In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
While psalms, histories, and other biblical texts have much to teach us about spending time with God, no Christian can truly dwell in relationship with God apart from their relationship with Immanuel, God with us. “All who seek God without Jesus Christ,” wrote the great French mathematician Blaise Pascal, “either find no light to satisfy them, or come to form for themselves a means of knowing God and serving Him without a mediator.”
Today’s recommended nine verses end with the Word “coming into the world,” not yet become flesh and living among us (v. 14), making God known by teaching and healing (v. 18). But already we see a key theme that runs through the Gospel of John: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (vv 3-4).
When better to contemplate the gift of life than now? For the sake of preserving life, most of us are radically changing how we live, and with whom. In our darkest moments — when we worry about multiple waves of deadly disease, and fret over the effects on the larger economy (or our particular sector of it) — we don’t just fear the loss of life, we fear that the nature of life will be different.
Don’t take me wrong. I’m willing to change the way I live to save other lives, and yet I have significant concerns about what all of this means for my life, for the lives of my loved ones. But the Gospel of John calls us to contemplate a deeper understanding of life, a word that appears dozens of times in the chapters and verses that follow John’s opening hymn. For example:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (3:16)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (8:12)
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10:10)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)
Life is the very purpose of this gospel, whose author collected these stories from among many others “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
This is the “life alive, growing, and overflowing in the abounding grace of God’s Spirit and Word” that Mark Pattie wrote about in our book together. This is the “dynamic, pulsating, with-God life” described in the introduction to the Bible I’ve been reading for this series. And I pray that I’ll have that life all the more abundantly as I more consciously spend time in study and prayer, on what Mark called the “journey inward” as we walk with Jesus.
But I’m also conscious of how hard it is right now to take the “journey outward.” Of all the ways that living in the midst of this pandemic does keep us from sharing this overflowing, dynamic life: with our sisters and brothers in the church, whose public gatherings are still suspended, and with those who do not yet know Jesus Christ. “Because the life of the Word is the light for all people,” writes Marva Dawn in today’s commentary, “we are spurred to witness. We long for everyone to know the One True Light’s genuine life.”
Perhaps we can do that remotely. (Perhaps someone is reading this and encountering the One True Light for the first time.) But even as I pray that this time of isolation will bring me deeper into my own relationship with God, I long for the day when we can again share the with-God life as Jesus did — in the flesh, among each other.
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