What is Life?
It’s all around us in April – the budding leaves, the returning birds, the breeding insects…and the human snowbirds coming back from Florida. Nature receives new life in the Spring, and so do our spirits. Christians around the world also celebrate Easter, which represents the offer of everlasting life.
When a baby is born we celebrate new life, and when a person dies we mourn its loss. Our entire world is filled with the cycle of life and death. The only reason we can read this now is because we’re alive. The miracle of life is something we all possess. But what is this miracle? What is life?
Before I offer an answer, let us break life down into three categories and three kinds. Aristotle noted three levels of life in the world being vegetative, sensitive, and rational. The plant kingdom possesses the first, animals the first and second, and humans all three. There are also three ancient Greek words for life with which English is not unfamiliar: Bios, meaning physical life of the body, from which “biology” derives; Psyche, which refers to the soul or immaterial interior of man from which “psychology” is derived; and Zoe, meaning supernatural or divine life (offered to man as grace). By nature all categories and kinds of life are confined to a cycle that eventually ends in death, except for psyche and zoe. Vegetative and sensual life in creatures, including man, have an expiration date.
This is because bios depends on a physical body for its continuance. When the physical structure of the creature breaks down due to time and weariness, life ceases to be. The psyche, however, depends not on physical parts for its operation. A person can grasp abstract concepts and ideas such as justice and truth like a physical hand grasps concrete objects. Such a grasping of non-material realities points to humans possessing a non-material component to their being that is able to grasp it. This psyche or soul, recognized throughout the history of mankind, is not physical and does not break down or disintegrate with bodily death. However, its continued existence after death does not necessarily mean life in the sense of freedom, joy, hope, or peace. Zoe is necessary in the soul for that. As food is to the body, zoe, or grace, is to the psyche/soul. Without grace the soul does exist, but in a state of death, a miserable existence known as hell.
This is why Easter is crucial to understanding life. We are body-soul composites not made for disintegration and death. Zoe, the divine life of grace offered to man in the beginning to keep persons in union with God who is Life (like a plug to an outlet), would in turn keep body and soul together in perfect health and immortality. Death came to man as a result of sin (Gn 2:17, Rm 6:23). which separates the psyche/soul from grace and hence body from soul. Death came to man as a result of sin (Gn 2:17, Rm 6:23), with the separation of soul from grace resulting in separation of body from soul. With zoe rejected by the prehistoric Adam, all mankind finds itself in a disintegrated state – emotions, passions, and desires are often unruly and not in line with what reason knows to be true and good.
Life becomes a continuous war within the self, ultimately ending in death. It is only in the life of the resurrection which Easter celebrates that we see the promise of the re-integrated man: divine life in the soul, permeating the body, producing a glorified state of integrity and immortality. Easter manifests what happens to those who follow “the first fruits of the harvest” (1 Cor 15:20), the head of the body of Christ, i.e. total healing and never-ending happiness.
One more important note to ponder: By their very nature, life gives love and love gives life. All living things are ordered to come together and unite. In humans this is properly called love, in other creatures it’s analogical to love.
This union by its very nature gives life. Two become one (flesh) to become three. As some philosophers would add, “sometimes you have to name that love nine months later.” Hence, perversions of love, such as contraception and homosexual acts, are so morally unacceptable to His image on earth in each person. The purpose of life is to give love, and love to give life. Ultimately, life is love. Such is the nature of God, who IS Love (1 Jn 4:8) and Life (Jn 11:25), which is reflected in the nature of man, His image on earth.
April begins a time of renewal to celebrate life, both natural and supernatural, to celebrate life offered in the creation and by Creator. It is no mistake that Spring and Easter thus coincide.