I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (KJV)
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)
I came, that they have life, and have more plenteously. (Wycliffe)
Ego veni ut vitam habeant et abundantius habeant. (Vulgate)
Christ delivered this teaching to the disciples and Pharisees in the last months of his life, recorded in the Gospel of John directed to the disciples familiar with the introductory teachings of the Church already. As Jesus built his ministry to the crescendo of Gethsemane and Golgotha, he continually reaffirmed the cosmic significance of the doctrines he taught–and doctrine is too weak a word. This is the symbolic end of every lamb on every Levitical altar and the real end of the real Lamb on the Golgothan altar.
What is it to have life and to have it more abundantly?
Death is separation, whether from God, from others, or from ultimately one’s own potential. Freedom from death is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, freedom to have no elements of death in your life–but freedom is burdened by choice.
I wonder what it was like in that moment in our early childhood when we first understood death. At some point, we all experience the icy realization that I, too, will die. Yet we have been taught continually to not fear death, but accept it as part of our natural mortality, a return to a spiritual plane. Finitude, the Heideggerian certainty of impending end, should not be a challenge to the believing Christian with more than a casual faith–there is no impending end, except to progress and glory, should we allow sin in. The universal gift is, of course, the Resurrection, but that only covers part of the question of death.
The first spiritual death, separation from God, is possibly the most fundamental neurosis we can have, and I believe that recognition of this death, whether overtly religious or atheistic, is what led to the modern notions of alienation and existentialism. God is separate from us by an infinite qualitative distinction (Kierkegaard’s phrase), a complete difference of kind and degree, and the separation is an unbridgeable gap by finite means. Thus, an infinite Atonement (Alma 34:10) was necessary and sufficient to reconcile that divide–that this corruption might put on incorruption (2 Nephi 9:7).
Alienation from each other is another great divide of human existence, and our common lot. Condemned, as Kierkegaard said, to know others only in potential, we struggle through miscommunication and mistrust, largely products of our own selfishness, to construct our fragile relationships. But the Atonement, literally (Tyndale’s word) at-one-ment, is to bring us all of one heart and one mind, Zion, to seal us together in love and charity. The division and argument common to us are elements of spiritual death, and preclude us from living life more abundantly. Christ taught a higher way, and through continual application of the Atonement we can approximate it better and better over the years of personal striving.
We all look in the mirror and see someone who is less than what we would have them be. Life more abundantly certainly precludes any sense of failure or inadequacy (beyond humility–but that’s another topic). And yet we so often insist on maintaining the elements of death, physical and spiritual, in our lives. Why? What hammer drives the relentless march of our own self-destruction, whether from cigarettes, pornography, or just momentum in inactivity? In some ways, I feel that this is the most difficult part of death to approach, not because it is somehow deeper than the others, but because it is the one we face every moment of every day. Our own inadequacy confronts us at every turn; we can throw up walls of pride to hold it apart, but it is still there, leering at us through windows and mirrors.
In Sartrean existentialism, bad faith, or inauthenticity to one’s own self, reveals an answer to this problem. Although I won’t here discuss one’s own self (which I take to mean that self God desires us to be and sees in us), I will examine inauthenticity. The individual insists that external circumstances (poverty, athleticism, social standing, education) dictate the terms of his or her existence, thus denying the personal freedom to change. We pretend that the possibilities of existence, good and bad, are closed to us, with one or two overriding exceptions (normally continuing in the same vein in which we already are). Alternatively, we use internal or social definitions of self (labels such as Christian, stubborn, sloppy, or liberal) to dictate our response, choosing to act according to the archetype of the label rather than to act authentically to one’s own desires. In the case of Christian, Muslim, or Latter-day Saint, this choice may be considered virtuous; in many, many other cases, the choice is self-limiting and enclosing, perpetuating the elements of death rather than purging them.
Yet recognition of this problem is not solution: it takes more than “hard work”, concentration, or even redemption to become more than what we were. It takes the rest of the Atonement, quickening and exaltation, beyond “re”-anything.
Jesus Christ came to free us from death, to life more abundant. The truest, deepest fear of the believer, the one with a more-than-casual faith, is not death but damnation–the complete, unequivocal, eternal cessation of progress. A more complicated aspect of death and life-more-abundant is Paul’s reminder that we must pass through death to approach life, crucifying the old man of sin (Romans 6:6); but that is a discussion for another time.
God’s life, eternal life, the infinitely qualitatively distinct life, is a life free from death, a life in which all gifts are life to the degree we will let Him bestow it. He took it upon Himself in order to free us from it, and invites us continually to leave it behind–to become, rather than merely be, a son or daughter of God.