“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
If we are going to get our heads round what Giving for Life means for us, and let our hearts be touched by it, we need to start not with ourselves but with God. There is no big sell here, no set of rules or handbook to follow. What there is is God, God whose very DNA is giving, self-giving, sacrificial giving, of the utmost generosity – and all done in pure and unconditional love, placing the gifts in our hands and giving us full freedom to decide how to respond.
Of course his heart burns with the hope that we will discover ourselves as his children, him as our Father, and suddenly burn ourselves with the desire to express that same family likeness of generous unconditional love. Since my father died I have become much more interested in understanding my own human family history, wondering how characteristics have been passed down the gene line. So often when we are younger we take it all forgranted, or even rebel: and then comes a homecoming. The story of the Prodigal Son speaks to us: and was told by Jesus because it speaks to us too of our homecoming to God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Those famous words from the beginning of St John’s Gospel remind us of how the whole of the cosmos is the creation of our one good God. Everything – and think how amazing we now know that to be – everything is given by him as gift, made good, and given its freedom both through natural processes and the human will to keep on making.
But also to keep on making it good – and there’s the rub. It was made good – but doesn’t always stay good. The very gift of freedom and unfettered possibility means that in the natural world what can evolve does evolve, the good, the bad and the ugly. That in the physical world forces have effects that are indifferent to the wellbeing of what they affect. And that our choices too are often far from good and often downright damaging to nature and humanity alike.
I want to dare to say that God must have known all this when he said “Let there be light”. In our own minuscule way we make the same choice. When we choose to have children in particular we too, if we stop to think, realise that they will be born into a most uncertain world and will not escape its effects. But in our love for them we say they are worth it, better that they should be with all that they will face than that they should not, and in our love for them for we also say that we will stay by them all the way.
So too with God. He chooses in love that we should be. He knows that we will be not only his children but children of the Fall. And he is willing to go the whole way to stay by us and rescue us back to him. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” In the moment the world was made, God must also have known the price he would have to pay for its purpose of love. This was Love’s endeavour, and this was Love’e expense.
O generous love! that he who smote
in man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo.
So we see the same DNA of self-giving love that defines our generous God in both his work of Creation and and his work of Redemption. No surprise then if we also see it in the work of his Spirit. As we follow the work of the Spirit through the stories of the Old Testament we see that though moving over the face of the waters of all creation and being breathed into all flesh, nevertheless after the fall the Spirit’s gifts are sporadic – prophets and kings, judges and craftworkers – but there in the prophecy is also the memory that the Spirit’s gift and gifts were for all and will be for all. Joel looks into the prophetic future and hears God say, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
And then follow the presence of the Spirit as the New Testament begins – especially in Luke – and see how this all starts to come true. John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth, shepherds, Simeon, Anna, Jesus himself… Right through the Gospels and Acts we see a new democratisation of the Spirit, a Pentecost, and gifts begin to be given – not as wilful presents but so that God’s good purpose could be fulfilled, making us the members of the body of Christ truly more like Christ, stamped with his character, growing into the fulness of his likeness, equipped for his service. As the letter to the Ephesians puts it, “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people… that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Ours is the God who cannot stop giving, extravagantly so that everything that can be will be, as it seems; expensively, for it will cost him his very life; expansively for the gifts are to be for all. In the words of the poet John Oxenham:
Love ever gives, forgives, outlives,
And ever stands with open hands
And while it lives it gives:
For this is love’s prerogative –
To give and give and give.
In the time of quiet that follows now, can you let your eyes and your inner eyes too stand open to see afresh the amazing gifts of our generous God?
Word document of all four talks: http://wp.me/aoSLL-3oT