God is the Source of Life (1)
This is where prayer begins: with our admission that God is the Source of everything, the One we need, the One to whom we turn because God is the One, the Only, the All. In turning to God, we acknowledge that God alone has made us who we are, and that God alone can give us what we need in this moment. We turn - or return - to God because we recognise that God loves us with a steadfast love. From this love, God gives to us. Because of this love, God will keep faith with us. In turning - or returning - to God, we are admitting this truth, and showing that we are ready to listen, receive, appreciate what we are given, and do what we are told to do. Our admission connects us with the Source, enables the meeting, begins the conversation, facilitates the greater giving, releases the flow of God's grace.
Now, it may be that you are feeling uncomfortable. Whenever I start talking like this to a group, some people begin to fidget. Others fold their arms and sit in tense, defensive postures. Occasionally, someone will interrupt. At the next pause for questions, someone will protest. They do not like hearing me say so much about what we want. "You make us all sound so ambitious," someone told me once, "As if I'm only concerned about what I can get. Greedy and grasping. But I'm not like that. I don't want to be like that. It's not right to be selfish."
It's not right to be selfish. This is the core of the criticism. It springs from the assumption - or, I would say, the fear - that to hold a theology of abundance is to be arrogant and selfish, to allow arrogance in ourselves, and a similar self-centredness in others. And of course this is repellent, and rightly so, because selfless love and compassion is at the heart of Christian faith and ethics.
So let me be clear about this from the beginning. I do not advocate arrogance or selfishness.
But what if it is possible to hold a theology of abundance that is entirely consistent with selfless love and compassion? Further, what if we discovered how a theology of abundance generates selfless love and compassion? Why, then the pursuit of abundance would become a viable alternative to the way we think and behave at present. Indeed, it might even become a way of living that is more effective than our present life of faith. More effective, that is, in the sense that it might be more selfless and more compassionate. And if we were to find that imagining abundance is the only way of effecting a lasting, loving transformation in most contexts, why, pursuing this course would become a matter of Christian discipleship, wouldn't you say?
But I recognise, once again, that these are large claims. All I ask, at the moment, is that you accord me the benefit of the doubt and give me the opportunity to address the implications of such possibility one by one.
We want abundant life. If that is true, and if I am right in saying that this desire does not spring from an arrogant disdain for the rights of others; nor from a selfish pursuit of our own gain; but from something else, then what is it? Where else can this longing spring from? What lies at the root of it? What gives it energy, focus and direction?
The founding fathers of the United States of America, setting out the principles by which they wished to govern and be governed, regarded some truths to be self-evident, that is, truths that did not need to be proved, or truths on which there was such a general agreement (at least, amongst themselves) that no one needed to see them proved. Chief amongst such truths, they declared, were "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Now, I do not intend to prove that all people are created equal or that God has given us all certain inalienable rights. Not as such. Rather, I want to focus on the phrase "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," because I think it is reasonable to take the view that this phrase is another way of expressing what I have been describing as "abundance" or "abundant life." If so, then what the founding fathers were claiming is that we are made for abundant life. We are formed for abundant life. We are designed to live an abundant life. We were created for abundant life.
In the Hebrew tradition, this is where prayer begins: with our admission that God is the Source of everything, the One we need, the One to whom we turn because God is the One, the Only, the All. In turning to God, we acknowledge that God alone has made us who we are, and that God alone can give us what we need in this moment. We turn - or return - to God because we recognise that God loves us with a steadfast love. From this love, God gives to us. Because of this love, God will keep faith with us. In turning - or returning - to God, we are admitting this truth, and showing that we are ready to listen, receive, appreciate what we are given, and do what we are told to do. Our admission connects us with the Source, enables the meeting, begins the conversation, facilitates the greater giving, releases the flow of God's grace.
Giver of life
This is the root of Jesus' appeal, and the foundation of his claim to significance. He was not only fully alive, but able to give life. He was in touch with a spring of life, within himself and beyond himself, within others, and amongst them. He was able to allow this life to flow through him and around him without halt or hindrance. He knew how to convey it to others, and how to direct it to meet their deepest needs. He knew how to help them discover it within them. And he wanted to spread the benefit of this knowledge as far afield as he could, not just to those who needed it, but to those who needed it most; and not only in his lifetime, but beyond. It was with this purpose that he taught his followers. So that they could live as he lived. And so that they could pass on the Good News.
The ability to live life to the full despite frailty, frustration, suffering and death, is attractive and inspiring. We all tend to admire those who are able to do this. There is a sense in which this is the most noble and yet also the most humane form of humanity. We value such people as our heroes. But the ability to engender life in the face of death is an even greater power.
For if we know how to do this, then nothing can daunt us. Nothing can destroy us. We can face any situation, however desperate or destructive, and know how to bring life into it; know how to choose, how to act so that grace can enter the situation and transform it. We can turn any situation around. We can change the world.
But if we have such knowledge, we face a perilous choice. We can keep it to ourselves, using it for our own benefit - or to benefit our friends. Or we can make our knowledge freely available, putting it into the public domain so that anyone and everyone can benefit. Any time, anywhere.
The evidence suggests that Jesus took this second course. He shared his knowledge of life as freely as he shared the gift of life itself. This was the substance of his teaching. Yes, he shared with his disciples at greater depth, but it seems to have been his intention, from the very beginning, that they would help him spread this knowledge. So he taught them both how to find life and how to share it. He taught them through demonstration, through involving them in his ministry, and by entrusting them to practice the skills for themselves. He taught them strategies and he told them stories. He repeated the same material and the same actions over and over again. And he summed up his teaching in a simple but dramatic form. So that they would be able to remember it and replicate the process for themselves.
Jesus was often frustrated by their lack of progress because he did not know how long he would be around to teach them. But he kept faith with them, and taught them everything he knew about finding life, even in the most unpromising contexts, and enabling it to grow until it became enough to meet the need. His instruction was not a system or a product or a tradition but a process. A way of making the journey from death - or through death - to abundant life. A way of seeing situations. A way of thinking. A way of choosing and acting on our choices. A way of life. The Way.