When did John 3:16 become the most famous verse in the Bible? I’m not sure. If you had to pick only one verse in the Bible to memorize, you probably couldn’t do better, although there are many others equally worthy.
What I fear is that anyone would think that the verse is sufficient by itself. Implicit in this wonderful verse about the love of God is the sinister antithesis of the love of God: man’s disobedience and unlove of God.
For God so loved the world, but the world did not so love God. What a contrast this passage present between God and man, between God and me.
I begin with the incredible love of God, because that’s where God starts. It was out of His love that God created the world. Being love, He couldn’t help but create a world that He loved and which reflected that love.
But all throughout John 3 is the threat of perishing in condemnation. The Son of Man must be lifted up that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (verse 15). For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
We’ve all memorized John 3:16, but we must remember it in the context of John 3:18 – that he who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn it: because, rejecting Him, it already stands condemned.
This is Jesus, the loving Son of God, preaching this at you – not me. He must have felt it was pretty important to mention perishing and condemnation so often in such a short time.
What a contrast there is between God and the world. God is love, and the world does not love Him but loves itself. God loves those who are unloving and unlovable, and those who are unloving and unlovable but only love self.
How humbling this passage is, if only we would truly hear it and receive it. How often, even as one who has believed in the Son of God, I don’t love God as He has loved me. God continues to send His Son into the world and into my life: He’s always here. He’s here in the world, as the One who creates and sustains it. He’s here in the Church, as His living Body here on earth. And He’s here within me, through His Holy Spirit.
But how often I choose to continue to live in darkness, as if He weren’t here, as if He weren’t constantly continuing to offer Himself to me in love.
He comes to me in love first thing in the morning, in my daily ritual of resurrection, as I arise from sleep and darkness. But my first thought is that I’m naked and must get properly clothed with the clothes of business or thoughts of the cup of salvation, the sacred ritual of the cup of coffee.
He comes to me in love in my family, the One who adopted me into His holy family. But I see the work of my hands, and I hear the strife and disunity that is so often present.
He comes to me in love in His creation: the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.
In every thought I have, in every word I hear; in every person I meet, in every event that occurs: the One who was sent to me with the mission of Love fulfills that mission.
He stands before me in love every moment of my life: how often do I see Him, and how often am I still with Nicodemus in the dark?
How often am I ready to receive Him in love? That’s the question.
He loves me even when I sin and even when I refuse to come to Him.
For God continues to love the world, and He continues to love me. I am, in fact, though I don’t usually think of it or believe it, the apple of His eye. I am the object of His infinite love. He looks at me the way Jackie often looks at me with pure love, or the way I often look at my children. His love isn’t attached to a needle that goes up when I remember Him and down when I ignore Him (thank Him!)
He never gets bored with me, even when I bore myself, and He listens to and remembers my every word, even when He doesn’t dwell on the curses and words said out of self or anger.
That Love that created the world and holds it in love is the Love that loves me!
Lord, let me love the light today, that I might love thee!
Prayer: Ah, Lord God, Thou holy Lover of my soul, when Thou comest into my heart, all that is within me shall rejoice. Thou art my Glory and the exultation of my heart; Thou art my Hope and Refuge in the day of my trouble.
Set me free from evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections that, being inwardly cured and thoroughly cleansed, I may be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing more courageous, nothing fuller or better in heaven and earth; because love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things.
Let me love Thee more than myself, nor love myself but for Thee; and in Thee all that truly love Thee, as the law of love commandeth, shining out from Thyself. Amen. (Thomas a Kempis)
Points for Meditation:
1. How does God love you: count the ways! Keep track of how many ways God shows His love to you today!
2. Make a list of the ways that God shows His love.
3. How might you love God?
Resolution: I resolve to herd my thoughts back to the amazing love of God all throughout the day today.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson