Never settle for second best when God offers us something so much greater and more certain.
D.A. Carson shared the following illustration in a lecture on Revelation to apply the truth of Revelation 1:5 (“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood”) and explain how the cross is the ultimate proof of Christ’s love. (Download entire lecture series.) The story comes from conversing with a missionary in Papua New Guinea and has been lightly edited for readability. Listen to the illustration below starting around 14:45.
On this particular day, I went to this couple’s place. I had said some things in a sermon, just asides, that they had taken some umbrage at, and they wanted to push me a bit.
They told me how they had a visiting preacher from America there some time before. He was trying to deal with adults who had been abused as children (girls or boys), physically or perhaps sexually, and who felt as a result distant from God. All kinds of stories show that it is hard to feel loved by God when you’ve never felt loved by your parents. So this visiting preacher had tried to get…the people in the group that had came from this background to reimagine their birth again. This missionary had told me how he had reimagined how he had dropped from his mother’s womb with Jesus standing there to catch him and give him a warm cuddle and hold him close. And it became such a moving thing for him that he wept and wept and wept. This was the first time he felt that he was genuinely loved by Jesus, and it had been immensely cathartic for him.
Now was I going to criticize that? He asked me. Basically I had criticized some of that in one of the sermons. He said that, “It has helped me, I feel more mature, more stable, loved by Christ. What’s wrong with any of that?”
What would you have answered? “Oh, I’d rather that you not feel the love of Christ, thank you.”
Now what I said to him was: “Look. If in consequence of this experience you are better able to feel the love of God in Christ Jesus, I’m happy. I’m not going to throw stones. But I will tell you frankly, you’ve chosen second best.”
He said, “I beg your pardon!”
I said, “Where in Scripture is the love of Christ most greatly manifested? It’s manifested in the incarnation. It’s manifested in the sufferings, in supremely the cross-work of Christ. Isn’t that what all the New Testament writers come back to again and again and again? Isn’t that’s what’s going on in Revelation 1? Isn’t that what Paul says when describing justification in Galatians 2:20-21 and he throws in Christ Jesus, ‘who loved me and gave Himself for me.'” Now likewise here, “to Him who loved us and freed us from our sins in His own blood.”
What I said to him was, “Look. You could have had the same catharsis. You could have had the same feeling of emotional reintegration in the context of gospel application of basic gospel truths. Where does the Bible speak of discovering the love of Jesus by projecting in your imagination Jesus standing there at your mother’s womb as you drop from her belly? Now the truth of the matter is, in your own mind,” I said, “You do not now think of the power of the gospel to reintegrate your life, but the power of imagination. If you’re reintegrated and beginning to be able to feel again, I’m not going to throw stones. But you still have chosen second best. You’ve got it aligned and associated in your mind not with what God discloses you should have it associated with. But with something, with which in time, if not checked, could eventually take you off into all kinds of psychological solutions to this and imaginings of that and transcendental meditations on something else, instead of that which is the finest, historical, God-centered, space-time history, real demonstration of the love of Christ, namely, the cross.
Now I tell you frankly that you could have had all the emotional experience all of the sense of reintegration, all the brokenness, all the tears, by meditating on a passage like Ephesians 3:14-21, ‘That you might be able to grasp with all the saints the height and length and breadth and depth of the love of God in Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.’
What you need is to integrate your experiential grasp of love with the gospel. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time till you drift off to the mere pursuit of experience divorced from God’s self-disclosure in the gospel.”