Let’s do a little thought experiment.
Scenario 1: Imagine we’re on a ship. But it springs a leak and starts sinking. While we’re fleeing to the life-rafts, you manage to grab a bag before it all goes down. Unbeknownst to the rest of us your bag contains a bottle of water and some canned meat – tuna and spam, things like that. So there we are huddled together in the life-raft bobbing along the open sea. Eventually we spot an island in the distance. We start paddling towards it and as we get closer we see that the island is incredibly bare. There doesn’t appear to be a stick of shrubbery, no sign of fresh water, it’s basically a big rock in the middle of the ocean. But it’s our only hope. So we row towards the island and as we get closer your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.” What do you do?
Scenario 2: Same deal. Our ship sinks. We flee to the life-rafts. Unbeknownst to everyone you have a bag containing water and canned meat. As we bob along in the open sea we spot an island in the distance. As we paddle towards it, we see that it’s lushous, luxurious, full of life. You can see the trees heavy with choice fruits. There’s a gushing waterfall in the distance. It’s a tropical paradise. As we row towards shore your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.”
What do you do? Do you give your brother a drink of water?
Well in scenario 2 you’d be much more likely to give him your water wouldn’t you? In fact in scenario 2 you might even throw the whole bag open and say, “Water and spam for everyone! Let’s celebrate!” wouldn’t you? In scenario 2 you would treat your little bag of goods a lot differently wouldn’t you?
Why? Are you a much nicer person in scenario 2? Are you suddenly more moral? Have you suddenly got a heightened sense of ethical duty? Is your conscience stronger now? What’s changed between scenario 1 and scenario 2?
Here’s what’s changed – your vision has changed. You have seen an abundance of life and it’s liberated you to be generous. That’s the only difference between these scenarios. You’re still the same bundle of sins and selfishness you always were, but now you’ve seen, now you’re celebrating, now you’re assured that things are going to be ok.
You could take anyone in the whole human race and put them into those two scenarios and present them with exactly the same temptations. And in scenario 1 we’d all be much more tempted to be grasping and greedy. And in scenario 2 we’d all be much more likely to be selfless and generous.
And that’s got nothing to do with the quality of your moral fibre. It’s got everything to do with what’s out there. If your vision is captured by a new reality out there – then you’re freed to be generous. Sinful, selfish, sulking little ball of contradictions that you are – you see, you celebrate, you’re assured that things are going to be ok, and suddenly you find yourself loving.
And the argument of 1 John, especially in chapters 3 and 4, is this: Look! Look! There is an abundance of life, it’s going to be ok. We’re in tropical paradise territory people. So bust open your little bag and share out the spam….