After a lifetime in church in high school I began to have doubts regarding the faith. A short time after school I left it all behind.
Of course, I wandered down many paths, most of which I will never admit to my children. About ten years ago or so I sobered up and began thinking seriously about life, faith etc. You know all the big questions.
In the course of my ruminations I began listening to that insipid top-40 Christian music all the time and began reading the Gospel of John. Most days I would read through the entire Gospel. Some days just a small portion would get read but I did all of my Bible reading from the Gospel of John.
One day John 10:10 jumped out at me, grabbed me and would not leave me alone for neither love nor money:
The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
The part that really stood out was the clause “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”
For weeks I could not get this verse out of my head. Every time I read John I would get hung up at this verse trying to decipher it. What was an abundant life? How is modern Christianity an abundant life? Is this abundance something spiritual or something physical? Questions like these hounded me for weeks back then and to tell the truth they still hound me today.
A lot, maybe even most, people view religion as a set of rules to follow. Do this and don’t do that and God will love you and bless you with salvation. Christian author CS Lewis once said something to the effect of ‘if you want to know how evil you are try to be good.’ The old Mosaic law is only there to show us that we can never live up to God’s perfection. We can do nothing to earn God’s salvation.
Let me put that in the vernacular- you can’t do squat to earn God’s favour! Not one blessed thing! The Bible says that even our best works are as filthy rags to God. Even Paul said that he wanted to do good but couldn’t do anything good. How is a person like me going to get any good done when Paul himself couldn’t?
Trying to follow a bunch of holy sounding rules is not an abundant life. It is impossible and leads to frustration and depression. Besides, as I am fond of pointing out, Jesus only gave us five commandments- Love God, love others, love yourself, follow me and go teach others the same. Jesus made the burden light and the yoke easy! WOOHOO!
My questions did not abate on John 10:10. I began to wonder if the abundant life was the prosperity gospel and self-absorbed religion of the evangelicals. All 12 of the disciples of Christ died horrifying and tragic deaths. The Apostle Paul died a martyrs death. Christians have been hunted down and killed in many countries throughout history. Some of the most God-like people I have ever met have died due to cancer or some other lingering illness. Some other spiritual giants I know live in grinding and degrading poverty in places all over the world.
God never promised to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. Only a fat, indolent and self-absorbed church would ever come up with such a silly “doctrine.” He promised to be there with us through times good and bad, but becoming a Christian is not a ticket to a big bank account or a healthy body.
Many of today’s “preachers” are little more than life coaches and self-help gurus. I am not saying that they are necessarily wrong but they, like following holy sounding rules, do give people false hopes and false expectations. This, in turn, leads to frustration and depression.
Jesus promised us an abundant life.
Over the course of the last ten or so years, I have come to understand that God is sovereign, not me. There is a catchy little Christian song that says “God is in control,” and we sing it all happy-like but I wonder if we understand it all. God is in control of everything. God is even in control of what we think that we are not allowing God to control. God made the whole show. God created the planet and set it in motion. God made the world so that the sun would rise everyday. God made the lion to hunt the gnu and God made the rabbit to mate. God made the cat lying at my feet lazy. They all just follow their programming.
While I do struggle with the concept of man’s free moral agency, doesn’t it stand to reason that God made us the same way? Does it not also stand that God wired us up to act and react in certain ways to certain stimuli?
Maybe the abundant life is learning to rest in the sufficiency of God, to realise that God made people the way they are and we don’t need to “save them” by chastising them every time they do something wrong. Maybe the abundant life is accepting these people for who and what they are and loving them anyway. Maybe it’s realising that we don’t need to preach some arcane and probably erroneous doctrine but rather to care about other people.
In a world of darkness, frustration and depression maybe the abundant life is simply living life, the God wired us up to live. The one without the heavy yoke of religiousity and doing good all the time.
Let me leave you with one last thought today. Phillipians 2:13 says:
for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.
Any good that comes from “you” actually comes from God working through you. The fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5 are not rules for us to follow but rather a way for us to see when God is working through us. We can rest easy, knowing that Jesus said:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
An abundant life is waiting.