These last few months have been difficult for so many people at so many different levels. Our conversations invariably turn to cancelled events from the spring, something we had hoped to do this summer but can’t, and plans we may have had for the fall that are now in doubt. This week I was supposed to be at Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast, where we’ve met with family and friends every summer for literally decades – not that the realities of pandemic life hadn’t impacted my life since March, but the sense of loss seemed more acute this week. The restrictions on in-person gatherings, businesses that are closed then open then closed again – all of these are reminders of how different 2020 is turning out to be. And in one form or another, most of us have begun to view 2020 as being a year to be written off, a year that has been lost, a year where we have been deprived of life as usual. It seems like 2021 can’t get here quickly enough.
All of which makes Jesus’ words as recorded by John all the more jarring:
“The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB)
Surely Jesus must not have foreseen pandemic life in 2020. Abundantly?! J.B. Phillips renders it as, “I came to bring them life, and far more life than before;” Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” Are we certain that there isn’t a marginal note indicating that some early manuscripts included “but not until there’s a safe and effective vaccine or a therapeutic”?
No, there seems to be no exceptions, no parenthetical notes in Jesus’ statement, so I’m left to question, why is it that life seems anything but abundant right now? I could at least reconcile things more easily if John 10:10 ended before that last phrase and only said, “I came that they might have life.” That way, I could muster up my flesh, grin (or better yet, grimace under my mask) and bear it, just tough it out, and mutter complaints under my breath – and I could then possibly see 2020 fitting under some cynically broad definition of “life”. But “abundantly”? “Far more life than before”? “More and better life than they ever dreamed of”? So what am I to make of John 10:10?
An episode in 2 Kings 6:8-18 comes to mind. The king of Syria is enraged at Elisha and sends horses and chariots and a great army in pursuit, all of which arrive at Dothan by night and surround the city. Elisha’s attendant awakens to the sight of the surrounding forces and says, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” and then he prayed, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the text tells us that “the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” It’s almost unbelievable that the text doesn’t offer a hint of the servant’s reaction upon seeing the heavenly realities, but perhaps he was simply left speechless. I imagine we’d be, too, if we were in his shoes.
As the projected time frame of the pandemic extends further and further, I’m realizing that my fleshly efforts to get through the next day – with the next disappointment, the next loss – aren’t going to cut it. In the same way I just dropped off a prescription for new eyeglasses, I need to ask the Lord to give me a new pair of spiritual lenses through which to view life in 2020, so I can see the abundant life in the here and now – and to not just grumble my way until there’s an effective vaccine or drug so my limited vision of “life” can resume as I think is “normal”. I need Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18-19 to become my prayer:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us how believe.”
Which brings up another use of “abundantly”, this time by Paul in Ephesians 3:20-21:
“Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
And there is a marginal note at the end of verse 21: “Even in 2020.”