Colossians 1:17 NIV: “in him all things hold together.”
This phrase stands out to me just because it is so beautiful. In my mind, it invokes the image of a web connecting all things in the universe with Christ at its center. It brings on a sensation of security in the knowledge that, out of this apparently disordered and chaotic world, Christ can bring order and peace, making everything hang together and all the puzzle pieces fit.
But then I pause: does He make everything hold together? As if the different components of the world, like magnets of the same pole, naturally want to fly apart, held together only by some pressure exerted by Christ?
That image seems wrong, but I wonder if we sometimes implicitly assume it, and if doing so could be dangerous. Perhaps, in assuming that Christ will ultimately use His power to make everything come together, we become complacent and stop trying to make things come together ourselves. We go to church and pray for unity and peace, and then consider our jobs done, saying “Christ will take care of the rest.” In Him, and only Him, all things hold together, so why should we even try?
In leaving all the work to Christ in this way, we make a mistake that becomes evident if you look at these six words from the first chapter of Colossians. It does not say that in Him all things will hold together, but that they already do. The discordance and chaos that we see in the world around us are not problems that will be solved by Christ at some future date. Apparently, they have already been solved by Him. How can this be? That claim seems blatantly at odds with the messy world we see around us. Is there a way to reconcile this verse, which asserts that all things are currently being held together in Christ, with our perception of the fractured world?
This question goes beyond the scope of what can be covered in my simple reflection, but I want to put forth two thoughts. First: the non-linearity of time. While we perceive time to proceed linearly, with one particular moment being defined as ‘the present,’ God exists outside of our rigid temporal experience. Perhaps for Him, all of our ‘present’ moments are in existence simultaneously. And so, while to us it may seem like Christ’s final coming and making all things hold together is in the ‘future,’ but from the divine perspective, it is happening right now.
That’s one way to logically reconcile this verse with our reality, but it still takes the ball out of our court because it allows us to say that, at least from our perspective, Christ will make everything hold together in the future, and so we can just wait.
This brings me to my second thought: perhaps it’s also the case that, even from our linear time perspective, Christ holds all things together right now, even in this present moment. The “in Him” of our verse “in Him all things hold together” means that if we could enter into Christ and see the world as He sees it, we would see that everything is really hanging together as one.
I’m not totally sure exactly how this hanging together as one would work, and to be honest, no one does because we do not share the divine perspective, but I do know that God sees all humans universally as His children. The distinctions that I make between myself and others, the biases in my head that separate me from my neighbors, these are all illusions that distort my view of the true reality that we are all beloved children of God. If I could enter into Christ, I believe that this one-ness of humanity would become evident. Perhaps it is the same with other features of our world that do not seem to fit together; if we could only see the truth, see the world as God sees it, we would see that in fact all these things do hold together as the scripture tells us.
I pray that this Advent season, we are able to enter at least a little into Christ and see the world as He does, so that we might see that all humankind is one, and that everything in this world truly does hold together in peace and harmony. Amen.
Sarah Newbury is in her second year of studies at Harvard Law School.