El Shaddai: The Colossians Study (No. 2)
Words by Lexy Sauvé // Images by Candice Hackett
El Shaddai is one of the names God uses for himself. It means “the all-sufficient one” (Gen. 17:1). In last week’s passage we looked at the sufficiency of God in terms of Jesus’ Gospel of grace alone being able to equip us for salvation and sanctification. This week’s passage teaches Jesus as sufficient to display God’s very image and how he alone is unique as the Eternal Uncreated and Creator of all things. These truths again remind us that Jesus alone is enough to strengthen and nourish us for life and godliness during our short stay on earth.
“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.
And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproached before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:15–23)
My husband and I were recently discussing this section of verses with two missionaries from the predominant cult where we live. They were attempting to use these verses to show that Jesus was created and, therefore, cannot be the timeless God.
Thankfully, these missionaries were wrong. That conversation showed me the gravity of being able to rightly divide the word of God, taking the whole word into account (Acts 20:27, 2 Tim. 2:15). When we do consider God’s word in its entirety, there are many passages in which Jesus himself teaches of his own equality with God the Father, in addition to Paul’s words in this letter to the Colossians. One example is found in John 14:8–19, which records an exchange between Jesus and his disciples. Philip asks, “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’” Jesus, maybe even somewhat frustrated, replies: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
In Luke 10:16, Jesus also reveals his equality with God when he says, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” These statements certainly correlate Jesus’ oneness with God.
So, what do we, as believers, have to lose if we lose the view of Jesus being one with God? We lose Christ’s total sufficiency and ability to reconcile us to God by paying for our sins, and presenting us as unblemished worshippers before the throne. This is what Paul was explaining in verses 19–22 when he says the fullness of God dwelled in Jesus and, therefore, was able to reconcile sinners to God through his costly crucifixion.
Our evil deeds, as Paul called them, are of infinite proportions since they’ve been committed against an infinite being. This means that if I tried to make restoration for my sins, by nature of being a finite human, I could never pay my infinite amount of debt. Jesus had to step in my place, as the perfect, all-powerful, infinite God, in order to be sufficient to correct my cosmic-sized debts. But, this is only possible if he truly is the God of the universe, because his infinity comes from his divinity as God the Father. This is also why hell must be eternal punishment because those who are there are there for eternity, never able to fully pay for their infinite debts. Jesus is God who saves from an eternity of punishment if our hope continues to rest on the message of the Gospel.
Many people also misunderstand what the Bible means when it uses the term firstborn for Jesus. The missionaries we were in conversation with stated that this must mean Jesus was a created being. Once again, a quick look at a few other places in the Bible can correct this error by showing us that the term firstborn can describe someone’s supreme ranking and title, and not only their timing of creation.
In Exodus 4:22, speaking of the captive nation of Israel, the Lord called them “my firstborn son.” Israel was not literally the first created nation in all of history because Abraham, who was the first Israelite, wasn’t even called a Hebrew until Genesis 14:13. Joshua 24:2 tells us that before that time, Abraham’s father and relatives were pagans, “and they served other gods.” Israel was not literally the first fashioned people group in all of creation, but rather first of importance to God among all the nations on the earth.
King David is also an example to us that firstborn can pertain to one’s ranking, and not their timing of birth. In Psalm 89:27, the psalmist calls David, “the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Interestingly, this passage is also prophetically describing Jesus Christ, the firstborn over not just kings, but all of creation. In 1 Samuel 16:11, Jesse, David’s father, tells Samuel that David is actually the youngest of his sons, not the firstborn son. Again, this demonstrates that biblically, firstborn can describe one’s supremacy. David was the firstborn, the greatest king of all earthly kings.
Once more, this is important because if Jesus was created, this makes him finite, and a finite being could never pay for our infinite pile of sin-debts.
Christian mystic A.W. Tozer says we “must be told that God has no origin, and we will find this hard to grasp since it introduces a category with which he is wholly unfamiliar.” Leaving mystery for God should be something every Christian works towards because, as Karl Rahner said to the Lord, “But if you were not incomprehensible, you would be inferior to me, for my mind could grasp and assimilate you. You would belong to me, instead of I to you. And that would truly be hell, if I should belong only to myself! It would be the fate of the damned, to be doomed to pace up and down for all eternity in the cramped and confining prison of my own finiteness.”
We turn to God in his mystery and worship him for it. We do not turn and run from it. This is a time to lean on the Lord and his understanding, and to not place our total trust in only what our fallen minds can understand.
Speaking practically, this means Jesus has a right to his very own category in our lives, a holy, different category. If the only categories we think in are genres we can fully describe, point to, reiterate to another, and observe in their totality, then we will surely try to squish God into one of these categories. May we not be like those Paul described in Romans 1:25, those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” When we do this we create a graven image of God and we worship an idol, something we can understand, instead of the true God of all.
This is where it starts to get uncomfortable for me. I begin to think about the human categories I put God in. For example, I look to God as a healer, a doctor, because that’s something I can understand. I can look at my children’s pediatrician, and the way they shine the little bead of light into my son’s ear to check for infection. This is a category I relate to. God certainly is a healer to us, both spiritually and physically, but when I define him as that according to my limited human understanding, he is no longer the God who made Joseph to say, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). God is big enough to not only have the power to heal, but to use sickness and sin and calamity for the eternal good of his people. This is something no earthly doctor will ever be able to claim on a resumé. God’s goals for us are so much broader and better than our own. This should cause us to rejoice because it means nothing is ever too out of control for God to touch and redeem.
In addition to being Creator of all things, Jesus is the sustainer all of creation. When it says in verse 16 that “by him all things were created,” we could also render this to say, “all things remain created.” This is also present in Hebrews 1:3, which says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
The theologian Archibald Thomas Robertson explains what this means: “The permanence of the universe rests, there, on Christ far more than on gravity. It is a Christ-centric universe.” As a task-oriented individual in a world that feels like it’s often ruled by entropy, I find this truth to be a great source of comfort and cause to rejoice. Why? Because all of home life does not depend on the amount of patience I display on a daily basis, the numbers of loads of laundry that are washed and put away by bedtime, or the number of dates I manage to squeeze into an already bogged-down schedule. The role of holding together homes, families, marriages, and human relationships belongs to God alone, and he does not want his glory to be shared with any other, including me. Hallelujah! We can relax because God is the one holding the universe and every single detail of our lives together.
Psalm 139:13 tells us that we were each knit together by God in the cradle of our mother’s wombs. With this knowledge about myself, and the knowledge that God is a sustainer of his creation and cannot act outside of his own nature, I can confidently stand on the truth that God has to take care of me as one of his children and creations. His word says he upholds his creations, and I am a unique creation of the Father, therefore, he must take care of me, even when everything around me feels like hurricanes and fire alarms. I believe this is what Jesus was trying to convey in Matthew 6:25–33:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
In these verses, Jesus points to his creation, the birds, and the wildflowers, and says, “I’m faithful to take care of these little creatures, aren’t I? I can certainly take care of you!” Find rest and joy in your status of being a created being, and not the creator and sustainer of your life! If Jesus can author starfish, galaxies, poppies, and cheetahs into being, then he can author peace, provision, and wisdom into any of our life’s circumstances.
Questions to consider:
What man-made idols have I exchanged for the truth about the Living God?
Is my life “Christ-centric,” as Robertson described? If not, what practical things need to change to cast every part of my life on Christ’s sufficiency?