Today is my birthday. Appropriately, the word we will “essay into” is “life.”
Our daughter, Rachel, visited us over Christmas and gave me a book (“Homo Sacer – Sovereign Power and Bare Life,” Giorgio Agamben, translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen, 1998, p. 1). The introduction states:
“The Greeks had no single term to express what we mean by the word “life.” They used two terms that…are distinct: zoe, which expressed the simple fact of living common to all living beings (animals, men, or gods), and bios, which indicated the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group.”
Although such a distinction is certainly provocative, what startled me was what followed – the author’s casual, parenthetical observation that “zoe , significantly enough, lacks a plural.” I was startled because the Hebrew word for “life” can be plural. I first discovered that when studying Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity…for there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore (Hebrew: hayyim –sometimes spelled chaim). Hayyim is plural for “life” and is used 85 times in the Old Testament. What a concept – la chaim!
Life is an amazing gift. In the beginning, the true and the living God gave it to creatures – Genesis 1:20 – And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures. And God gave life to Adam – Genesis 2: 7 –The LORD God formed the manfrom the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living (hayyim!) being.
Although we need our daily bread to live, Scripture also informs us – Deuteronomy 8:3 -“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” So, David observes: Psalm 36: 9 For with you is the fountain of life. David praises God in Psalm 21- The king rejoices in your strength, LORD. You have granted him his heart’s desire. He asked you for life (hayyim), and you gave it to him— length of days, for ever and ever.
And God gives us the privilege of speaking lively words to each other. After death entered the world, Adam spoke a word of grace to his wife and called her – not the mother of the dying – but – Genesis 3:20 – Adam named his wife Eve (which probably means living) because she would become the mother of all the living. Adam could be gracious with his bride because he believed the promise of God. The LORD promised that the seed of the woman would crush Satan with his heel. On the cross, Jesus, the ever living One – would die – crushing Satan while declaring with all of who he is – not “My Life for Me” or “Your Life for Me” – but “My Life for You.” What love – what life!
Christian, being re-connected with God through Jesus, you have not only life (grand as it is) but plural life – life to the full, life abundant. So, we would expect the New Testament to talk a lot about this new life. Sometimes, Jesus and the apostles speak about the form of life – bios. Forms of bios are used sixteen times. But, this life from Christ – zoe – alive and breathing – is used nearly 150 times! Need a shot of life? 1 John 5:12 – “He who has the Son has life.” And read your bible – it’s there! Although the Greek does not use zoe in the plural, this vigorous overflow of zoe in this life and the life to come is promoted by Jesus and the apostles. They simply add an adjective to zoe. Some forty-five times zoe is linked with the Greek words for “eternal” and “everlasting!” Glory!
Well, that is more than a bit about “life.” Thanks for indulging me on my birthday. Take a few minutes to think about your life – rejoice in His gift today. And think about your words and God’s – and how they can give life to others. As you do, I’ll conclude this first essay into the Lively Lexicon with the words of Peter. Jesus saw that some disciples were abandoning him. He asked Peter if Peter would leave too. Peter replied – John 6:68 … “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (zoe).”
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,
PS A friend replied:
My grandfather rejected the blessing of his Spirit-filled father to his 6 sons. As a result, my grandfather lived a godless life until he was in his 70’s. Then he was converted, baptized, and later, died.
My dad, the son of this grandfather, as a young boy was the first to come to the Lord and start a new lineage of godliness. To our knowledge of the 140+ descendants of dad and his siblings, everyone has made a profession of faith in Christ.
I often sit at family reunions and see the incredible heritage of faith and goodness (pastors, elders abound) and think of the simplicity of the explanation…He who has the Son has Life.
Life need not be more complicated than that, nor do we need more to explain how one family differs from another. I marvel that simple, consistent, surrender to Christ does produce life and I am so grateful it included me.
I thought you might enjoy a personal testimony of my interaction with your essay.