Viewpoint by the Revd Andy Giles, Resource Church Curate at St Dionysius Church
Maybe you think of wealth, health, relationships, happiness. Or maybe you think of human flourishing – growing in knowledge, abilities, giftings, service to others.
What then would Jesus’ words mean for people who are born profoundly disabled? For people who develop a debilitating disease or suffer a life-changing injury? Or for people who develop dementia? We ask ourselves how could they possibly have life to the full? Do they simply have to wait until they get to heaven or is this a promise for them here and now too?
We live in a society that places great value on intellect, autonomy, productivity, and the ability to earn money and contribute to society. Therefore, when a person is unable to do any of these things because of their physical or mental condition, is their value lost? That is not how many such people and their families think, because they focus on what they can do or have done, and the relationships they have, not on what they cannot do. They are often greatly cherished by their families and friends.
It’s often we outside observers who ask these questions. But the Christian faith tells us there is real and intrinsic value in every person and in their lives, whatever their condition, because they are loved and seen and known by God. Where we are not able to really know them because of their inability to communicate with us, God knows and loves them as much as he knows and loves us.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said: "What you don’t understand or see, the bits of yourself you can’t pull together in a convincing story, are all held in a single gaze of love."
This is true for all of us, even those who have never been able to communicate or those who have lost the ability to communicate. We may never be able to know their stories, they may have forgotten much of their story themselves, but they are held in the gaze of One who never forgets, always sees, and always loves.
Scottish theologian John Swinton suggests that while the world may be full of stories of great losses, the humanity of people who suffer and God’s faithful love for them is never lost. St Paul in Romans 8 tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever really know what Jesus meant by ‘life to the full’, but I’m guessing that being known and loved by God may well be part of it.
By the Revd Andy Giles, Resource Church Curate at St Dionysius Church