Glutton for Punishment

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Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)

Flush your comfortable, suburban theology down the toilet. I’d like to introduce you to the Apostle Paul, a bona fide religious wacko of the first order, the freakiest of all Jesus freaks, and a dyed-in-the-wool spiritual masochist.

For Paul, it’s not enough that Jesus suffered. It’s not enough that Jesus was persecuted. It’s not enough that Jesus was beaten to a pulp.  It’s not enough that Jesus was spit on and mocked. It’s not enough that Jesus was stapled to a couple of pieces of wood and planted on a hill far away like a tacky Tiki torch. It’s not enough that Jesus was cast as the erotic star of Mel Gibson’s torture porn flick, The Passion of the Christ.

Noooo. This isn’t enough for Mr. Colossal to the Gentiles. Paul doesn’t buy the substitutionary theory of Christian living. He doesn’t go for a vicarious Christianity like the rest of us. Paul isn’t into the Jesus-died-so-I-don’t-have-to theory. Paul doesn’t seem to think “It is finished” means it is finished, for Christ’s sake. What the hell is up with this guy?

And what is “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” supposed to mean? Something is still lacking with the cross thing? And he’s going to pick up the slack? Is he serious? Doesn’t he read his own freaking letters? Did he buy Galatians from an online essay service? Did he find the book of Romans in a malt shop in Malta? Did he get his theology degree from a damn diploma mill? Whom did he see on the road to Damascus anyway, Emo?

Look. I’m not saying Paul wasn’t sincere. He probably would been a great guest on Oprah. But this kind of attitude only invites trouble—which, apparently, he enjoyed in a perverted sort of way. Hey, I’m not judging him; it takes all kinds. Just don’t expect me to sign up in the lobby for spanking and whips. After all, according to the old hymn, Jesus “suffered and died alone”—with the emphasis on the alone part.

Paul’s okay, I guess. But I prefer my own Christianity over easy, thank you very much.

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4 Responses

  1. Colossians 1:24 is a very abused verse, but I don’t think it conflicts with anything Paul said elsewhere if read in context. For one thing, Paul is not saying that Christ’s death and resurrection were lacking in any way with regard to justification or even sanctification. Rather, he is talking descriptively about his own suffering for the sake of spreading the Gospel. In this context, it is obvious that Christ’s suffering was not sufficient to fulfill the Great Commission – in fact, that wasn’t the purpose.

    Paul’s suffering does nothing to make himself more holy or more sanctified. However, he rejoiced in being able to suffer for the spread of the Gospel, sharing, as it were, in the suffering of Christ. It is important to recognize that in spite of Paul’s suffering – and he indeed seemed to be the Jack Bauer (of “24”) of the Apostles – he still was insistent that salvation and holiness are words of grace, not of human effort.

    This, of course, does not make Paul’s example any less challenging to us, for whom getting up to catch the early service is often suffering a bit too much.

  2. Love Devo, btw.

  3. One has to hire the best person for the job, even if they have some serious personality disorders. Look at Monk. He can’t function on the outside without his nurse but if you’ve got an unsolvable murder case, here he comes, obsessions and nurse in tow. And he gets the job done.

    Paul was obsessive compulsive and melancholic to the extreme. He was a perfectionist to boot. But think about what God needed. Paul was perfect for the job. What better testimony than a man who used to delight in chasing down those horrible Zealots called Christians. Nothing was too menial a chore. From begging authorities for permits to do the Christians in, to holding the coats for those who liked to throw stones, Paul got the job done. Of course Jesus had to blind him and starve him for a few days to get the point across. Deprogramming sometimes does require drastic measures.

    But he was still the same OC, melancholic, perfectionist. And by golly he was going to make up for what he’d done in the past! I think that’s why God allowed him to be imprisoned for so many years. To try to save Paul from himself.

  4. Please refrain from the use of words that are “unacceptable” in Christian communication.

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