LIFE: What is life?
I make no pretence to be a scientist. Gave up on science when I realised I would have to learn the periodic table, and that there was no system to help me!
Wikipedia gives one definition of life: "A characteristic of self-organizing, self-recycling systems consisting of populations of replicators that are capable of mutation, around most of which homeostatic, metabolizing organisms evolve".
Is that all? I heard on Friday of a 12 year old boy who has just become a father with a 15 year old girl. Is the life that has been produced simply the product of unprotected sex or is it something more? And if it is nothing more, what right does that particular baby, that bundle of cells which sleeps, eats and cries have to exist? And if it ceases to exist, so what? We do not grieve a leaf that falls from a tree, and yet the biological process that worked within the leaf – of cells separating and reproducing - is exactly the same process that grew the baby within the womb of the 15 year old.
Dawkins, our favourite atheist, argues that there is no purpose in life. It is just one of those things that has emerged. It once was not; while it is, it is about the reproduction and survival of individual DNA; and one day it will not be. As Ernst Hemingway once said, 'Life is nothing more than a dirty trick. A short trip from nothingness to nothingness'
And yet I suspect that there is a voice in each of us which rebels against that. If evolutionary processes are the only and the final answer to the existence of life and of human beings, we need to ask ourselves why evolution has produced a creature that is able to ask, 'Why do I exist?' and which feels that it has in some way responsibility for all the other creatures?
John's gospel uses two words for life: psuxe – physical life, literally: the breath of life, and zoe – eternal life, life in all its abundance. I guess it is the difference between life, existing and real life.
We are invited to come into the same relationship with God that Jesus Christ had. Although he has always been with God, and there has never been a time when he has not been, He called God Father. He is the 'One and Only Son of God'.
The writer to the Hebrews states (Hebrews 11:3), 'By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible'. We call it creation ex-nihilo, 'creation out of nothing'.
There will be a great deal about Darwin and the theory of evolution this year. Did any of you see the Attenborough programme on Darwin? It was brilliant. It is very hard to argue against that sort of evidence. But throughout the programme, Attenborough argued or implied that if Darwin is right, God does not exist.
I simply cannot buy that argument. Even if Darwin is right in everything, and we all come from a pre-historic protoplasm that lived in the sea – where did it all come from in the first place? Why do cells divide? Why do cells change and mutate? Why don't they break down instead of becoming more complex?
As I said, I make no pretence to be a scientist. But I do know that if I have a particular scientific theory of why the world is as it is now, of the scientific processes that are in the world, it does not exclude God. Even if the theory of an infinite number of parallel universes could be proved, it would not exclude God. God is big enough to work through any process we can possibly conceive
I am a creationist. Not in the sense that I believe in a 6 day 24 hour creation: I don't, and I am not persuaded that the bible asks us to do that. But I am a creationist because I believe that this world is a creation. It has been created. It has been – and continues to be shaped – by a creator, who gives life.
Physically we are most alive when we give or preserve human physical life – even if it means sacrificing our own physical life. That is why so many people find that life without love is meaningless: and by love I do not mean that self-centred seeking for an experience to solve all my problems, but the willingness to lay down my happiness, my comfort, my life for another. To love really is to live. To give really is to live.
Spiritually we are most alive, when we present or preserve real life. Actually only God can give zoe, real eternal life, but we can pray for people; and like John the Baptist we can be a witness to this life, and we can share with others this amazing offer that Jesus gives: 'that to all who receive him, he gives to us the right to become children of God'.
Charles Spurgeon said, "Even if I were utterly selfish and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose, if God allowed, to be a soul winner, for never did I know perfect, overflowing, unutterable happiness of the purest and most ennobling order till I first heard of one who had sought and found a Saviour through my means."
And I think it was CT Studd, who chose to give away his entire inheritance (and he inherited the family estate which was pretty significant) and who went as a missionary to China with CIM, who said: 'For sheer enjoyment and pure self-indulgence, give me soul winning any day'.
And we can and indeed are called to nurture each other in the faith. That is what two thirds of the New Testament is about: Paul, John and Peter urging the Christians to support each other in their Christian faith, to encourage each other, to build each other up, and to grow in faith and in understanding and in love. The church really is called to be the community of the living, of the really alive.
When Jesus came into the world he was the light. He made clear the truth about God, about life, about living, about our human situation and the human heart, about God's laws and the purpose God has for us and for this universe.
When we live the life, there will be no darkness in us: We are called to be transparent - to be onions and not oranges. When you take off the orange peel, you get something very different inside. When you peel an onion, you get onion. Of course, we – unlike Jesus - are sinful and mixed up. We are full of doubts, fears and inadequacies. I'm not suggesting that we wear our hearts on our sleeves at all times – but I am suggesting that we need to be honest with God, with each other and with ourselves. It's not the fact that we mess up that is the problem. We all mess up. It is the fact that we mess up and then cover up. We pretend to ourselves or to others that we are OK. I was told that John Stott, having been publicly praised before he spoke, replied by saying: 'If you could see into my heart, you would spit in my face'.
We are called to do the things of the light: to put away the deeds of darkness. There is no place for lying or cheating, for using or abusing people. There is no place for pride or envy or self-centredness. There is no place for greed or lust – which wishes to seize other things or other people for myself, to satisfy my desire.
But before we all go off and tell each other a few straight home truths – may I remind us that we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). That means I look at others as God looks at them. I look at others in the light of the truth that they are beloved by God, that God desires for us to become his and to grow as his children. And we need to treat people as adults, especially in our society today – not simply standing above them and telling them that they are wrong (it just doesn't work) - but standing alongside them, asking them questions, getting them to think.
The reason that the bible gives is very simple. It is the same reason that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. It is the same reason that the people of Israel rebelled against God. It is the same reason why we choose to silence God.
Real life takes hold of ordinary life, physical life, grips it and transforms it into glorious life. That glory was seen in the life of Jesus Christ on earth. It was seen in his grace and his truth; it was seen in his relationship with his Father; it was seen in his love for men and women; it was seen in his works of power; it was seen in the cross and resurrection.