A Couple of weeks ago, I read Tish Harrison Warren’s excellent book Prayer in the Night. In her writing, Warren is lovably—and, from a Baptist perspective, annoyingly—Anglican, which allows her to read her own spiritual journey through the lens of the church’s experiences and liturgies. As such, her insights into the human predicament are both enlightening and troubling.
One particular episode in the book both irked and challenged me. Warren recounts how she had shared some of her pains and doubts with a missionary some years before. The missionary responded by asking her, “Is Jesus enough?”
One of the reasons that this story irks me so much is because it is so common. People are forever trying to tell us all they need—all we need—is Jesus. And, for a long time, I have argued that this is terrible theology. God made us as embodied creatures, I have insisted, who have physical and psychological needs which extend beyond our need for fellowship with our Creator. God knows this, and His good news for us is that Jesus reconciles us to God and to one another (cf. Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:11-18).
At one level, I stand by this claim. When Peter asked Jesus what he and the other disciples would get for following Jesus, the Lord did not respond, “Peter, aren’t I enough for you?” Instead, he enumerated a list of material and relational blessings which the disciples would receive, in addition to eternal life (Mark 10:28-31 and parallels).
At another level, however, I have come to understand why the church’s spiritual masters put so much emphasis on the sufficiency of Jesus. As Warren herself points out, we should notice the peculiar way Jesus defines eternal life (John 17:3). It is about knowing God the Father and His only-begotten Son. This way of construing eternal life is all the more surprising given the Jewish, Johannine, and Pauline emphasis on resurrection.
Perhaps more to the point, I now live under the constant threat that, some time in the near future, Jesus may be all I have. When life is full of material, professional, and relational blessings, we can become numb to the spiritual need bound up in the human condition. But as those material, professional, and relational blessings are stripped away, they awaken in us a “thirst” only the Triune God can satisfy (Psalm 143:6-7).
Indeed, the psalmist teaches us that without God’s presence, we might as well be dead. Sure enough, we need to see the evidence of God’s “unfailing love;” we need to see God actively working on our behalf (Psalm 143:8). But the thing we need most is God’s nearness—the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual awareness of His love and the conviction that His love is for us.
As Warren reminds her readers, Scripture invites us to ask God for the practical help He already knows we need, and it invites us to believe God is good enough, powerful enough, and loving enough to grant our requests. But Scripture also places before us a question. In what, or in whom, are we trusting in order to be okay?
Our inherent interdependence as humans makes this a more complicated question than we might anticipate. There is no getting around the fact that losing our dearest loves will wound us, and we may walk through the rest of our life with a limp. But, at least for some of us, we will have to make that journey, and we will have to be okay making it with Jesus—and not much else.
How we do that is something of a mystery to me. Frankly, I hope I never find out, at least not through personal experience. But this much I know. We can only survive the destruction of our idols, to say nothing of the loss of our legitimate loves, with the help of a gracious God. And if that is the case, perhaps it is only God’s grace which allows the people and experiences which bless our lives to have the nourishing and restorative power we are so afraid will be lost.