Practicing the Better: Formative Images

The preceding posts in this series have largely focused in the first three chapters of Genesis.  We have a lot more Scripture to explore and much more to learn about practicing the better, but from the opening pages of the Bible, we have three key images to understand what the ‘good’ life is–light, life, and love. This the progression that we see in the creation stories.  

First light.  Then the life which springs forth in response to light.  And finally, the love which emerges in the relationship between God and humanity both before and after the fall.  These metaphors tell us important things about practicing the better.

All three metaphors are actions.  Light shines.  Life emerges and grows.  Love reaches out to embrace and enrich.  Practicing the better is not merely holding correct beliefs or holding positive views, it is enacting them–what Eugene Peterson calls lived theology.  What John Wesley referred to as living faith and practical divinity.  Practicing the better is an incarnation–the Word must continue to become flesh, in and through us.

Years ago, Charles Schulz captured the inadequacy of stopping with words in a cartoon where Charlie Brown says, “I love humanity; it’s just people I can’t stand.” And there you have it–theology without performance–profession of faith without the accompanying expression of it.  Light, life and love are behaviors.

They also set in motion a progression. Light, life, and love create a divine flow.  One thing leads to another.

Jesus said we are the light of the world.  We enter the darkness to offer hope, showing through our words and deeds that darkness does not have the last word.

This light gives life to others as they come alive in response to our compassion and acts of kindness. They experience tangible relief and are helped to see themselves in new ways.

From this life-to-life exchange, love emerges.  It is impossible to enter into a relationship with others without discovering things about them we can never know if we remain aloof and separated from them.  We discover a common humanity, not an us/them dichotomy that too easily turns judgmental and toxic.

Light—then life—then love.  This is the original flow in the first creation. It is the flow which characterizes the new creation, and the progression which directs us in the practice of the better.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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