Virtual relationships are both common and commonly condemned. Facebook posts are frequently made but also frequently disparaged - as trivial and superficial. In the new reality of cyberspace, the cry for good old-fashioned real relationships rings out. But this is not a new problem.

When John wrote his second letter, he was not struggling with the trivialization of relationships caused by social media and electronic devices. For him the problem was how paper and ink hindered real communication. So he wrote (note the irony here that this is what he wrote): "Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face that our joy may be complete" (v.12).

Complete joy, relational fulfillment undiluted by inadequate forms of communication, was only possible face to face. This, after all, was the disciple whom Jesus loved; he enjoyed a relationship that was not lacking key components. It included sitting at table together eating, reclining, conversing. John knew that his relationship with Jesus had not been limited by the constraints of what can be written on paper; Jesus was his friend, not his pen-pal.

However, John was not a proto-Luddite. He was well aware of the impediments of pen and papyrus, but he was still a letter-writing apostle. He used the media of his day to good effect. And, as such, he is a model for us, a prototype blogger.

He knew the limitations of the available media and stayed within those boundaries. He wrote a lot and he still had much to write. He would rather not use paper and ink, but he did use paper and ink. Perhaps that is a good attitude to have toward cell phones and blogs and e-mails. It's fine to use such media so long as we would rather not! When we prefer facebook to face-to-face we are in trouble.

The fact that he genuinely preferred personal conversation to writing with paper and ink is seen the fact that while he had much to write to "the elect lady and her children" (v.1), he actually did not write much at all to them. The word "paper" here refers to papyrus, and a short letter like 2 John would comfortably fit on one papyrus sheet of about normal size. He limited himself to the restrictions of the medium.

In some ways this is a frustrating little letter. We have no idea what the other things were that he wanted to say to these friends. He leaves us in suspense, not knowing what he wanted to say but wouldn't write. Such self-control - for these were things that he really wanted to write. Yet he did not write them. Why? Because he knew they would be spoiled if only communicated in writing. The fact that we have something we could say in an e-mail, or burning news we want to tell the world in a facebook post, is not sufficient grounds for believing that we ought to write. John suggests that there are many important things that are best not written (or blogged or posted or phoned).

Facebook is no substitute for face to face. Even skyping is not really an equivalent to face to face, because what John is after is not simply visual connection. The perfect, joy-completing communication to which John refers in this verse is literally "mouth-to-mouth" rather than face to face, as was the case in the way that God conversed with Moses (Numbers 12:8). The key element was not the visual image of a face, but the breath of life that flows from the spoken word communicated by real people in real life.

So many of our virtual relationships are virtually dead. How do we bring our relationships back to life? John is advocating mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He won't kill off relational life by saying things in media that cannot carry that which needs to be said; rather he yearns for a visit. Then the communication can be life-giving, and the relational joy will be complete. 

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