Why did I write Living Loved? How can this book help the reader? What's the big deal?
Within each soul there is a thirst for love that sometimes feels deeper and broader and more tumultuous than a stormy ocean. At times our lives seem merely to be an ongoing, frantic effort to satisfy that thirst, to quench it with one puny cupful of saltwater after another—through a miserable mix of self-directed efforts to be accepted by others, liked by neighbors, put up with by family members, regarded by friends, kept on by lovers.
Yet these efforts come nowhere close to filling the ocean of need within each heart. Those puny cupfuls of saltwater are actually filled with our tears.
Music’s top forty list regularly comprises boisterous anthems and forlorn ballads about the urgent, demanding, unfulfilled need of every human heart, essentially crying, “Love me!” Such songs reflect the desire—reduced to its simplest expression—that consumes and drives each one of us. We all sing the song, sometimes silently, even subconsciously; sometimes furiously until our throats are raw.
Yet we often seek artificial or temporary solutions to our thirst which, like artificially sweetened soda pop, only lead to bad spiritual and emotional health and an even sharper thirst. Or we avoid trying to satisfy that need out of a fear of the unknown.
The actor Dustin Hoffman once spoke about researching autistic behavior for the motion picture Rainman. He discovered that many with autism don’t make eye contact and don’t want to be touched.’ But he wanted to know how autistics really felt, so he tracked down an autistic author and asked her. ‘She said the one thing she wanted more than anything else in life was for someone to hug her, but the second anyone did, she couldn’t bear it.”
Aren’t we often the same in our overwhelming need to be loved? So how can that need be fulfilled? Where can we experience the endless love and acceptance and delight that we all crave? How can we live our lives as those who are fully, wholly, and genuinely loved?
Many of us grew up hearing in Sunday school that God loves us perfectly and unconditionally, that God’s love satisfies like no other. But somehow this knowledge has become rote, deadened by the realities of life, so that, yes, we know Jesus loves us, but we don’t experience it. Perhaps we confuse it with the world’s artificial notions of romance, so our expectations are never met; we live neither in his love nor out of his love. And as a tragic result we aren’t letting that love flow through us to others in acts of open-hearted, life-giving service.
But if Jesus loves us so much, if his love is so full, so perfect, and so deep as to satiate our thirst for love … then why doesn’t it? If what God says is true , and I believe it is, then God longs to lavish divine love on us. If the testimony of John is true , you and I can experience the intimate, personal, blazing love of Jesus. But how?
Why the Gospel of John?
In this book we’ll journey through the gospel of John, also known as the Fourth Gospel, which purportedly reveals the words and works of Christ as seen through the eyes of the disciple who calls himself “the beloved” or “the disciple Jesus loved.” Of all the disciples, John seemed closest to the Master. If anyone experienced Jesus’ love, John did, and in his gospel we see him reclining close beside Jesus during the Last Supper—a place of acceptance, safety, and love.
ible scholar Tom Wright in John for Everyone singles out that reason when he explains why this gospel is so much loved. “It gives the appearance,” he writes, “of being written by someone who was a very close friend of Jesus, and who spent the rest of his life mulling over, more and more deeply, what Jesus had done and said and achieved, praying it through from every angle, and helping others to understand it.” That is why so many people find the reality of Jesus –a figure of warmth and promise – in the fourth gospel.
Over the past several years I have come through a painfully difficult personal time. My faith, my understanding, my very heart have been stretched far beyond what I once thought they could tolerate. I am finally coming to a place of acceptance, but it has been a trying and treacherous journey. Often I have not taken particular steps of that journey well, and caused others pain, even though my intention was only for the best. It started with a desire to experience authentic love—love of God, of others, and possibly most difficult of all, of myself. I yearned to my core for God’s acceptance. While struggling with these internal issues over a period of time, often with the help of dear and wise friends and mentors, I happened to read once again the Gospel of John. What struck me most forcefully this time was the gospel writer’s audacious self-description sprinkled throughout the gospel as “the one Jesus loved dearly” (John 13:22-25). John considered himself the favorite, the pet, the one loved most above all.
