Once, after a night of debauchery in my early thirties (at that time in my life debauchery meant staying up to the wee hours playing ‘Hearts’ – the card game, not the relationship pastime), I woke hearing the strains of Slow Train Coming.
Our host had it hot off the press (it was a LP album after all) and was playing it full blast on the turntable. As my fellow debauchees and I listened over brunch, we wondered, “Could it be? Has Dylan become a Christian?”
Irrespective of the correct answer to that query, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, produced three albums deeply rooted in Christian theology in the late 1970s/80s. For a reformed person like me, one of his best poetic images captures the essence of Original Sin – “Born already ruined, Stone-cold dead, As I stepped out of the womb” (From the title song Saved – gospel rock at its best.)
One of the lasting metaphors from this body of Christian-themed music comes from the final album in the trilogy. The song is titled, Watered Down Love. For me, the imagery, more than the actual words of the song, reverberates and the accusing echo that haunts it continues to describe so much of recent life in our Canadian culture and our faith community.
Some wag once commented that almost 90-plus per cent of “correct” answers to any question in a children’s story is either Jesus or love (often both). Love certainly is the implied bottom line for almost any challenge, debate or issue that crosses our path in society or in our denomination. And of course, in the church love is THE BOTTOM LINE. Jesus’ answer(s) to the lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment underscores love’s primary status. As does John’s presentation in chapter 4 of his first epistle.
Yet it seems when love is being advocated among us, Dylan’s accusation, “You don’t want a love that’s pure … You want a watered-down love” is often accurate. Love is the costliest, most challenging, most self-denying of all qualities held dear by the human heart. Read 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4:7ff and, of course, John 3:16 again if you aren’t convinced.
However, what so often is spoken of or advocated as love is some sort of Kiwanian Conviviality (thanks Dr. Walters) rooted in a non-social distancing experience of linking arms around a campfire, singing Happy Wanderer as the sun sets. After months of COVID-19, who could not want such an engagement? But that’s at best affection, not love.
Love recognizes and opposes our universal tendency to egocentricity, hubris, self-assertion, clannishness and other destructive urges. Love asserts there is a way that can seem right (attractive, harmless, politically correct, affirming) but its end is destruction (doesn’t lead a person into a closer connection with her Creator).
Love intends for you and me to experience life in fullness and freedom. Pure love, therefore, seeks both to know and to follow God’s revealed truth as much as one is able. Anything less is embracing love that is watered down (weak, unsatisfying and enervating), The best answer to almost all questions and issues is love, pure love. Such love is and has always been under threat and is a challenge to discern or as Dylan sang, “Love that’s pure ain’t no accident.” It demands effort and spiritual discernment. Your commitment will cover the former, your prayers are needed for the latter.