What is ‘the good life’ and how do we live it? Enough to eat? The chance to rest from our toil? ‘Yes’ and ‘yes again’ says Richard Lister, Tearfund’s Global Church & Development Lead. But it’s so much more than that...
'I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.' John 10:10
Donald tackles me during a break in a workshop that I am co-leading in Addis Ababa. He’s the square-jawed Chief Executive Officer of a North American Christian charity. His organisation have faithfully supported work in Ethiopia for many years now.
In his usual direct way he challenges me: ‘Is our work as Christian charities really any different? Couldn’t a secular charity like Oxfam do all this just as well?’ It’s a good challenge…
As I travelled to various parts of Ethiopia I saw so many encouraging signs of change. People who were once destitute now running small businesses, full of new-found confidence, working well as a team and drawing strength from each other. And, crucially, people now able to feed, clothe and educate their children. It’s economic transformation and social transformation. But how close does this come to the kind of ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus speaks about in John’s Gospel?
That’s a question I’ve thought about a lot. Clearly, Tearfund and the organisations we work with in-country, can’t fulfil John 10:10 – only Jesus can make this happen. However, as a Christian I see men and women having physical, social and faith needs. If we ignore one or more of these elements, we aren’t connecting our faith with our work.
At Tearfund we’re called to paint a bigger picture of the good life: a picture of the wonderful richness of the kingdom of God. And a prosperity that is so much deeper than the deepest swimming pool.
Once we’ve been changed from within, our priorities change and we can find a new purpose in our lives. But this new life isn’t just about ‘personal change’; it’s also about restoring our relationship with other people. Indeed it’s also about our relationship with God’s creation itself.
The ‘Kingdom of God’ has this fountain of life at its heart.
As a Christian organisation, Tearfund seeks to realise this holistic vision of transformation. It’s so much more than socio-economic change – not that that isn’t important. We rejoice when people and indeed whole communities embrace the vision of Christ’s all-encompassing kingdom. As Isaiah 32 v15-17 beautifully pictures it:
‘Till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field and the fertile field becomes like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence for ever’.
You can almost taste the richness of the good news in that passage: restored relationship with God (v15), with others and with ourselves (v16 and 17) and finally with creation itself (v15).
Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field.
Selling a dream
It’s easy to present a very material understanding of ‘the good life’ with the people we serve. It’s how we see it portrayed at home – day after day in the media and TV commercials. It’s the life characterised by wealth, status, comfort and ease.
At Tearfund we’re called to paint a bigger picture of the good life: a picture of the wonderful richness of the kingdom of God – a life where God lives right at the centre. And a prosperity that is so much deeper than the deepest (and widest) swimming pool.
Crucially this kind of ‘good life’ isn’t something that can just happen for one or two lucky people who ‘make it’. It’s a vision of a transformed society that comes from partnership and leaves nobody behind.
It’s these issues that we wrestled with at the workshop yesterday, side by side with the church pastors.
Donald certainly got me thinking – Oxfam does amazing work. However we have a wider vision still. We agree about so much: economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability. However ‘life in all its fullness’ is more than that. And we have a different picture of our destination as an organisation. We are travelling with Jesus every step of the way at Tearfund. And ultimately, that changes everything.