By Greg Jones
With the birth of our third girl this month, surprisingly early, we were able to experience the miracle of life at close hand again. We believe that the birth of a child is testimony to the Glory of God and a sign of God’s marvelous handiwork in creation.
Seeing the hand of God in nature is hardly some new-fangled thing of course. John Calvin said that there is “by natural instinct, a sense of divinity.” Indeed, Scripture itself proclaims that God may be perceived in nature. As the Psalmist says, “the heavens are telling the glory of God.” Paul writes: “Since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”
Life itself is a wondrous thing of course, and you don’t even need to believe in God to agree. Popular author Richard Dawkins – a convinced atheist – upholds biology as the most complex and fascinating of all sciences. Before Dawkins, George Gaylord Simpson, the famous paleontologist and evolutionary scientist, argued that biology alone “stands at the center of all science, and it is here, in the field where all principles of all the sciences are embodied, that science can truly become unified.” Simpson recognized, studied and reveled in the majesty of life in all its diversity – yet he didn’t believe in God.
For Christians who believe in a particular story (that God is creator of all things visible and invisible who loves His Creation and especially His children – and who has become one with Creation through the incarnation – and who has faced all we face as mortal beings – and who has defeated death in resurrection) we must careful. For seeing God in nature is fine – but seeing nature as God is not.
Consider the Easter ‘holiday’ as it now exists in the English speaking world. Like Christmas, Easter has taken on a number of symbols which have a lot to do with fertility and nature – but not necessarily anything to do with God in Christ. The word Easter – first of all – derives from the name of a pagan goddess associated with the rising of the sun. In ancient Britain, the pre-Christian folks of Northumbria venerated this goddess (‘Eastre’) at the vernal equinox.
Yes, life is important – supremely so – whether one believes in Jesus Christ or not. For those of us who do, it is even more important that we make sure not to see life as the same as God or in the place of God. For those of us who believe, life is not God, but rather the gift of God. Life is not in the place of God, but is rather the place where God pours out his love most fully and completely. Life is not to be worshipped, but rather God who gives life is to be worshipped and adored.
In the Fourth Gospel ‘life’ is central to the Johannine vocabulary. More than any other book in the New Testament, John talks about ‘life’. And it takes on a double meaning. The word ‘life’ means not only life as you and I normally speak of it. It refers to the indwelling presence of God in the universe – it refers to the presence of the living God in our midst – it refers to the fact that God is not the same as us, but God is with us, and in us, and around us. It refers not only to biological life – as amazing as that is – but also to eternal, spiritual, divine life. Quite plainly, it refers to Resurrection life – the life which includes but goes beyond fleshly life – and extends eternally in full communion with the God of all. Interestingly enough, the Greek word for resurrection does not appear in John’s gospel very much. But, in its place, the Greek word for ‘life’ appears many times as a synonym for resurrection.
What I’m saying – what I’ve learned from John – is that Easter is not just about the miracle of natural life. It is not really about Spring, and fertility, and eggs, and hatchlings, and sweet little babies. No, it is about those things, and infinitely more. Easter – or Christian Passover – or the Feast of the Resurrection – is about the kind of new life that only Jesus Christ can offer. It is about resurrection life – eternal life – life beyond biology and its undeniable but limited majesty.
This Easter season – remember – that Christ died for you, and rose from the dead, and took on the fullest possible kind of life in his resurrection. It is that kind of life that you and I are called to share, and have begun to share, for when we died with Him in our baptism, we have been given that kind of life to put on – from now on and forever.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) became a member of Christ’s Body at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C.. He was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004), he blogs at fatherjones.com.