Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Word is Life

During my Introduction to the New Testament course a few summers ago at Fuller, I learned a very interesting and useful method of bible study. As I would read through a book of the New Testament, I was required to make note of a number of different things: things I could discern about the author, about the audience, etc. Among other things, I was told to write down titles and descriptions that the author gives of Jesus. This is especially useful for constructing a "portrait" of Jesus according to some particular biblical author.

John calls Jesus Life at the beginning of his first epistle:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- this life was reveled, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us (1 John 1.1-2).

There are a number of fascinating and profound titles for Jesus in John's epistle, and this is one of the best ones. Jesus Christ is called Life and the Eternal Life. In other words, he is the source of life itself, and the gospel, the word about Jesus, is a word about life. This is very profound, because we are often too prone to connect (in our minds) Jesus and death -- but not his death; rather our own. We think of Jesus as condemning us, as giving us a number of rules to follow which we hate, as not understanding us, as being ashamed of us, etc. These are not adequate descriptions of Jesus at all.

On the contrary, Jesus Christ is Life and what he gives us is Life. He says: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they [i.e., his sheep] may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10.10). Jesus comes to give us true life and not to kill us; he says elsewhere: I came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12.47).

Hans Urs von Balthasar makes this point as well in his Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"?  But what about the reality of judgment? If Jesus is only Life, only gives Life, how is it that some die? Here von Balthasar quotes from Joseph Ratzinger:

In this connection, J. Ratzinger speaks of a "final purification of Christology and the concept of God: Christ allocates ruin to no one; he himself is pure salvation, and whoever stands by him stands in the sphere of salvation and grace. The calamity is not imposed by him but exists wherever man has remained distant from him; it arises through continuing to abide with oneself" (p. 69).

If there is disaster, it is self-imposed out of a rejection of the salvation offered in Christ. For Ratzinger and von Balthasar, it would seem this is a refinement of Christological doctrine.

What does this mean for us, then? If anything, it means that we should always come to Jesus for Life when we are suffering the symptoms of death. We ought not allow shame and guilt to stand in the way, because he can take care of these things too: If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteosness (1 John 1.9). And he gladly receives anyone who comes to him, without ever rejecting, because his desire is always our life and salvation: anyone who comes to me I will never drive away (John 6.37).

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