“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) I’ve often considered this one of Jesus’ most important teachings, and I’ve spent years trying to understand it. What does Jesus mean by life? Obviously, life for Jesus means more than physical life, the heart pumping blood through the body and the brain pulsing waves detectable by the sensors of an EEG.
The life Jesus came to give us involves more than adding years to our earthly existence. The fact that the person who reveals to us what our life can be died at age 33 indicates that living involves more than extending the timeline of our days a little further. Life in God, eternal life, involves a deepening, not merely an extending. It is a life of unending depth and meaning rather than of unending days. It involves richness, fullness, grace. The flourishing life involves knowing what it means to love and to be loved, to find a sense of meaning and satisfaction from our contribution to others, to discover purpose, connection, community, God. There are people who enjoy a vigorous physical health while missing out on abundant life altogether, just as there are people in hospice care with severely limited prospects physically and certain prognoses who nevertheless live fully, gracefully, and perhaps even joyfully.
What does abundant life mean? What does the gift of life in Christ give us? What makes for eternal life? These are questions stimulated by Jesus’ single line, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Among of the last words Jesus spoke from the cross were, “It is finished.” How you say this phrase makes all the difference. Inflection, tone, and emphasis change the meaning. Was it spoken in despair and resignation, with a tone of defeat as if all had been lost or empty or without meaning? If so, it points to death. Or was the sentence spoken with the flourish of an artist putting the final touches on a masterpiece? With this inflection, the statement speaks of completeness, fullness, richness. It points to life.
Recently I heard a mathematician speak about a profound conversation he had shared with another mathematician who had lost his adult son to an untimely death some years before. The son had died at age 27, full of life and with a beauty that filled the house whenever he was home. In their older years now, the two professors spoke about infinity and how the definitions of infinity continue to evolve in the world of higher math. One of them then made an observation which I thought was interesting, and somehow related to this notion of abundant life. He said that when he was younger, he always thought of infinity as simply adding and adding more numbers to the highest numbers you can imagine for as far as you can see and beyond. But then he discovered the infinity that sits in the space between numbers. It occurred to him that actually there is an infinity of numbers between any two numbers you can name. Between 20 and 21 or between 4 and 5, you divide infinitely or you can add decimal points forever. In other words, infinity is not just about length, but also about depth.
By the grace of God, each year we live and each day we breathe offers unfathomable meaning, love, and hope. Abundant life, the life that is given us as we follow in the way of Jesus, adds immeasurable richness and unending joy. This week, this day, this hour, this moment blesses us with more love, beauty, and meaning than we can ever receive or comprehend when we open ourselves to the depth of life in God.
Yours in Christ,