by Donald Hanna
There is a quote I like, most often attributed to the early church father Irenaeus: “The glory of God is [the person] fully alive.” As I have thought about what this means, what it is to be fully alive, it seems that there are a number of factors wrapped up in this. There is happiness, there is purpose, there is security, there is connectivity, and there is creativity. Without these things we live with some sort of lack in our lives. We are not fully alive.
I recently began a job working with children who have had some kind of trauma in life – some who have experienced a bout of homelessness, some who have dealt with neglect, some who have been witness to or victim to abuse, and more. As I think about these kids, and I think about Irenaeus’ quote, it strikes me that a lot of these kids have been robbed of the fullness he talks about. They don’t feel like they are safe, they may have a skewed sense of what love is about and so don’t really know what it is to be connected with others, and some of them have received the message in so many ways that they are unimportant, that they have no purpose.
It breaks my heart, and yet as I look at the families where they are coming from, in a lot of cases you can see that they have also been robbed of the fullness of life. There are addictions that have taken over life. Some of them may have experienced pretty intense trauma themselves – physical abuse or sexual abuse. Many of them are extremely poor and struggle so much to make ends meet that it can be hard to keep up on all the responsibilities of parenting. Much of the hardship we see with the children is cyclical. And the cycle is one of generation after generation being denied a full life.
If Irenaeus was right, that the glory of God is the person fully alive, then what we witness in this nation with poverty, with addiction, with abuse, and with neglect, is not just a social problem. It is also a theological problem. For when people suffer like this, especially when children suffer, as so many of the kids in my program do, then it is in effect denying God glory.
I come from a tradition that uses a catechism that states, “The chief end of [humanity] is to glorify God and enjoy [God] forever.” So maybe glorifying God really involves working to help kids like the ones in my program out, and really all kids. Maybe glorifying God, involves helping young people grow into adults who are able to use their gifts, their creative juices, to live with purpose, to serve each other, to love each other, and so build solid relationships, and to do all this with joy. Maybe glorifying God involves helping others find their own fullness of life. My new position is a lot about this kind of work, and I have to say, that in the process of this work, I have found my own life a lot fuller. And for this I say thanks be to God!
Donald Hanna serves as pastor of Alamosa Presbyterian Church in Alamosa, Colorado.