We are concluding our reading of the First Letter of John during daily Mass. Many struggle to understand this letter because they miss the experiential aspects of the faith to which he refers. Consider just a few brief lines from the end of the letter:
[God] has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
has this testimony within himself ….
And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
I write these things to you so that you may know
that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).
To a typical modern reader, the argument seems to say that the proof (or testimony) of who Jesus is, is that we will (one day) have eternal life. To many, eternal life is something that happens only in the future, something we cannot know until we die. With that perspective the argument makes little sense because proof is something in the here and now, not after death. In fact, eternal life is something that can be seen, known, and experienced now.
A key in understanding a passage like this one is to consider that the word eternal (aion or aionios in Greek) does not simply refer to the length of life but to its fullness. Aiṓnios does not focus on the future so much as on the quality of life. As such, aiṓn relates to the life of a believer right now, as a growing experience of God’s life. It is a present possession not just a hope for the future.
Thus, John is saying that the testimony of the Father, the proof that Jesus is Savior and Lord, is the fact that you are currently experiencing, in increasing quantity, the fullness of life that He died to give you and rose to show you. That Jesus is Lord is proven by the fact that your life is getting fuller and richer, that you are seeing sins be put to death and graces coming alive, that you are less fearful and more courageous, less angry and more forgiving, less resentful and more grateful; that you are delighting in the truth, walking more closely with God, and seeing your life change for the better.
Even as a person ages physically, his or her spiritual life can become more full, confident, joyful, vibrant, and energetic. This is eternal life: to be fully alive with God forever. And while this gift will be complete for us in Heaven, it began at our baptism and, if we are faithful, will continue to grow throughout our life’s journey and become ever richer.