The Light In Our Souls: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
It often seems to me that we have largely forgotten the extravagance of God. “Give and it will be given to you – good measure, pressed down, shaken together… the measure you deal out…will be returned.” We hear constantly of a God who restores the wayward, whether a nation, as Israel in the Old Testament, or a prodigal son who has squandered his inheritance. When Christ attends a wedding party, water is turned into wine, saving the best until last. Even in Holy Communion, we receive Christ in his body and blood, worshipping the God of heaven and earth who is content to come among his people in a body broken and blood shed, given for us.
It is sheer extravagance. It is giving, not counting the cost.
I find myself these days reflecting upon “life lessons”. One lesson which has come to me is that I do not regret what I have given, I regret what I have, for whatever reason, held back. I find as well that in growing older, I have become more circumspect, more cautious about how much I give of myself to others. This is probably a result of life experiences. Often when I have given of myself, I’ve been hurt. The instinct is to say, “I won’t do that again”. As a result I draw back, almost instinctively protecting myself. Even as I write this short article, I find myself measuring my words, knowing that there are some who seem to delight in attacking or demeaning what others may say. So, one becomes careful. You hold back to avoid or deflect the insult or the accusation.
This leads to almost the exact opposite of extravagance. You may still give, but the giving is limited as you constantly count the cost – the cost of hurt, of betrayal, of rejection, or of the gift offered only to have it thrown back in your face.
We have all experienced this. We have experienced it in personal relationships. We have experienced it in jobs. We have experienced it in churches. The lesson really does seem to be, “Don’t do that again…” As a result, we keep the relationships a bit more distant and perhaps view our work with less enthusiasm. When it comes to church, it can seem better to be on the periphery and simply observe. The fact of the matter is, we don’t want to be hurt again.
So, I’ve said to my wife, “No more lost causes…” Yet, as the words come out of my mouth, I realize that I’m often a “lost cause” and that Christ has not given up on me. Then, of course, the next lost cause appears on my doorstep, or on the telephone, or in an email…
A.W. Tozer once wrote of those things that, “put out the light in men’s souls”. That phrase has stuck with me through the years. The light in our souls is indefinable, but we know what it is when we see it in others or experience it within ourselves. It is joyful. It is almost childlike. It is the mark that we are loving God with our whole being and, as a consequence, we are loving our neighbor as ourselves – not as a duty, or a “religious expectation”, but simply because it is who we are as a child of God and a follower of Christ. I often wonder if the evidence of the Gospel is… we still have a light in our souls. When outsiders viewed the early Christians, they wondered at “how they love one another”. I think it was because those early believers exhibited in their everyday lives the un-calculated givenness of the life of God. It was not measured out. The cost was not counted. The hurt was not measured. The lost cause was embraced.
You see, the light in the soul is not about theological expertise or a fool proof doctrinal system. You can seem to have both and not have that light. It is not some pious somberness. It is not wearily trudging along the road going to perform religious duties and domestic obligations, blind to everything and everyone around and calling that sufficient. Rather, it is the spontaneous, unpredictable love of others that is the result of loving God and being loved by him. It is joyfully giving and receiving. It is graciously forgiving and being forgiven. It is an extravagant love that goes beyond the graceless economics of cost or the moral imperatives of mere duty.
I want to remember again the extravagance of God. I want to remember that lavish love that goes beyond cost and reason – love your enemies, go the second mile; if asked for your coat, give you cloak as well. Pay the worker who works one hour the same as those who have labored all day. Kill the fatted calf and give the prodigal gifts. Restore a wayward people. Turn water into wine. And, yes, forgive… forgive beyond measure and find forgiveness for yourself.
No matter your time of life and your experiences, or the pain you have endured at the hands of friends, family, jobs or, yes, even the church, don’t let it put out the light in your soul. Give and it will be given… good measure… pressed down… shaken together… running over.