It was Nietzsche who said it first, but it’s a common thought—Christianity is nihilistic. People may not express themselves in so many words, but who hasn’t heard the argument that Christians are prudish, repressed, reactionary, life-denying—life-hating? That Christians want to stamp out natural loves and pleasures? That Christians are so fixated on their pie-in-the-sky, ethereal heaven that they completely lose sight of life on earth?
I had been reading Nietzsche, so this argument was fresh in my mind when I went to my Bible study, where we were reading from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The first eighteen verses of this book form a prologue of sorts to the rest of the book. As always, the familiar words struck me in a new way—and this time, it was life that leapt out of the page. The identification of Christ with life was unmistakable. “In him was life,” John proclaims (verse 3). In the beginning, of course, the world was made through him (10), but this was not a solitary, anomalous occurrence; to all who believe in him he gives the right to become children of God (12), a second giving of life, an overabundance of creation. But John does not stop with this. He goes on to say that Christ, the Word by whom all things were made, became flesh (14), a living being. He entered the world that he had created. Finally, John says, from his grace “we have all received one blessing after another” (16). This is the work of God: he does not just create life, but re-creates it, does not just re-create but enters, does not just enter but blesses.
There is an abundance of life at the heart of Christianity. Christians, as well as non-Christians, have sometimes failed to see it there. It has been easier not to recognize the one who has made us, to be trapped in death—the deadness of the tired, staid habits and shell-like pride that cut us off from other people, from God, from the recognition of our own inadequacies and the pain of repentance. It has seemed to us, sometimes, that life is not worth it, that it would be better to be a dead stone, impervious to all feeling, than to be alive. But life is worth it. After the shock of birth, which leaves us squalling in an unfamiliar world, we open our eyes and find that there is for the first time color and light and space. We will be showered by blessing after blessing—if only we receive him in whom is all life.