- Ken Wilber
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
This is the crisis that we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.
- John 3.16-21 (The Message)
We of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) …whoa Nellie! This title requires some explanation. It would be easy to read this title as a claim to be the only true disciples, but that would be a mistake. We firmly believe that we are not the only Christians, but Christians only, serving humbly beside Christians of any other stripe or color.
Anyway, we Disciples recently lost a saint – a truly awesome man! – Fred Craddock, who both inspired and humbled us all. He inspired us with some of the best preaching around; and he humbled us with his commitment to serve “The least of these” in practical, hands-on ways. How he managed to write as prolifically as he did and still find time to serve others remains a mystery God alone can penetrate.
Dr. Craddock begins his commentary on John 3.16 with the caution that it is easy to trivialize this verse. Boy! He could say that again. Most of us know this verse in some form, and most of us trivialize it by reading our meanings into the text. We typically think of God as loving… unless you cross him (sic); in which case God can be a harsh judge. And we trivialize it by thinking of the salvation of the Christ as a pie-in-the-sky reward in the distant future for confessing that we believe this statement about Jesus.
We do this, however, at the expense of its context in John’s theology, losing any chance of recognizing the profundity, subtlety, and radically challenging content of this verse. We need to step back and tease out John’s thought on the nature of the God who loves the world, and what he means by salvation.
I invite you to try this in preparation for Sunday’s worship. Reflect on your notion of the God who loves. Is that all God does? What is this God like? And what is this love John speaks about? Is it sentimental and weak, or profound and powerful? And try to summarize what you think of as salvation. Then on Sunday we will examine this verse, and the passage in which it is nestled, with a view to discard any trivializing tendencies, and catch a glimpse of something both inspiring and challenging that can be embraced by all, including those who think long, hard, and reasonably about spiritual things… and expect preacher types to do the same. Join us, won’t you?