I have been reflecting on John 10:10 and in a previous post, I argued that to first understand what Jesus meant by the abundant life, we must first understand what it is not. I argued that it is not about an abundance of wealth and health. If not health and wealth – what then is the abundant life about?
Jesus’ ultimate priority concerning us is not about the external and material conditions of our life; it is about the type of people we become. The abundant life is about the total transformation and renovation of the whole human person: our thoughts, heart, desires, will, habits, character and emotions. His priority is not changing the circumstances of our lives (which he could, and often does) but rather changing our lives (who we are) to handle any circumstance. And by handle any circumstance I mean becoming resilient.
I would define resilience as the capacity to handle suffering and great adversity without being crushed and overwhelmed by it; and more importantly one’s suffering and adversity becomes a significant means to one’s transformation into a flourishing human being. Jesus beautifully illustrates this point for us. In Luke 6:46-49, he gives us the image of two houses; one built without a foundation and the other house built on a solid foundation of rock. When the storms of life come – it is the house/life built on his teachings, practices and confidence in who Jesus is, which will not be shaken and overwhelmed but will be resilient and be able to stand and thrive.
Resilience is important because the one certainty in life we have – is suffering and adversity. An essential task of the human condition is to find a practical answer to the problem of suffering.
Jesus told his followers that “in this life you will have trouble, tribulation or adversity”. Being a follower of Jesus would not make them immune to the “heartaches and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as Hamlet put it. We experience deep loss: we lose loved ones to death, are deeply hurt and betrayed by those closest to us, we lose our health through diseases, we lose our jobs, our wealth, are treated unjustly, our hopes and dreams are often frustrated – the list is endless.
Another crucial aspect of suffering is not only that it is certain, its impact on our lives is never neutral.When we experience suffering and adversity it either leaves us in despair, depressed, bitter, angry, cynical and fearful or it leaves us more compassionate, wiser, empathetic, patient, gentler. Suffering can either harden our hearts to life, make us apathetic, diminish our capacity to experience joy and beauty and close us in on ourselves; or it can move us in the opposite direction and open our hearts, move us beyond ourselves to transcend our circumstances.
Victor Frankl documented his time as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War 2 in his book Man’s search for meaning. Even in Nazi concentration camps, filled with unimaginable heart wrenching suffering, there were those who were resilient and were able to rise above their circumstances and not lose their humanity. Frankl says:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread”.Victor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
In the midst of the most dreadful conditions, people, with “rich inner lives” as Frankl observed, had the capacity to love and sacrifice for others – resilience.
A couple of years ago we had a fundraiser at our church and the program director for the event was a paralyzed man. He told us how it happened. He was diving into the ocean with some friends and somehow landed on the rocks. After sharing with us his story he then sung “God has been so good to me”. That day left an indelible impression on me. He in fact was grateful that the Lord had been able to use his paralysis to draw him to God and to rid him of his pride and teach him true humility. He displayed no anger, bitterness, despair – but rather gratitude and an unyielding faith in the goodness and love of God towards him. That is resilience.
Which direction suffering and adversity moves us in, is in no way automatic. Neither can we guarantee that when we face calamity and adversity we will have the resources on our own to be resilient. In fact Jesus guarantees that without his intervention we simply do not have the internal resources and competence to produce a life characterized by resilience – we are like the house built without foundation. And when those storms come, and they will come, we will be shaken in his absence.
We can easily see the truth of this in the everyday cases we know of where we have counselors, social workers, and psychiatrists who help people and give them resources to overcome trauma because on their own people do not have that capacity. The claim then from Jesus is ultimately, he alone above everyone else has the expertise, competence and power to transform us into resilient people. His confidence to be able to do this is grounded in who he is – the creator, designer and architect of human beings.
A crucial aspect of the abundant life then is that when suffering and trials come; the grace of God will ensure that the experience rather than crushing, overwhelming and leaving us dejected and in despair; will actually lead to our maturity and perfection.