I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:10, The Message)
For all the hope and inspiration embedded in Jesus’ words, let us not miss the depth of what he said. Peterson’s paraphrase of John 10:10 appears to stray from the original text, but it is well-informed by a long theological history. Jesus spoke of “real” life, which clearly suggests that there is a “un-real” life.
To remain on this planet, we must eat and drink and work. We build houses and gardens, listen to the birds, stroll in the forest. We have hobbies, write books, read books, climb mountains, make discoveries, sail boats, debate with our foes, laugh with our friends. We mow the grass, admire art, bind wounds, feel a cool breeze. However, despite all appearances, life does not consist of such things.1
The natural inclination is to view the world around us as the “real” world. After all, we cannot deny that the ground beneath our feet is rock-solid, ice is cold, cuts bleed, and the death of a loved one hurts. In the common perception, the spiritual belongs to the philosophical or the imaginary. If someone were to “go off into the spiritual”, they must return to the “real world” at some point. Even the great contemplative, Teresa of Avila conceded that “someone has to do the cooking.”
In John 10, Jesus is quite clear: the only thing that is real about life is God and His kingdom. God is the Real. Real life, that which truly matters, takes place not in the physical world, but in the spiritual realm. This is, once again, a great reversal.2 The world around us is the un-real. It is not un-real in the sense that it does not exist or that, if I strike my toe against the bed-frame, I will feel no pain. The world around us is un-real in the sense that it is temporary. The writer of Ecclesiastes refers to everything around us, our lives and everything we encounter in them, as “vanity” or “smoke” (Eccles 2:11).
Since this is the case, it then makes perfect sense to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” Conversely, it is sheer insanity to ignore God or to forsake a wholehearted, energetic, all-consuming pursuit of His “bright presence, fresh and celebrating” (Jude 1:24). Because the world around us is so “in your face”, most of us have great difficulty seeing the words of Christ in John 10 as being anything but inspirational. But Jesus did not come to inspire; he paid an inestimable price to come to our planet to conduct the deadly serious business of leading people to God.
And here, with ultimate authority, is what he said:
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of… Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
We set out as young people to build our lives: get an education, find a job, raise a family. If we live in the United States, we pursue the “American dream.” Most of us figure out, sooner or later, that all the “stuff” that we accumulate and all the dreams we pursue do not amount to a hill of beans.3 Struggling to find meaning and significance, to find life, we lose it. So clever is the deception, that we do not even notice.
The only way to Real life is the way of sacrifice, suffering, and death, the Jesus way. If there were any other way, Jesus would have told us about it and lived it. But the Jesus way makes no sense, not when there are riches to be won, honors to be gained, and mountains to be climbed. Is it any wonder that so few are interested in a life of suffering and death, especially as long as there is any hope that we will find happiness, fulfillment, and meaning amidst the temporary?
It is a certainty that we need a savior far more than we can even imagine.
1 Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Matt 6:25-29, The Message, my emphasis)
2 This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30, The Message, my emphasis)
3 “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8, my emphasis)