“…even as we are one.” -John 17:11
Take the phrase—“You’re the first person I have ever told…” In two decades of ministry, I have had the privilege of hearing this phrase more than once. With it come telltale non-verbals, the slumped shoulders, fidgeting fingers, evasive eyes. Sometimes the body goes rigid as if a T-Rex with motion-triggered vision were waiting to pounce from behind the bookcase. If the body language could be translated into English it would say, “I’m afraid that if you really see me, you’ll reject me.”
But when dark secrets first meet the daylight and people are met with love it is a beautiful thing. The muscles start to thaw. The oxygen starts to flow. Bright, unforced smiles return. It is something like an upside down version of Plato’s most famous allegory: When we descend into the cave deep below the world of social expectations with its facade houses, long rows of manicured lawns, self-guarded small talk, and bleached white smiles, and find that there, underground, in reality, we are loved—it is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
But there is an almost universal fear that keeps us from making the subterranean venture. It is the fear that revelation and rejection go together, that the deeper we go into reality the less we will be loved. So we live in the shiny world of forms. We hang pretty self-portraits. We match them with the most profound/clever/witty placards. And then visitors can ooh and aww from a safe distance. You’re a stand-up comic, supermodel, expert on politics, religion, and the culinary arts? Me too!
To be fair, social media is not the culprit. It is more of a conduit for an impulse as old as Adam. He hid behind pretty bushes in the Garden. We do the same thing with our technology. Behind this impulse lurks that all-too-unquestioned fear that with reality comes rejection. Our dilemma becomes: Either be exposed to reality and get rejected or hide in a non-reality where we might win acceptance. It is a dilemma older than Thales and Anaximander. It is our dilemma. It also happens to be a false dilemma.
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 frees us from a false Either-Or. Right after he prays for the unity of his followers, Jesus says to his Father, “you loved them even as you loved me.” Read those eight words again, slowly. In them we find the solution to Adam’s dilemma, to our dilemma: How does the Father love the Son? He loves the Son deeply, happily, unapologetically, irreversibly, infinitely, with the full weight of divine perfection, without reservation, without wavering, without fail. That is how you are loved. Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time: You are loved deeply, happily, unapologetically, irreversibly, infinitely. You are loved with the full weight of divine perfection. You are loved without reservation, without wavering, without fail. “You loved them even as you loved me,” Jesus said.
After allowing yourself to jump with wild abandon and fall on the ground in a smiling heap of thankfulness [take a moment], focus with me on the word, kathos. Theologians have long tried to condense the good news of the Bible to a single word, small Greek prepositions like de, en, and uper. De means ‘but’ as in, we were spiritually dead but God made us alive. En means ‘in’ to express all the life and privilege we have in Christ. Uper means ‘for’ or ‘in place of,’ as in, Jesus died for/in place of sinners. But right along with the good news of “but,” “in,” and “for,” we find the Gospel of “Even As.” The little Greek preposition—kathos—captures the exhilarating truth that God the Father doesn’t merely love us; he loves us even as he loves the Son.
This “Even As” Gospel shows how inverted our thinking about love has become. We avoid the depths to seek acceptance on the surface. But the truth is that the deeper we descend into reality the deeper we are loved. Venture below the social media buzz, below family drama, even below the voices in your own head. Press on underneath all that is fallen, dysfunctional, and crazed. Go until there is no such thing as deeper. There you behold the most radiant, perfect, and sane Being in existence. His whisper silences all of the jumbled, head-spinning static overhead. All the intimacy, joy, and affection he has been declaring to his Son forever, he now declares for you. Philosophers told us there was only a cold black abyss. Gurus told us to expect a grand impersonal energy. Religious zealots had us expecting a white bearded judge poised to crush us with his giant gavel. But they never hit metaphysical bedrock. There, at the bottom of all things, is Love.
This article is adapted from REFLECT: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History (Lexham Press, 2019) by Thaddeus Williams.
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- REFLECT: How Then Are You Loved? Rejoicing on the ‘Even As’ Gospel of John 17 - April 1, 2019