I wonder if your family is like mine? When we get together we like to play games. Games like Scrabble are taken very seriously. The competition is fierce and the respect usually given to senior members of the family is put aside before the game begins. Other games like charades are simply hilarious and very noisy, though that could be a definition of normal in my family.
It strikes me that things like charades, where no words are possible, can be very helpful in conveying big ideas. In this issue of Ruminations, we are talking about life. Most of us, I suspect have a biological view of the meaning of this word. In a strange way life is seen as the absence of death, but that is not its meaning theologically speaking.
Before we start speaking theologically here’s a challenge. Ask someone, without speaking, to show you the meaning of the word alive or lively. You can throw in death if you like, but my guess is that death will be easy to pick – easier than life or liveliness anyway, and not half as much fun.
In God talk life is not about biology. When the Biblical writers speak about life what they are talking about is relationship with God and the word that most describes that life is vitality or liveliness. Was your charade helpful? Were the actions full of energy and vigour? I hope so, because that’s the image I want to convey when speaking about our relationship with God. It brings vitality.
In Genesis 1, the first act of creation is to make visible the light the doxa, the glory of God and then what follows describes what happens when God is present – things are separated and given their own place and purpose within that relationship.
Genesis 2 is even more specific – something of God’s own self is given in relationship. Humans are as lifeless as clay until God-breathed. Life is carried on the breath of God. I have not found anything better to show this than Michelangelo’s painting. God arrives with power, reaches out to the listless human and life, vitality, is given.
Skipping forward to the gospel of Jesus according to John, we can see these same life-giving characteristic in Jesus. John invites us to see that the life, the liveliness, the vitality that comes to us from relationship with God now comes to us through Jesus. All of the gospels give the assurance that vitality, liveliness, comes to us in Jesus and in lives lived, as he lived – for the sake of others, for the good and the well-being of others.
In the same sense death, in big picture Biblical terms describes what it is to be out of relationship with God – heaven and hell, if you will. Again images may speak louder and more vividly than words. Let me recommend a film called “What Dreams May Come” where the saving grace of love is explored and the images of heaven and hell are vivid.
This vivacity, this vitality, this liveliness then is the measure we can use to assess our common life. It should be our aim. This is what we gifted with and called to be.