Life: What have I Learned about Living?
What is life and how can life be defined? I have had a stretch of it and I would like to pass on what I have learned. I am not certain that I have made the best use of my time, at least I have tried and it has served me adequately. I learned early, that if I do not look out for myself and do what it takes to live, I will not leave much to show for. I do not belong to the people who go through life without a taste of what it is like (Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; Matthew 16:28). I had a quiver full of unforgettable hurdles to cross and to overcome.
Time is a “Period of Grace” that every person has been granted
I came into the world just before World War II began. My Father was shipped off to fight the Germans, but his people were facing extermination. By taking us three boys into hiding, every night, our mother avoided being molested and jailed. We prayed for the war to end quickly and it did. However, that was only the beginning of our woes. On a very cold day in Janurary 1940, the Russians disowned us and shipped us to the Germans. In the German camp, my sister was born and she died. We were placed on Polish farms to raise food for the German Army, which turned us into mortal enemies of the Poles. In January 1945, the Rusians rolled in on American tanks as enemies. We again escaped with horses and wagon and briefly settled in the heart of Germany, where my youngest brother was born. Shortly after, the Americans withdrew and the Russian moved in. Again, we escaped. And this time it took us the remainder of the year of 1945 to find a place where we could stay. In that place, my second brother was killed and buried among strangers. I, too, lived among these strangers for six years, and then I immigrated to Canada. A very costly and serious fire accident made me aware of the value time had for my life; however, I had it slip me by as if my life did not exist. Then, I too began to mark my calendar as did Paul and his associates from prison and from Jesus:
“Look carefully then how you walk (live), not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your hear, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Ephesians 5:15-20).
“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer every one” (Colossians 4:5-6).
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city seton a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
“Let your light so shime before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).
“Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls (lives) before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).
I began to “Value My Life” and loved what was left of me
I realized that life is a very small stretch in time. Whatever little time I used could not be replaced. In normal circumstances, every human being should have enough time to live a full life. But, circumstances are not normal! And therefore, human beings should always seek to make good use of time. William James believed that great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. George Herbert held that a handful of a good life is worth a bushel of learning. And Goethe wrote that a useless life is only an early death. Hence, it is significant to follow the suggestion of J.M. Pace, “What is put into the first of life is put into all of life.” Only, who is doing the filling and with what? Is there a universal law by which all human beings can be born, brought up, and let loose in the world? Unfortunately, there are drastic differences among people and among individuals as to how life is structured. Is there a Biblical perspective on life, which we can follow? I found that there was and still is.
All of life is a gift from God. Life is not some evolutionary accident (Genesis 1:30). Life is defined as the “breath of life.” In particular, man was a special act of creation. God formed man out of the dust of the ground. God breathed into man’s nostrils the “breath of life” and man became a “living being” (Genesis 2:7). The physical part or body of man, along with all the other creatures, consists of dust and water. What makes man live is the “breath of life” and that comes from God. Without that “breath” and “spirit” (ruach, pneuma), the body cannot live. This life resides in the blood (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23). Blood became a synonym for life (Leviticus 17:11, 14). To take a life meant to shed blood. Without blood man cannot live. Only blood could atone for man’s sin (Leviticus 17:11). Moses was ordered to smear blood on and over the doorway for death to pass over. The blood became the “Covenant” between Israel and God (Exodus 24:8). The Israelites were not permitted to drink or eat blood. Christ Jesus renewed “His Covenant” with the shedding of His blood (Mark 14:24). Jesus spoke of His Life as being blood, which is shared (John 6:53-56). Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). In other words, without giving a life, there can be no forgiveness. Above all things, the blood has to be pure and undefiled. Once blood is polluted, life is shortened and ultimately terminated. That is why the human body is a temple of the Spirit and the Breath of life (God) (I Corinthians 6:19). And it is the blood, which keeps the body healthy and alive.
