10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Life "to the full." There are different thoughts on what that means. There is a tension, always, in scripture, that keeps things in balance, like the guy ropes that secure a tent to the ground.
I was talking to a young friend recently and he said to me, "I believe God wants to heal all sickness and that we are all to live an abundant life." I hesitated to reply, but he had the look of blind faith of a scary sort and I just had to say something or by my silence assent to what he said.
So I gently plunged in with another perspective, not meaning to discourage, but to broaden his thoughts.
"If that is true," I asked, "How do you explain the suffering of people such as the apostle Paul? Or my father in law, who died of cancer at the age of 62, having faithfully ministered the Word of God all of his adult life?"
"And," I went on, "Why do we think of death as such a bad thing? Surely to be with the Lord is a wonderful thing?"
I believe with all my heart that God wants us to live a life that is "to the full," but I would rather leave the definition of that to him. I believe that the thing that "the thief" comes to steal and destroy is relationship--intimacy--with God and with each other. Perhaps that is why there is a clear message throughout scripture that God hates those who sow discord among brothers.
In suffering we may discover an intimacy with God that we would never know on the sunny mountaintop. If we always run from pain we may miss the growth that results from having to flex our spiritual muscles.
"Life to the full" makes me think of strength; maturity; depth of wisdom and a seasoning that comes from being tried and found true.
His eyes clouded momentarily as I spoke. It was not the response he had expected, but he considered my words and nodded. I pray that he goes deeper. We serve and follow One familiar with suffering.
Acts 14:21-22 (New International Version)
21They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.
Romans 5:3-5 (New International Version)
3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.