Atlas is Out of Place

April 7, 2014

A few weeks ago, I was completely out of joint. Rising from a chair was an ordeal because standing led to a shooting pain across my lower back. My walk seemed uneven, like one leg was shorter than the other. And the muscles in my neck cramped, which led to a low-level headache. I finally gave in and scheduled a visit to the doctor. He felt my neck and back, took an X-ray, and concluded, “Your lower back is out of joint, and your atlas is out of place.”

I didn’t know I had an atlas. I remembered the name from Greek mythology, but I do not usually associate parts of my body with Greek gods. The doctor informed me that the atlas is the top-most bone in the neck that holds up the head. If the atlas moves out of place, the resulting pressure at the top of the spinal cord affects the nerves of the rest of the body. He adjusted my back and reset my atlas. I walked out of the office pain free.

A few days later, I was emotionally out-of-sorts. I had little patience, as everyone seemed to be doing things the wrong way. I needed a realignment of my spiritual atlas – a realignment like Romans 12:3:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

My frustration with others almost always flows from an overdeveloped view of myself. My needs are most important; my convenience is the priority; my opinion is the best. In a word, I view myself as godlike, and I want those I consider to be minions to cater to me. I am “drunk” with my opinion of myself.

Through the apostle Paul, God reveals such an attitude is common to mankind. The ailment is overcome only by the work of God’s grace whereby a fallen creature sees his position before a majestic God. This sobering realignment humbles, but does not humiliate, us. As Romans 12:1-2 make clear, I live by the mercies of God, set apart as a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable to him. I am everything and nothing at the same time.

This divine view of self is the lens by which I must view others. I am redeemed to serve God – the God in whose image others are made. I am a minion, called to serve those the Redeemer places in my life today. Even more encouraging is the reality that the mercy of God by which I am saved is the same mercy by which I live. In him, I am strong enough to put self aside in order to serve. Realigned by the word and work of God, I go forth with my attitude adjusted by him.

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