Byron Smith, Assistant Minister at St George's Anglican Church in Paddington, reflects on the phrase 'eternal life' with reference to the Lord's Prayer. Explore it here.
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For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Life? Eternal life?
Life means far more than retaining a pulse. Within John’s Gospel, life is loaded with all kinds of meaning: it becomes a shorthand for the fullness of a life well lived, a life worth living, a life of filled with the love of God, a life that stands amidst the brokenness, frustration, futility, bitter resentment and disillusionment of this age and yet stays sane, retaining a grasp on the promise of something more, a life that is poured out for others, a life no longer full of itself and thus receptive to all that life has to offer: the painful and the glorious, the sweet and the agonising.
And this life is eternal life, which isn’t so much a claim about how long it will last, as it is a claim about the quality of that life, its nourishing source and character. It is a life that draws its nourishment, its fundamental orientation not from the present broken order but from the age to come, from God’s promised future, from the kingdom of peace and justice where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, where wrongs are forgiven, bread is shared, evil is resisted and good celebrated.
Eternal life means life that doesn’t take what author John Green calls world-suck as definitive, that doesn’t make its peace with oppression, that refuses to be content with systems of violence, ignorance, lies and corruption. Eternal life means living now as though God’s will might start to be done on earth through me, through us.
Because the world in which we find ourselves is one of heart-wrenching beauty shot through by awfulness and pain, a world of such delights and disappointments, such confusion and contradiction that it can be hard to embrace it and just as difficult to write it off.
And yet it is precisely this world of ambiguity, of potential apparently thwarted at almost every point, of entrenched woe and flashes of laughter that is the world that God loves.
For God so loved the world. Not the world as it was originally intended. Not the world as it might one day be. God loved the world. God loves the world, in all its messiness and compromise, all its pollution and crime, all its beauty and grime, all its pretention and quiet persistence, all its false intention and creative resistance. The world of bees and burglary, of betrayal and baklava, of vast boreal forests and microscopic bacteria, of boredom, banality and benevolence.
God so loved this world, our world, here and now. God so loved this world that God gave the most precious and only Son, the one in whom God delights, gave him over into the hands of violent men, gave him over to be ignored and mocked, gave him to become stereotyped and maligned and associated with followers of many faults, yet gave him freely – and he gave himself freely – so that life, the life of the coming age, the life of the kingdom, the life of hope, patience, joy and groaning amidst world-suck, so that that life might overflow for all those who will walk his way of the cross, who will look to a condemned innocent man for leadership, for guidance, for solace, for challenging questions and for how to live when they don’t have answers.
Will we believe, trust, accept the free gift, walk with Jesus, join with him in not condemning the world, but embracing it with God’s love? Will we live?