For God so Loved the World

From: https://spiceofyourlife.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/gods-gift-john-315-19-bible-resources

From: https://spiceofyourlife.wordpress. com/2012/12/23/gods-gift-john-315-19- bible-resources

This is a well-known passage that sometimes is simply taken for granted. I want to spend some time looking at different parts of the passage. I’m using the inclusive translation here:

Yes, God so loved the world: God loves every bit of the world with all of its imperfections, with all of our mistakes, with all the hatred and violence that exists. God loved and continues to love the world. God loves the world. Not just Christians or people like “us” but the world and loving the world means being engaged in all the messiness of life in the world. It means getting our hands dirty in loving the world. You cannot tend a garden without getting a least a bit of mess on you. Loving the world is no different.

As to give the Only Begotten One: God loved the world so much that God became “part of it, vulnerable to it, partaking of it.”[1] According to Marcus Borg, this phrase doesn’t refer to the idea that Jesus died for our sins but that God became part of the world. God loved the world and became part of it participating in life and in death.

That whoever believes: The idea of believing in statements about God and Jesus is a relatively new phenomenon. Belief has more to do with “commitment, loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance to the beloved, and trust in the beloved”[2]—in this case God as known in Jesus. In our culture belief is often understood as affirming a list of statements about Jesus. But belief isn’t intended to be about affirming doctrinal statements. Belief is about our ability to place our trust in God’s presence and our commitment to follow Jesus’ teaching as faithfully as we can.

May not die but have eternal life: Somewhere along the way in translation and interpretation the original meaning of this phrase got lost. Marcus Borg indicates that eternal doesn’t refer to what we think of as heaven. He references John 17:3 which indicates that “This is eternal life: to know God.” We know God in the present and in knowing God we find eternal life. Borg doesn’t discount an afterlife but that suggests the focus is on knowing God in this life. [3] I like to use the term abundant life in place of eternal life simply to help make the distinction clear. Abundant life focuses on the present and living with the fullness of God in each day.

God sent the Only Begotten into the world not to condemn the world, but that through the Only Begotten the world might be saved: Christianity has sometimes lifted up the idea (and often based on this passage) that if you believe the correct doctrine about Jesus you will be saved and go to heaven in the next life. If you believe incorrectly you will be condemned to hell. But this passage doesn’t actually uphold that theology. This passage very clearly reminds us that God loves the world and that in our trust and faith in God we find abundant life.

Whoever believes in the Only Begotten avoids judgement: We hear judgement in this context and often think of God the divine judge sitting in heaven handing out punishment. The Greek word that is used here refers to an “on-going process of judging, in which deeds are continually evaluated relating to light or darkness, being righteous or being oppressive, sustaining life or diminishing life.”[4] Randall Bush writes that “Christians are too often prone to see the life of faith as an examination for which we hope to receive a passing grade, rather than a continuum of daily acts.”[5] If we think of it this way, we always have the opportunity to make decisions about our behavior—to judge what is right and wrong, to choose good or hurtful behavior in our lives. If we are faithful to Jesus’ way, it becomes so ingrained in our being that we no longer need to choose right or wrong. Behavior that is abundant and life-giving becomes our life. By knowing God we know how to behave and how to live.

But whoever doesn’t believe is judged already for not believing in the name of the Only Begotten of God: Whoever doesn’t trust in God’s presence or is unable to absorb the message that Jesus brings will always have to be choosing right or wrong. The choices won’t always be as clear or as easy to follow through on.

On these grounds the sentence is pronounced: That though the light came into the world, people showed they preferred darkness to the light because their deeds were evil: Here, the writer of John is trying to set boundaries around who is in and out of their group. In the ancient world the boundaries were important. Care and concern and love extended only to those who were part of your group. In this case, the people who follow Jesus are understood as the enlightened ones. Membership in the enlightened group was not based on right belief but on deeds. People whose deeds seem to mirror that of Jesus become part of the light. People whose actions seem to be outside of what Jesus taught become part of the darkness. Part of what was so radical about Jesus’ message is that he broke down the barriers and boundaries. Jesus consistently associated with people who were outside his own social group. This verse extends the group consciousness not based on family relationships or social class but on behavior.

People who do wrong hate the light and avoid it, for fear their actions will be exposed; but people who live by the truth come out into the light so that it may be plainly seen that what they do is done in God: People who wanted to continue to hate and oppress would avoid associating with the new Christian group. The radicalness of the Christian group actually would naturally draw in people who wanted compassion and justice and love. It would naturally keep out the people who wanted to continue living with hate and violence. Everyone has the possibility of being part of the “in group”. Being part of this is not based on social class, family, ethnicity, religious background. Being part of the Christian group is based on behavior that reflects Jesus’ life.

So what does all this have to do with us? This passage re-orients the focus of the Christian faith from in which emphasis is on the next life to one in which we are focused on abundant life around us each day. The focus is not on right belief about God but on our trust and faith that allows us to know God in the present. This sense of God’s presence infuses our being so that we are filled with God’s spirit that continually leads us to behave in ways that mirror God as shown to us in Jesus.

What is most important in our faith is not the specifics of what we believe about Jesus but our willingness to place our trust in God and in the way of life shown to us in Jesus that offers compassion, love, healing, generosity for all the world. God loved the entire world, regardless of whether people are part of our “in group” or not. Sometimes it is tempting to vilify the people who perpetrate violence and hate in our world. In doing so we forget that God loves the entire world—even people we think are our enemies—and that God’s love has the ability to transform individual lives and the world.

May all our behavior reflect the love that God has for the world. May we constantly spread the love and compassion that we experience to every person that our lives touch.

[1]. Borg, Marcus J. (2009-03-17). Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (p. 307). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2]. Borg, Marcus J. (2009-03-17). Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (p. 307). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[3]. Borg, Marcus J. (2009-03-17). Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (p. 144). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[4]. Bush, Randall K. Preaching God’s Transforming Justice. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 156.

[5]. Bush, Randall K. Preaching God’s Transforming Justice. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 156.

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