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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Learning from the shadows

Learning from the shadows

It is a moment of pure exuberance.

Sneakers squeaking, my two grandsons break into a run.  We are in my wife’s school, showing my son and his family her new classroom.   Since the school is on summer break, only parts of the halls are lit.  So, the effect of their tiny silhouettes reflected in the newly waxed floor is dramatic.

As they cross the nebulous boundary between the darkness and the light, I think of the inevitable transition we all make into the afterlife.  I think of my dear aunt, with whom I have spent many happy hours conversing on Zoom during the pandemic, who is about to make that journey.

And I think of Jesus, the reality to whom the shadow points.

 Paul says in Colossians 2:17:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

(I told you I’d come back to this!)

Paul refers here to the Old Testament religious festivals and Sabbath rituals.   As helpful as they were, they were similar to life in Christ, but only in a two-dimensional way.  The full-bodied reality of a righteous, joyful, God-honoring life can only be found in Jesus.

That’s true of every joy, every profound pleasure.  Sometimes I wonder if my enjoyment of this life is in breach of John’s command to “love not the world.” (1 John 2:15)  Am I clinging to what I have here?  Will I be able to give it up, without regret, when my time comes?

The trick is to recognize Jesus in his shadow.  That’s what a shadow does: it leads you back to the object that casts it.  And every beautiful, wondrous, satisfying thing (sounds like Philippians 4:8 again, doesn’t it?) in our earthly existence is just the vague, shallow hint of the reality of life in Christ.

And the more we let the shadowy forms of good in this world lead us back to him, the easier the transition will be from this darkness into the light of his realized Kingdom.

C.S. Lewis speaks of how we search in this world for what our soul desires:

All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’

That’s the role of this world’s goodness.  It is to train us to recognize Jesus.  We are to see him in the laugh of a grandson, the glow of a sunset, the song of a house wren, the savor of a good meal, the kindness of a stranger.

If we can observe him in his shadow, imagine the joy of seeing him for real!

Wouldn’t we run to meet him!

Lord, train us to see you in the world around us.  Help us to recognize your shadow, so that we may be ready for your reality.

Reader:  Tell me about something you’ve observed in your world recently that led you to better comprehend Jesus.   Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you enjoy this column, would you share it with someone?  I’d love to add to the ranks of subscribers, to spread the joy of an 8:18 life. 

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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