The word of the day is “alienated.” In our reading of Colossians 1:18-23, St. Paul proclaims that Christ has “made peace through the blood of His cross” (vs.20). Why did it take the suffering of the Cross for the Father to “reconcile all things to himself”? Why couldn’t some sweet words of His lovingkindness have accomplished it? Why couldn’t our Heavenly Father have declared his unmerited forgiveness of sinners without such the shedding of the Lord’s blood?
Theologians have wrestled with these questions throughout the centuries. In our reading, St. Paul refers to the “human condition” to give one answer. He states, “you… were once were alienated and enemies [of God] in your mind by wicked works…” (vs. 21). Paul is saying that the ailment of humankind is more than misunderstanding, neglect, petty errors , or minor misdeeds. No, its result is wickedness. This fundamental state of the relationship of human persons with God is alienation. This separation from God the Creator (Strong’s #526, 39) comes from an entrenched enmity. The word for such antagonism in Greek connotes the sense of hateful hostility (Strong’s #2190, 108.).
The Darkness and Futility of Alienation
Paul describes this bitterness when he writes, “… the Gentiles walk in the futility of their minds, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (vs. Eph. 4:17-18).
The animosity that is so deep-seated is born of a profound sense of offense. And that feeling is extremely difficult to overcome. The book of Proverbs puts it, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a fortified city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle (vs. 18 & 19).
Signs of Hostility
It is rare for anyone to admit such raw antagonism against God. Yet this hostility may surface when misfortune comes, and people blame God for their troubles. Others may express it indirectly when they complain about some grievance with the church. They may even blame God for their temptations (James 1:13). And when their sinful habits catch up with them, they may use God as an excuse. The book of Proverbs summarizes, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord (Proverbs 19:3).
But Chrysostom questions this grumbling against God, “Who was the aggrieved one?” he asks. (NfPF1: 13). Misled by their sinful ways, human beings get it all wrong. Their hearts are blind (Eph. 4:18) to the truth that God is not at fault for mortal sin. He was not to blame for the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. And he is not responsible for the sins of the descendants of Adam and Eve outside the Garden.
We should get it straight. The Holy God did not have to reconcile himself to us, for He had done nothing against us. But He chose to “reconcile all things to Himself.” In 2 Corinthians, Paul puts it, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their sins against them (vs. 5:19). The word “impute” has the basic sense of taking an inventory (Strong’s #3049, 152). That means that the blameless God did not count the world’s sins on the deficit side of the ledger.
Once Alienated, Now Reconciled
The Cross of Christ is the absolute proof that God has made peace between Himself and humanity. The sufferings of Christ have entirely abolished any sense of condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). The Colossians were once alienated against God “by their wicked works.” But now Christ has reconciled them to God by His death so that they are “blameless, and above reproach” (vs. 21-22).
Paul put it this way in Romans, “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That is, God has exhibited (Strong’s #4921, 242) and established (Strong’s #2476, 142) that He holds nothing against human persons. If there is any hostility against God, it comes from human beings, not the Almighty.
Think of it this way. Without faith in Christ and belief in the Gospel of the Cross, human persons are still alienated from their Creator, alienated not in God’s sight but in their own minds. Yet, along with the Colossians, God is ready to reconcile to Himself all those who remain hostile to Him. The Lord will present those who put aside their enmity and who have faith in Him to God the Father. And God will receive them in holiness and without fault into His presence (vs. 22). How does that explain why Paul was so passionate about bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles?