C.S. Lewis says it's a good idea to read old books. He says every age sees certain truths and makes certain mistakes. Whether you're a Christian or atheist or anything else, to be part of any given age is to share certain blind spots, and one of the best ways to see what you're blind to is to read things from other ages, when they saw other things.
He wrote that in his introduction to some of Athanasius' writings, one of the guys who was a part of the early Church (4th century). Athanasius did a lot of work to help the Church think about the Trinity, among other things, and I spent some time last summer reading his and other writings on the topic. And just like Lewis promised, I discovered a blind spot in my vision.
When we talk about our relationship with Christ today, we usually say that He is in us. We invite Jesus into our hearts. We have Christ in us. God is in our lives, etc., etc. And that's fair because you can find language about Christ being in us in the Bible.
But there's other language in the Bible that we don't seem to use as much, and it's the preferred language for guys like Athanasius. They often say that we are in Christ. In fact, they use that language so much that I think they might be confused to hear how little we use it, and how often we say it the other way around. A lot of bad theology is just incomplete theology, and incomplete theology is theology with blind spots.
When you're driving, a blind spot isn't a problem most of the time. Until it is. And then it's a big problem. If you're unaware of the car in the next lane and you cut over, that's going to have consequences. So I started thinking about what we're missing by being blind to this idea in the Bible — that we are IN Christ.
Sometimes we talk about the current of the world pulling us toward sin and brokenness and how we have to resist that current. It's as if everything around us — everything that's part of the world we're in — is pulling us in the wrong direction, and we have to look inward to find God's strength to resist. Honestly, that seems like a losing battle, even if we do believe that God is really in us.
But if the New Testament and the Church Fathers are right, there is another current we can submit to. We aren't just in the world. We're in Christ. And Ephesians says Christ fills everything everywhere with His presence. So if we're really, truly in Christ, then we don't have to create the current; we just have to surrender to it. We don't have to stir up the water; we just have to allow ourselves to be stirred by it. We spend so much energy trying to resist the world, trying to hold on to truth. But what if there's another current in the water that we could swim in if we could just recognize it?
Maybe we're exhausted because we've been resisting the current of a sinful world. Or maybe we're exhausted because we've been resisting the current of Christ and His Spirit that would lead us toward life if we would let Him.
Maybe letting go is harder than holding on.
I'm all for seeing the truth of Christ in us. But I'm also trying to see myself in Christ, who fills everything everywhere with His presence. And if that's really true, that we are in Him who fills everything everywhere, then our perspective changes.
If you're thirsty, then to be filled is a good thing. A glass of water sounds pretty good. But that's nothing compared to the experience of swimming in the ocean.
It means a little less navel-gazing, looking for Christ inside me, and a little more listening to my neighbor, expecting to run into Christ's activity in the people around me.
It's the difference between taking God with me wherever I go, and recognizing that He is already everywhere.
It means reading the news with the same spiritual seeking that we bring to reading the Bible, since we believe Christ is the ultimate reality that the world exists within.
"Christ in me" helps me take my role in God's kingdom seriously, but "me in Christ" helps me stay humble and open to all the things He's doing whether I help or not.
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Some translations say "he" is a new creation, but people who are smarter than me tell me the NRSV has it right: when we are in Christ, there, apart from us, surrounding us, is a new creation. We see everything differently. which makes sense of what Paul says next: "everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"
So if you're looking for a new perspective, maybe it's time to look for Christ around you, not just in you. If you're tired or worn out, maybe you've been resisting the current of Christ that would carry you toward wholeness and healing, toward justice and beauty.
Christ is in us! That's great news. But perhaps even better news is this: we are in Christ!