Growing with John 3:16

Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Text: John 3:14-21

My history with John 3:16 reminds me that more light and truth may break forth over many years of reflection and encounter with biblical texts and the Holy Spirit.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I watched sporting events where evangelical Christian spectators would hold up posters reading: "John 3:16." "Wow," I thought, that's a bold thing to do. I wonder what that's about."

As a pre-teen, I learned the words of the verse: 'For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that those who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life.'

Knowing the words led to more questions than answers:
What's included in 'the world' that God loves?
How is Jesus God's 'only begotten Son'?
What does 'perish' really mean?
What is 'everlasting life'?
What counts as believing in Jesus?

As a young adult, I heard for the first time the piece from John Stainer's Crucifixion, "God So Loved the World". I appreciated how the music elevated the content of the words and repeated them for our spiritual contemplation.

In particular, I was exposed through Stainer's piece to the next verse, John 3:17, which reinforces that Jesus' coming was intended NOT to condemn the world but to save it. And yet by implication something must happen to that which is not saved. I wrestled with what it could mean for God to not save the fullness of creation.

Then I studied religion where I grappled with the theological ideas of predestination (the idea associated with 16th century Reformer John Calvin that God has predetermined who is saved or not) and universal salvation (that all creation will be ultimately reconciled with God).

I was taught to read the fuller context around verses like 3:16, and in this case saw that Jesus was describing salvation and damnation in terms of light and darkness to a man (Nicodemus) who had sought out Jesus at night—in the darkness—so that his fellow Jewish leaders wouldn't know that he had talked with Jesus. So Jesus may have been using the darkness metaphor in part to speak to Nicodemus' own situation.

And I learned that there were no quotation marks in ancient Greek, so that we're not sure whether John 3:16 is even supposed to be heard as Jesus' words or the comments of John the gospel writer!

In my ordained ministry, I have offered care to people in moments of spiritual crisis and/or in the last days of their earthly lives, and can't help but pray for the love of God that John 3:16 attempts to describe, that this love embraces them and fulfills its purpose of salvation.

Today I hear "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son..." and it still leads me to many questions, but questions that draw me in a deeper curiosity for and love of God, questions that enlarge my desire to live in God's light and truth here and eternally. I do believe that God's love seeks to draw all creation into voluntary acceptance of God's love for all creation as I know it through Jesus.

Prayer: God, we may not go to a sporting event with John 3:16 written on poster board, but we pray that through our words and actions of witness and love we may grow in wonder for your love and by your grace spread the news of God's undying love. Amen.

-Rev. Adam

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