Every once in a while, we encounter a quote that gets our attention. Something that sticks with us and shapes the way we see the world. At Ambleside, we call them living ideas. Earlier this week, as I gathered with the Middle School teachers in morning prayer, I was reminded of one such living idea. It comes in the form of a quote, from the author Timothy Keller:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”
This is a quote to build a life upon. Let me explain.
Some of us tend to think of the Christian life as the path to becoming a moralistic, spiritual hero. Morality is our aim and we pat ourselves on the back when we do good things. Following Jesus, we think, has more to do with a moral checklist than it does with a relationship. This can lead to devastating feelings of failure when we mess up. Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in the Jesus Storybook Bible,
“…people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.”
Does this sound like you? It definitely sounds like me. Sally Lloyd-Jones is right; the bible isn’t a book of amazing moral heroes. It’s filled with the stories of people who failed over and over again. The prophet Jonah sulks bitterly after God forgives Nineveh. King David rapes and murders. The elder son refuses to forgive his brother. Peter abandons and denies Jesus.
The Bible is filled with moral failures. Rather than depress us, however, their failures should give us hope.
We find hope because in the pages of Scripture, we see a God who pursues broken failures. In spite of all their sin, the saints of the bible were pursued by a God who fully knows and truly loves them.
The Apostle Paul says it this way: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The saints of the Bible lived out of that relationship. If they loved others, they did it because they first were loved by God. “We love because he first loved us,” John writes (1 John 4:19). This is the life we are invited into. Relational intimacy is the deepest reality of the Christian life, not moralistic heroism.
At Ambleside, our desire is for every relationship to be a reflection of that relational life with God. Knowing and loving is the call of being a teacher. It is also the call of every parent. We are given a front row seat to the rebellion and sin of our children. We all encounter difficulties that can, if left unchecked, lead to frustration and relational fracturing. If you’ve been in the Ambleside family for long, though, you likely have seen how our teaching staff enter into joyful love of our students in spite of their struggles. The relationships that we foster on campus are beautiful expressions of this. Teachers and parents in our community seek to know and to show love.
This year as we enter anew into this relational life, let’s remember that Jesus himself wasn’t beyond this model. Christ’s life and work flowed from his intimate relationship with the Father. When Jesus was baptized, God the Father proclaimed this reality from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This is what every child needs to hear from their father. These words reflect the deep knowledge and true love that flow from intimate relationship. Jesus was known and loved.
Because our life is hidden in Christ, we hear these words from God as well. Through the Spirit, the Father proclaims acceptance and love to us. This, as Keller says, “is what we need more than anything.” We are deeply known and truly loved by the Father.
Each year, we sing these words on campus:
“Be Thou my Wisdom and Thou my true Word.
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father and I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one.”
This year, you will get some things wrong. You will mess up. So will I. Rest in the knowledge that you are being pursued by God in spite of all that.
He deeply knows.
He truly loves.