The State’s Place

Phil Christman

READ: Colossians 1:15-23

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities . . . (v. 16)

Governments do a lot of good. Today I mailed a letter, which will be delivered courtesy of my government. I also deposited my paycheck, which is only worth anything because my government backs the currency and enforces the contracts between my employers, my bank, and me. But governments also destroy people. Time and again, I have met prisoners who were deeply convinced, not only that they committed a crime for which they must repent, but that they were subhuman garbage, unworthy of decent treatment. They learned this from the government that houses them, that wields godlike power over their moment-to-moment existence, and that, often enough, turns a blind eye when they are abused, raped, or exploited while incarcerated.

The Rome that held Paul captive was an empire of unprecedented power in the ancient world. For Paul, a prisoner, to remember and assert that it existed for Christ, the Word by whom and for whom all things were created, was utterly radical. Jesus reminds us of the state’s true size. It is subordinate to him; it exists to glorify him. When the state stops doing so—when, for example, it abuses the image of God, including those images of God who live in prison—Christians have a duty to push back.

Lord, for our sake you became a prisoner. Needle our conscience until we demand prison conditions not wholly unfit for you.