Have You Been Taken Captive?
When I was in seminary preparing for ministry, I never imagined what I've encountered since then as a counselor. So many times I've sat with confused and discouraged people, people who had made regrettable personal decisions that further complicated their travels through this broken world. They would sit with me and wonder aloud why things happened the way they had, and what in the world they should do about it all now. Usually they were hoping there might be some rare, hidden wisdom that would clear things up for them. They craved a revelation, a solution, a magic bullet. And as I listened I would think, 95 percent of what this person is seeking is right there in God’s Word.
These people did not need any new revelation or special insight. They needed to submit to what God had already written. They needed to trust what is sure: the clear words of the Creator of it all, found in the pages of his book, the Bible. The apostle Paul does a good job in Colossians 2 of diagnosing this endemic problem.
"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ"(vv. 6–8).
If you, as a resident of this fallen world, are to follow in the vein of what Paul is teaching here, you must embrace two realities. The first is this: as a person made in the image of God you do not live life based on the cold, objective facts of your experience, but on your interpretation of your experience. Everyone living is a philosopher and a theologian. We are always stepping back, taking a look at our lives, and turning our situations and relationships over and over in our hands for further inspection and understanding. The sense you make out of the events of your life will form what you do and say in response to them. As you interpret new events and reinterpret old events, time after time after time, your interpretations will begin to form into a worldview that will function as an organizing structure not only for what you think, but also for how you live.
Here is the second reality: you are always being bombarded by the opinions of others. The world around you is not silent. You live in the middle of a constant cacophony of interpretations of reality. Whether its the opinion of a friend, the lyrics of a song, the words of a text, an article from a newspaper, the plot of a sitcom, some information on a website, or the worldview of a great movie, your eyes are receiving and your mind is being influenced by a thousand voices every day. Each is telling you how to think, and in telling you how to think, is telling you how to live. We never interpret the events of our lives on the basis of pure objectivity; we are always influenced by a myriad of cultural and interpersonal influences.
Now, keep these two realities in mind as you consider Paul’s diagnosis. He is saying that Christians, people who really do know the Lord, can be taken captive through “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” In this phrase we find a stinging criticism of the limits of human research, experience, and interpretation. Here’s what Paul is telling us: understanding that is merely human, continually claims that it can provide a reliable basis for daily living, yet its hollow (empty) because it doesn't provide this reliable basis, and its deceptive (false) because it cannot. The authoritative truth and wisdom you need to guide you through your situations and relationships simply can’t be obtained from any human source.
Then Paul points us to the fatal flaw of human understanding. Such understanding will ultimately fail because it looks to “human tradition and the basic principles of this world” rather than to Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v. 3). This is exactly what often makes our lives so difficult. We're relying on some basic tradition of human understanding for guidance in daily life. Some of us are relying on the power of the human intellect: our own. Others are relying on a popular mystical notion we've clearly absorbed somewhere along the line: that a benevolent orderliness in the nature of things will simply guide you into goodness. Both have forgotten about the Fall, about the reality of this broken universe.
Human “wisdom” that cannot be aligned with Scripture simply is not wisdom at all. Because many of us have embraced fallen imitations of wisdom, we live stressful and disappointing lives full of unexpected problems and confusion. We've been taken captive and didn’t know it, even as we hold in our hands the only truly reliable source of understanding and direction: the Word of God; written guidance from the One who supplies every treasure, insight, wisdom, and truth.