In this post we look in a little detail at what it means to be dead – no not like that. How did Christ make us alive according to Paul? We also see that a cabbage has much to teach us of the Divine Realm. But we begin with The Essenes.
The Essenes, authors of the ‘dead sea scrolls’ wrote that as a member of their sect you were “raised from the worms of the dead”. The language seems somewhat overstated to us. Paul however, embraced it. We can see similar thoughts as he kicks of Chapter two.
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
What does it mean to say that we were dead before we followed Jesus? It is obviously not a statement referencing our physical life – clearly something else is at play here. Think of a cabbage. Yes really. Imagine a ball of string being rolled in front of a cabbage. However long you wait, and however you vary the conditions nothing is going to happen.(1) You wait patiently to see the long fabled ‘cabbage – string’ interaction but inevitably you will conclude that there is nothing to see here.
Replace the cabbage with a kitten however, and suddenly you can see what it means to be alive to the realm of play. The kitten is aware of a whole dimension to life that appears to totally pass over the hapless cabbage which seems to be unmoved/unaware of such joy that we assume the kitten experiences. When I practice my guitar in front of the dog he often walks out of the room – he is dead to the realm of punk music (and who can blame him?) The same is true of the divine realm – we have to be awakened to it, a process of discovery that I believe lasts our whole life as the effects of sin are continually purged from us and we learn to live in the blessed spaciousness of being ‘in Christ’. I can certainly look back to events that peeled back the curtain a bit more as the veil between the physical and spiritual realms was ‘thinned’.
Having described us as being once ‘dead’ Paul continues:
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience
Paul’s expectation here is that we are walking out of the sin and trespasses that we walked in. We are doing this because we are now alive to the realm of the Spirit – a different spirit. In order to see this we need to grasp Paul’s understanding of the universe. Think for a moment how you picture the universe. You’d probably say something like the earth is part of a group of planets orbiting a star we call ‘The Sun’ which is part of a galaxy of billions of such stars, each separated by unimaginable emptiness. This is your cosmology. Notice how there is nothing at all in there outside of the physical realm – not even a nod to the fact that anything beyond the realm of science might even exist.
In bible days cosmology was very different. Between the Earth and the moon was a ‘murky, polluted region’ called the ‘air’. This is where the daimones lived – both evil and good, semi god-like beings. Not God, but god-like – what we might call angels. (2) The realm of God was above the air. So in verse 2 Paul is stating very clearly that a princely, spiritual being who lives in the space between earth and the moon influences human life. In fact, Paul is directly attributing human sinful to this influences – we ‘walked’ with this demonic being- imagine that, like walking with a friend to the park. That ‘walking companion’ was at work in us, the disobedient ones.
Power Structures Enfold Us.
We also once followed the ‘course of the world’ – which is speaking of the systems of power within the world – and there are many, many types of power structure that enfold us. Imagine a canal boat. It has no choice about where it goes other than to follow the course of the canal. So it would seem that we humans, according to Paul, had little choice before we are awakened, other than to follow along the ‘course of the world’. This makes perfect sense to me. All around are power structures that I did not ask for and over which I have no influence, but directly impact every aspect of my life. Corporations. Media. Hollywood. Internet. Church. Politics. Money. Science. These things in themselves are not all bad of course. But they often stifle things and it seems to me that they have a ‘murky’ influence that is decidedly not for good.
Our cosmology has no room for the divine realm. Our scientific, rational understanding has thrown out anything that maybe called ‘spiritual’ relegating the divine to the realm of children and the deluded. No angles pulling strings in the background! So our general world view then is nothing like Paul’s. He used his understanding of the world to explain what he saw, all wrapped up in his Jewish outlook. How are we supposed to relate to Paul’s understanding of cosmology 2000 odd years later? Is it ok for us to just assume his cosmology is correct and talk about it in the same way he did knowing full well that our society just doesn’t think like that anymore, and that many would argue that we have advanced beyond the need for primitive belief systems? If you have read any of my blogs you’ll know this is a repeating question for me. See for example ‘Bullet Points for Paul’
Leaving that to one side for now the truth remains. Through the incarnation, God becoming human, we are awakened to the realm of the Divine and the glorious adventure of the unfolding discovery of what it means to be ‘in Christ’ and have ‘Christ in us’.
This is a different way of seeing. An allegiance to a different Spirit. This is theology at its healing best!
References, notes and such like
- I like to think that future science will actually discover that indeed there was interaction between the cabbage and the string, it is just that we do not have the necessary senses to observe it. Wouldn’t that be something – consciousness for plants.
- Perkins, P: Abingdon New Testament Commentaries Ephesians, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1997, 59.