Eugene Peterson’s “Long Obedience in One Direction” came to an end this week. His life has touched many and his life’s work will continue to influence for years to come. He was a pastor’s pastor. He taught by word and example how a true shepherd cares for his “sheep”.
I was most influenced by his “Message” which was a poetic paraphrase of the Bible. Many folks I came across had suffered a kind of spiritual abuse at the hands of Bible quoting authoritarians, who wielded scripture like a weapon. “Spare the rod …” “Thou shalt not…!” etc. So familiar were these rebukes that people had a built up resentment to scriptures and so could not “hear” the Good News they contain. When I discovered the Message I heard a fresh voice, free of the undeserved baggage that other versions carried. The Message became a valued tool in my evangelistic tool kit. It is extremely raw in places and ever so tender in others. It evokes a response. It is startling because it does not suffer with the contempt that comes with familiarity. I am keenly aware that it is not a text for biblical scholars. It is not a literal translation, but it is wonderfully and powerfully literate. I continue to use it personally and with my friends.
I came across a brilliant Peterson quote just the other day. “Our senses have been dulled by sin. The world, for all its vaunted celebration of sensuality, is relentlessly anaesthetic” We have so much stimulation that we are numb. We are stupefied by stimulation. We like the fashionable zombies of the screen are in a kind of slumber. We have succumbed and are in Peterson’s words “relentlessly anaesthetic”. The opposite of anaesthetic is aesthetic. Could the cure for our stupor, our numbness, be as simple as ‘beauty’?
I think it is as we pause with all our devices shut off and as we as the old chorus says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” as we gaze at the beauty of the great Good News, as we are still and know that He is God, that we come to life. It is all too easy to become overwhelmed. It is all too easy to become so stimulated with information and opinion. The antidote isn’t more stimulation, or different stimulation, or faster stimulation. The answer isn’t some Luddite repudiation of technology. The antidote is to find beauty. Paul writes “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8 “The Message”)