Christ in Paul’s Eyes
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Paul summarizes his corporate understanding of salvation with his shorthand phrase “en Cristo,” using it more than any single phrase in all of his letters (over 100 times). En Cristo seems to be Paul’s code phrase for the gracious, participatory experience of salvation “from the beginning” (see Ephesians 1:3-12), the path that he so urgently wanted to share with the world. Succinctly put, this identity means humanity has never been separate from God—unless and except by its own negative choice. All of us, without exception, are living inside of a cosmic identity, already in place, that is drawing and guiding us forward. We are all en Cristo, willingly or unwillingly, happily or unhappily, consciously or unconsciously.
Paul seemed to understand that the lone individual was far too small, insecure, and short-lived to bear either the “weight of glory” or the “burden of sin.” Only the whole could carry such a mystery of constant loss and renewal. Paul’s knowledge and experience of “in Christ” allowed him to give God’s universal story a name, a focus, a love, and a certain victorious direction so that coming generations could trustingly jump on this cosmic and collective ride.
I hope that Christians will come to enjoy the full meaning of that short, brilliant phrase, because it is crucial for the future of Christianity, which is still trapped in a highly individualistic notion of salvation that ends up not looking much like salvation at all. Paul calls this bigger divine identity the “mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the very beginning” (see Ephesians 1:9-10).
Every single creature—the teen mother nursing her child, every one of the twenty thousand species of butterflies, an immigrant living in fear, a blade of grass, you reading this meditation—all are “in Christ” and “chosen from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:3-4, 9-10). What else could they be? Salvation for Paul is an ontological and cosmological message (which is solid) before it ever becomes a moral or psychological one (which is always unstable). Pause and give that some serious thought.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 43-44.