It seems to me that the notion of some choices being ‘life-giving’ and others being the opposite is pretty well established in our secular context. I have heard the expression used in relation to lifestyle choices concerning such aspects as diet, recreation, vocation and voluntary service towards others. Sometimes actions can be described as life-giving in the most literal sense, as when someone is rescued or revived from an accident of some description, or helped to turn back from a path of self-destruction. Here, we do well to remember that many people have been robbed of all that is life-giving by the abusive actions of others towards them. In such circumstances, it may be something as simple as the unconditional acceptance by another that is life-giving.
Through the gift of faith, and the guidance of scripture, we can learn much about the Christian understanding of what is life-giving. What we find there is striking affirmation of these understandings that are widespread in the secular context. It is as if, as human beings, we are hard-wired to know what is good. The difference is, of course, that in the Christian understanding the source of life is God and that which is life-giving is that which accords with the kind of life that God intends for us. We find this spelled out in the book of Deuteronomy as Moses speaks with the Hebrew people about how God expects them to live when they enter the Promised Land. “Choose life”, he concludes, “so that you and your descendants may live ….” (Deuteronomy 30: 19b)
Jesus had much to say about what is life-giving and we find this fully dealt with in the Gospel According to St John. In that well-known passage right at the beginning of John, about the Word, we find a less often quoted sentence: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:3b-4)
In quotations and images John repeatedly emphasises that the source of life is to be found in Jesus and in living as he has taught. Indeed, this is the very purpose of the Incarnation: “… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)
Yet it seems we have other hard-wiring that renders us prone to choose otherwise: “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20b)
Perhaps it helps to return to the story of the young man who asked Jesus: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16b) He finds that it is in fact a whole lifestyle change, and leaves grieving. But note the expression ‘eternal life’. This is much more than the concept of ‘life after death’. Eternal life is the life of the aeons, always has been, is and always will be. It is the very life of God. It is portrayed dynamically in Revelation as “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” (Revelation 22:1b-2)
So, what is life-giving? To immerse our life in the flowing life of this river!
Rev Ken Williams, acting moderator of the Uniting Church in WA