Is It Ever "Finished"?
Life as a Non-Messianic Process

An inspirational Easter-time message from Roger Bissell, April 7, 1996


"Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "it is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:28-30, New International Version, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983)

"It is finished" -- "Apparently the loud cry of Mt. 27:50; Mk. 15:37. Jesus died as a victor and had completed what he came to do." (ibid)

"gave up his spirit" -- "An unusual way of describing death, perhaps suggesting an act of will." (ibid)

"Vita viventibus est esse" -- "for living things, to be is to live" (Aristotle, quoted by Anthony Kenny, Aquinas, p. 59)

"My life consists of many activities. I walk, I eat, I sleep, I think. While I do these things I am alive; but living is not some other activity which I am performing while doing these things, as breathing is; they are themselves parts of my life, it is in doing them that I am living. 'Live" is not a disjunction of these activities." (ibid)


If there was ever a eudaimonic man in history, Jesus Christ was that man. This may seem a strange thought, since Jesus was far from being an egoist.

But Jesus had a very deep, intense awareness of the historical context of his life. His entire identity and self-concept -- indeed, the very purpose of his life -- was defined in terms of the past, present, and future of the human race.

And that purpose? To die. So that men might live eternally, of course. But to die, nonetheless. (He was, we might say, a eudaimonic altruist.)

So when Jesus said "It is finished," he meant that by dying he had achieved his life's purpose. The end (conclusion) of his life was, literally, the end (purpose) of his life.

We are egoists. We want to live our lives, not end them! So Jesus' messianic purpose in life is, to say the least, something we would not eagerly embrace.

Yet, to the extent that we over-emphasize our goals, at the expense of the process by which we achieve them -- to that extent, we, too, are giving up our lives!

I am not merely saying that the ends do not justify the means. I am saying that the ends should not be allowed to overshadow or obscure the means.

It is in the means, in the various actions by which we pursue our goals, that we live our lives. It is in the concrete steps that we take toward our chosen objectives that we experience the poignancy, the vitality, the juiciness of life.

I would rather die on the way to the sink to get a drink of water, than sitting in my easy chair reflecting on a life full of monumental achievements, but with no active impulse to achieve more.

To say "it is finished," to surrender one's desire to achieve more in life, is in fact to "give up one's spirit." Such spiritual death is not at all unusual. We see it all around us. And make no mistake about it, it is an "act of will."

Man's glory -- to pursue lofty goals, guided by his intellect and fueled by his ambition -- is also potentially his nemesis. If he allows his goals to become the purpose of his life, rather than parts of his life, he can lose that which makes it most worth living.

The purpose of human life is happiness. And true happiness is not gained by achievement. Nor by fame, fortune, or power. And certainly not by sacrifice and self-immolation. It is gained by living well, which is a process, not a product.

Am I saying goals are unimportant? Quite the opposite. Goals are necessary as that toward which we focus our actions. More importantly, goals -- if properly chosen -- can serve the necessary function of sustaining our lives.

But the essence of life is not goals, but goal-directed activity. It is in acting that we live. And it is in experiencing the tangible, concrete feel of our actions that we experience the full reality of our lives -- and our happiness, if we are acting well.

In this respect, dysdaimonic people are closer to happiness than we are. By living primarily in time-slices, they know better than we how to experience their happiness. Living mainly in an ongoing present, they would be more likely to be puzzled by the notion that life is ever "finished."

But "living life to the hilt" requires more than simply "being in the moment" or stopping to "smell the roses/coffee." It requires a dynamic balance and reconciliation of the two ways of experiencing the time-frame of our lives.

We can see the Big Picture, the integrated totality of our life course that gives it its grandeur. And we can see the many Little Pictures, the special individual moments that give it is piquancy.

Establishing and keeping a balance between these perspectives can be a life-long project and challenge. Something that is never finished. Something worthy of real, non-messianic human beings.