John 3:16 is possibly the most quoted Bible verse.
It is a wonderful verse. God loves creation so much God joins it as a human being. Amazing. Think about it: the Source of all life, the creator of all things comes to share in the wonder of the very thing created. If only we could get the beauty, the majesty and the incredible amazing beyond-ness of such an idea.
We spend much time in our world with the awfulisers, to quote Michael Leunig. The news bulletins, the scare mongering, the fear and dread of everything from nuclear war, climate change and Kim Il Jung and Donald Trump’s hair, all work to convince us that this is a world we need to find an escape from.
Yet this is an amazing world. Naturally and on its own it is truly amazing. A quick walk in a forest, a swim across a coral reef or a late night gaze at the night sky will attest to this. It is naturally amazing and the process of natural selection in evolution continues to affirm the incredible complexity and randomness of life.
Human beings via our capacity to understand, think and rationalise have added further wonder and complexity to the world. Research and knowledge has lead to the solving of previously unsolvable crises in ecological, technological and scientific fields. We now live long and healthier, have the capacity to solve conundrums and medical dilemmas and do much more. We take for granted a quality of life our ancestors could only have dreamed about.
We too easily forget the reason why God loved the world – because God made it and saw it was good. And it still is good in spite of whatever the6 o’clock news, the Herald-Sun or talk back radio may tell you.
Unfortunately we often use this verse as a means to escape from that world – those of us who get who Jesus was get to live, really live; and those that don’t, can and do go to hell. We use it as a spiritual definition of who is in and who is out.
John challenges us to understand that people who follow the way of Jesus, the process by which Jesus lives, the algorithm of love, compassion and inclusion are seen for who they are – people who reflect God in the world, knowingly and unknowingly. These are the respectable people Psalm 15 talks about. Not perfect people, not people with out blemishes but simply respectable people; people who do the good and appropriate thing for no other reason than it is good and appropriate, in the manner of the good Samaritan.
These are the people who, with or without particular knowledge of Jesus, act in his way and will be counted as his. Living in the 21st century we live with a deeper, wider and higher understanding of the indwelling of God in each and every person. We understand people now are able to deduce for themselves what is and isn’t appropriate to do because of that indwelling. We understand the imagination and creative capacities of human beings are such that we act with and on behalf of God often without knowing we do.
Science and technology has shifted us from a place of dependence on an interventionist God to a place of partnership with the creative source of the universe and to do so in ways enhancing, enlarging and enlivening the space and place in which we live. It has allowed us to collectively and collaboratively lift people out of the damnation found in illness, famine, poverty and catastrophe – to give people life in its fullness, or at least in a more fuller way than ever before.
Now this may sound like man is equal to or replacing God, and in some ways it may be. In certain orthodox Christian traditions the aim of the Christian life is the deification of humanity – God becomes human so that humans could become more like God.
We are in this place now, even if we have just moved into it. We are beginning to love the world and its creatures more and more as God does each day. Our emphasis on ecological care, global warming, the rights of the poor and the marginalised, and our capacity to feel with, empathise with our earthly home is very different to even 100 years ago.
Yes, there are still many who want to rape and pillage both the planet and its people for personal gain, power and wealth but these are beginning to understand they are more accountable for their actions than ever before. Change is occurring and will continue to occur as we as a worldwide community begin to embrace each other and the place we inhabit in ways resembling the love God has for the world.
God so loved the world and Jesus came not to condemn it and all within it, but to love it into wholeness and fullness of being despite those who reject him. This verse is not about the acceptance of the violence of the cross as a gateway to happiness. It is about the innate love the Godhead has for creation and those of us who live within that creation. It is about the immense possibility for all sentient beings and the way is always open to life, love, fullness and wholeness.
If we could just imagine this verse for the amazing insight it brings into our daily life of the incredible opportunity we have to be alive and experiencing it and to take that self same opportunity to care for and live in harmony with all whom God say as worthy to live amongst, then what a different world it would be. There would be no more adoration of the bloody crosses we seem to cherish.