Does God want us to have lives filled with good things? It was a question at dinner the other night. I think the answer is yes. Scripture, from one end to the other, expresses nothing so much as God’s desire that his people’s lives be filled with abundance and joy. God, it seems, is disappointed, sometimes angrily disappointed, when we do the very things that lead the other way. In spite of it, God’s enduring promise is always that no matter how badly we mess it up, there will come a time when God will see every promise fulfilled. To which God adds that we could try a little harder not to make it so hard on ourselves. It brings me to Pelagius, of whom I have written before. He was a third century monk who argued that, as revealed in scripture, God has laid out fairly simple rules for living now into the abundance of life God would have for us, and we are capable of doing it. That we don’t is no excuse. We are capable. To over simplify, he was accused of heresy on the grounds that he was displacing the salvific work of Christ by claiming we could do it ourselves.
Did he? I’m sure a Pelagian scholar could answer that. I can’t. What I can say is that he wasn’t all wrong. However fallen we are, even to the utter depravity of extreme Calvinists, there remains God’s word as revealed in scripture that calls us to a way of life that leads to fullness of life. Love God. Love your neighbor, whether an enemy or just an ordinary ass. Love yourself. Love each other as Christ loves you. Nourish, clothe, heal, forgive, reconcile those you encounter in need of nourishment, clothing, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Let your yes be yes and no be no. Don’t be haughty but make friends with low and high alike. Give generously. Deescalate violence. Strive for justice and righteousness. You know the rest. Do these things, and you will find life in abundance. Pelagius was right, you can do them. They are not beyond your ability. If you want a life of joyful abundance, this is how to get it. Paul, even. in prison awaiting his execution, proclaimed the fullness of life that was his in Christ. It was a fullness he would not trade for anything, a fullness prison and execution could not take away.
Is that just a pile of sentimental religious platitudes? Many think so. They know abundance of life means wealth, health, and good times. Nothing in God’s promises of abundant life promises those things. Is there another way? There must be. History and scholars say there isn’t. Wealth may cone, not because it’s deserved, but because the various changes and chances of life fall that way. Ambition, hard work and perseverance help, but there are many ambitious, hard working, persevering folk for whom wealth never comes. If it comes, be grateful to have it. Enjoy it as a faithful steward knowing that an account must one day be given, But don’t count on it to bring fullness of life. It doesn’t, nor can it. Health is an even greater matter of chance aided by the accident of birth at the right time, in the right place, to the right family. We can do what we can to stay healthy, and a healthy life is a more enjoyable life, but as some wag put it, good health is just the slowest way to die. Good times? They come and go, they never stay, and it turns out that the best of good times is the fruit of loving relationships with others, not the adrenalin rush of the moment.
A healthy relationship with life is to become, in my words, a semi-Pelagian. It’s the way to experience more of the fullness of life God would have us enjoy. I suspect we get nervous about trying because the Church got carried away years ago with heretical talk about acts of supererogation by which one could build up brownie points in heaven to be cashed in at a later time. That excess was met with the equally excessive counter charge that our utter depravity deprived us of any ability to ever do anything that would be good or pleasing in God’s sight. Sinners held in the hand of an angry God. Both are wrong.
The prophet proclaimed, “”Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”” (Debut. 30.11ff).
Jesus confirmed, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-and great was its fall!” (Matt. 7.24ff)
The promise of life in abundance is ours to grasp now, perhaps not completely, but in good measure. It is never a promise that excludes rain, floods and winds, but it is a promise that rains, floods and winds cannot destroy abundance of life. What is it we have to do? “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micha 6.9). Is that so hard?
So here’s to life in abundance, and here’s to old Pelagius who said we can have it if we are willing to walk in God’s ways. Have fun. Enjoy. Do good.