of the board, where I wrote that Christ was “the image of the invisible God.”

I started grinning.

I realized that by trying to think about this text as a theological statement, I had missed the obvious. Paul wasn’t starting with theology. He was starting with autobiography.

Decades before he wrote this letter to a group of followers of Jesus, Paul had been on his way to kill people like them. He was stopped by a bright light and by a voice talking to him.

When Paul talked about what had happened, he quoted Jesus saying, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and of what I will show you.”

In obedience, Paul starts this statement of who Jesus is with what sounds complex and laden with philosophy. And it may be. But the upper left corner of who God is, is a simple statement of what he saw: the image of the invisible.