To be honest, that struck a deep reptilian chord of jealousy in me. It just didn’t seem fair. Why did this young disciple get to claim that description? After all, he clearly wasn’t the most prominent, the smartest, the most considerate, or the boldest of the bunch, at least if you read the other gospels. And yet here he is in the upper room, leaning comfortably, contentedly, on the bosom of Jesus, calling himself the “beloved” – and knowing it.
It is not within my purpose—or my ability—to answer scholarly questions about the gospel we call John, but to take the vignettes of the gospel bearing his name and wrestle with them in the light of Christ’s love, to strive to understand what it means to be one—even the one!—whom Jesus Christ dearly loves. To grasp that experience deeply in our minds and hearts..I’ve even come to conclude that this disciple may or may not have been loved any more by Jesus than the others. The point is this disciple thought he was. He acted as if he was. He assumed it. He believed it. And so he experienced it. And so can we.
Perhaps you, like me, yearn to sense your place in the loving embrace of Jesus – not merely for comfort and wholeness, but for strength and vision to serve. As we see Jesus heal and teach and serve, as we see him relate to his followers and to John, we can learn more about Jesus’ love relationship with the Father, and we can begin to understand his love relationship with us. That is my hope in writing this book: that you too come to experience yourself as one whom Jesus loves. Even as the beloved one. And that you can live your life that way.
Why The Message?
In the scripture quotes that begin each meditation, you may notice something different. Eugene Peterson’s translation has managed to recast the entire Bible into a contemporary koine English that forces us to take another look at the old familiar verses we’ve come to know and love. It is not so much a translation of the Bible as what Phyllis Tickle has called a “paratranslation” – in other words, “a brilliant lifting up of the spirit and intent of our holy words out of the conventions and sometimes limiting contexts of their times into the becoming and appropriate conventions and idioms of our times.”
Peterson’s approach is helpful to me because, frankly, one of the continual frustrations I encounter in my own spiritual disciplines is a growing familiarity with the Scripture passages I read. Even though I know that each time I read the Word of God its lively, life-giving truth comes through in new and different ways, depending upon where I happen to be standing in the river of the Spirit at the time, I find I must work hard at actually reading rather than skimming the text. Part of the problem for me is that the words of my Bible translation have become too familiar, whereas if I read them in an unfamiliar translation like The Message I stand a better chance of taking the time and effort actually to study them just because they seem new to me
Those of you for whom the Bible is a more recent addition to your reading list may find the language of a standard translation to be a bit unnatural and confusing, so here again the fresh, conversational style of Peterson’s work can open your eyes to new truths.
Occasionally Peterson’s choice of words (such as Paul’s exquisite encouragement to the Romans at the end of his letter to “greet one another with a holy kiss” versus “holy embraces all around!”) will jar you or turn you off, it will also force you to pay closer attention and prompt new thoughts and feelings of your own about the Bible. I think that is the purpose of Scripture, isn’t it?
How This Book Can Help You
This book is written as ninety devotional “vignettes,” glimpses of Jesus’ love, that can be read straight through like any other book or more slowly, one a day over a three-month period. The meditations are divided into three parts. Part One, “Knowing His Love”, asks questions like, “Why can’t we know Jesus’ love more profoundly in our daily life? Why do we have such trouble grasping and accepting the concept of God’s loving grace? Why is our relationship with Jesus seemingly separated from our routine life at work and with our family and friends? Why don’t we sense Christ’s loving, accepting, nurturing embrace of us day by day?
In Experiencing His Love we begin with the English mystic William Blake, who wrote, “We are put on earth a little space/That we might learn to bear the beams of love,” Christ’s love contains both beauty and pain. That means that experiencing his love leads to encountering both; his love has the weight of responsibility. His love must be reckoned with and lived out. His love calls for response, even sacrifice. We’ll discover what that looks like as we encounter the scripture. Finally, Sharing His Love shows us that we cannot contain Christ’s love within our hearts. That would be like forcing an ocean’s worth of water into a puny cup As we are filled with the knowledge and experience of Christ’s love for us, we are empowered and emboldened to reach out and risk loving and serving others. We become true disciples of Christ, lovers for Jesus’ sake, taking up our responsibilities as Christians in a world that desperately needs his unflinching touch. This is where Christ’s love takes us.