I remember, as if it were yesterday, almost seventy years ago, when I was given blood through my legs. I felt life coming back into my dying body. Twelve men had come to give blood and eleven of their donated blood matched. It is to the eleven men, who donated their blood, to whom I owe my life. Without their blood, in a remote community up north in Canada, I would not have survived. And to maintain clean and life-saving blood, we must lead clean lives. Since I am plagued with cancer, I am no longer able to save others with my blood. Unfortunately, far too many human beings are being careless about their blood, and as a result, they are the cause of much suffering and premature death. My blood has been strong enough to resist cancer, but not good enough to save others. It is a regretful lesson that I pass on.
What do I need to know about life?
Fifty years ago, the question did not disturb me. At that time I had presumed and took for granted that all those who taught and preached really were trustworthy and reliable guides of my salvation. I did notice that many differed in their use of the Scriptures, but they appeared harmless. But when I enrolled for a doctoral study in Toronto, where seven schools had joined to produce a specimen I wanted to be, I had difficulties finding my field in which I could be most efficient. My test in theology indicated that I was too Biblical, in the Old Testament. I already had two degrees and felt uncomfortable to continue in it, so I settled and majored in the Life of Jesus, the Christ. Back to theology, I was not thinking like a theologian or like a philosopher, who uses sources to prove their ideas and opinions. My tendency was to have the Bible tell me what it meant. That, in theological terms meant, I wanted to be an exegete or an interpreter of words and terms, and history. And with my background of languages and three years of New Testament Greek, the task looked easy.
That was very presumptuous of me, when I had still two “Evangelical Egos” on my shoulders. I set out to prove that the Evangelical-fundamental position was the most tangible. My thesis was entitled: “A Setting for the Son of Man.” I consulted over 150 evangelical experts and I used over four hundred pages to impress the committee on passing. In thinking back, it is highly likely, that the committee did not even read my thesis. My adviser was from Oxford and I was in his classes for two years. The monk from the Poteficious Institute of Rome had no questions. The two experts passed me, but the man from Harvard was irritated, but calmed himself, and humiliated me, with questioning me, “Why I dared to bring such a work before the committee?” He emphatically insisted that I go back and produce my own input, based on the texts and not on anyone’s expertese. Well, my ego was bruised and my wife cried with me. We composed ourselves and began to use the skills I learned to write my own interpretation of: “A Setting of the Son of Man.” And this time, it was accepted with praise and recommended that I should publish the work. And he dismissed me with these words, “We shall hear from you!” I did begin to write, and also do my own research with Christ as my center. I hope that you do find my thinking helpful.
This is what the Bible says to me on “Life”
The living “being,” in the Hebrew text, is called a living “soul” (nephesh chajah). The Greek has “Psychen zosan.” According to the creation story, the “soul” was created and the “soul” is synonymous with the “being.” The “soul” also appears to be related to “breath.” And the “breath” is related to “a ghost” or “a spirit.” In simple terms, man has the “living principle of God” within him. This explains the thought that, “… man is a little lower than the angels” (Psalms 8:15). Jesus was accused of making Himself equal to God. Jesus countered that the sons of God were called gods and that He, too, was a Son of God (John 10:33-36). This is consistent with the “image” and the “spirit” or the “breath of God,” in man; and, that the sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:4). This “godly presence” (the spirit) was to live within every human being for as long as God (the giver) had intended. Adam, however, changed that plan by stepping outside of the godly circle. Adam allowed his passion to dethrone him for his “feeling and reason.” Hereinafter, man began to live by his feelings. Man’s “taste buds” become his guide. Man’s “emotions” controlled his decisions. It was as if man had returned to an “animalistic state.” Man began to kill his own brother. Man, no longer, was satisfied with what he had, and so man forced others to submit to him. Ultimately, man set himself up as a lord and competed with God for sovereignty. In the process, man seduced the “spirit” (pneuma) within him. Man allowed the “soul” or the “psyche” to govern him. Man located the “psyche” in the heart and subjected his mind to it. Now, for a person, to be conscious of God, man had to feel it in the heart and not in the mind. The mind was too rational, too critical, too scientific, and too philosophical to grasp the “spirit,” which can move the feelings within the human heart. The heart completed the picture of the perfect religious being.