WHILE I was a student studying for my BD Min at Glasgow, two books were published from different parts of the world church that made a lasting impression on me.
In 1991, The God Of Life by Gustavo Gutierrez appeared and it was followed in 1992 by Jurgen Moltmann's The Spirit Of Life. That the God who made us is the God Of Life, that Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us is the Lord Of Life, that the indwelling Holy Spirit is the Giver Of Life - these are great and glorious, "gleaming and resounding" affirmations for us to take up at this time in the run-up to Easter.
Those books made their mark on me at a time when I was beginning to reflect on questions of church and mission in Scotland.
They came from very different places, one written by a Peruvian Catholic "liberation theologian", the other by a German Reformed theologian.
Reading Gutierrez in Ruchazie, in the east end of Glasgow, I was struck by his testimony to it being God's will that all people should know fullness of life.
Reading Moltmann in the university library in the west end of the city, I was struck by his testimony to God being present in every dimension of life.
One of the greatest challenges for Christian witness in Scotland today, and perhaps especially for my own Church Of Scotland, is the perception that religion is a life-denying, not a life-affirming force.
The influence of Freud and his successors casts a troubled shadow on our culture, shaping a language of popular psychology that is quick to talk of repression.
That combines with a tradition of artistic resistance to religious restraints, which we can trace in Scottish cultural life from Burns to MacDiarmid. Somewhere in Scotland's story (particularly for Protestants) a cultural gap opened up between congregation and ceilidh.
Somehow in Scotland's story, a spiritual gap opened between the God we were solemnly called to worship at the beginning of divine service and the Lord, the Giver Of Life. Sometime in Scotland's story, a political gap opened between the God of Exodus, the Christ who preached good news to the poor and perceptions of church by those who were poorest and most marginalised.
As we look back on our history and trace the Church Of Scotland's role in the opening of those gaps, we have things to repent of.
One way for such repentance to be given a positive form is by our embracing a vision of God as the God Of Life. Understanding that God is the God Of Life means our embracing a wider, deeper and richer sense of the goodness of God.
It means our learning from Augustine, to see and name God as "the beauty, so ancient and so new". It means our learning from Irenaeus to see the glory of God in "living humanity". It means our learning from Luther that God's call comes to us in every walk of life. It means our learning from Abraham Kuyper that God's reign extends over every sphere of life.
What Moltmann helps to trace is that a Christian affirmation of life is not just a kind of glowing new age embrace of the full spectrum of natural energies, not just ecological "vitalism".
It is a vision of life redeemed in Christ, which although it can never fully understand the why and how of redemption, believes it to be inseparable from the Easter story of Jesus' Cross and Resurrection.
What Gutierrez urges us to see is that a Christian affirmation of life is for everyone. Poverty, social exclusion, anything that reduces someone's life chances, their ability to know life in all its fullness, is an affront to the glory of God.
On Easter Day, when we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, we celebrate God's great yes to life. Called together in worship to celebrate the God Of Life, we are sent in mission to proclaim the God Of Life.
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