If you want a challenge, try defining the word life – without, of course, using the words live, living, or alive.
My husband sometimes tells about a teacher he had who told the class that fire was alive. After all, she pointed out, fire consumes fuel (eating), it grows, it moves, and it even reproduces (when one fire turns into multiple fires). Since they weren’t convinced, she challenged them to come up with a good explanation why she was wrong. I have to admit, I’d have trouble myself knowing quite how to go about forming the argument to refute her.
In case you’re having trouble coming up with a good definition of life, be assured that you are not alone. This article explains how difficult it is to formulate an adequate definition. If life is defined as something that can reproduce itself, sterile animals such as mules would not be considered living. If it is defined as a system that takes in energy to create order locally, crystals might be considered alive. And if it is defined as that which consumes energy to grow, move, or reproduce, fire could be considered living, as my husband’s teacher suggested.
Of course, that’s just trying to define biological life. God gives us not only physical life but also spiritual life. Any ideas on how to define that?
Both kinds of life are a lot easier to describe, or give examples of, than to define. And that’s fine – I’d rather spend my time and energy living than figuring out how to define what it is I’m doing. And the kind of life I’d like to be living is the kind described by Jesus as “abundant life.” I’m afraid my life often doesn’t seem very abundant – unless you count the stacks of dishes and clothes waiting to be washed.
Both Christians and non-Christians often identify the goal of the Christian faith as eternal life, by which they mean going to Heaven when we die. If by goal we mean “end point,” I suppose that’s accurate enough, since that is where we will end up – although the word “end” doesn’t seem quite appropriate when we’re talking about unending life.
But the focus really should be on life, more than on our destination after death. The life that God intends, that He wants to give us, is a particular quality of life that is holy, joy-filled, and not limited to the physical bodies we have right now. If we have that kind of life now, then of course we’ll still have it later, when these bodies have ceased to function.
My favorite Bible verses have long been John 11:25-26. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As a new Christian, I learned a song based on those words from a college friend of my sister. I probably don’t remember the song accurately, as I’ve never heard it again anywhere else. But I still sing it to myself as best as I can remember it, particularly in times when life seems empty or filled with problems I don’t know how to deal with.
If it were up to me to figure out how to live this abundant life, I’d be in big trouble. But this life isn’t given to us like a Christmas present, wrapped up with a sheet of instructions included, leaving us to figure out how in the world to assemble the thing. It’s given only one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, and the instructions come with a Helper to guide and encourage when the pieces just don’t seem to go together.
At least that’s what I’ve been taught, and what I believe in my head. Personally I seem to have a great deal of trouble figuring out how to hear the Helper’s voice. So I find it reassuring to know that He really does want me to have this abundant life, both now and forever, and He’s not giving up on me no matter how slow a learner I am.
This evening our pastor preached on obeying God because we belong to Him. I only caught the last part of the sermon, because I had been helping teach the K/1 class (which, as it happened, was about obeying God, using King Josiah as an example). Whatever God is telling us to do, the pastor said, “Just do it!” He read Ephesian 4:25-32, adding that these were not suggestions, they were commands from our Lord, which means that He is our Master.
I don’t really know what command in there He might be trying to get me to hear and do. But I do know that one good command to obey at any time is to praise Him. And this verse I found in Nehemiah, addressed to our Life-giving Lord, is a pretty good way to do it.
You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Nehemiah 9:6)