For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end so that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16
It amazes me how easily those words still roll off my tongue. They are words of my youth, and words that for a while I said or heard at least a few times each week.
They are words that at Seminary, we were told were “the comfortable words”. And that they are. There is a certain level of comfort that I receive each time I hear them.
They do take me back to times that I enjoyed. The worship I was involved in as I read them or heard them—the training I received in Seminary—my own attendance at worship as a kid—all of those things run through my mind when I hear these words. I even chuckle a little remembering the guy that used to sit behind home plate at baseball games holding up the John 3:16 sign, with his multi-coloured wig, and big glasses.
These are certainly words of comfort.
They have become words of dis-comfort too. As I read them, ponder them, pray about them, and wonder more about their meaning, they become less comfortable.
My first dis-comfort with them is, “Why did God so love the world?” What have we done ever to warrant such love, or even live a life worthy of such love?
Today our children begin a new Sunday School program. They’re working on the story of Adam and Eve today. It’s a wonderful story—all about how God’s hand made the world, and God saw that the whole of creation was very good.
But it isn’t long before Adam and Eve mess that up. They both eat from a tree that they’ve been told not to. They disobey God, and God ends up casting them out from the Garden that was created for them.
Unfortunately our rebellion doesn’t stop there. At the time of Noah, we mess things up again. We figured out a way to become immortal—at least through our children, and we try with all our might to gain that immortality. God’s resolution is to send the flood and start everything over again.
Then we mess it up even worse. God sends two messengers—angels—down to check on things, and we try to overpower them, and have our way with them. So God destroys a couple of cities.
And those are just the stories of past, they’re not the stories of our own lives, but our stories of faith. They might point to snippets of our own lives, where we’ve wanted to do our will and not God’s, or live a life of immortality, or have power over God, and our will be done. They aren’t though stories of our own rebellion.
It really is a wonder that God would still love the world after all this. This was definitely not what God had dreamed up in the first six days.
Actually I think God got so fed up that God wasn’t sure what to do. There’s a period of hundreds of years between the last prophets, and Jesus’ arrival on the scene. I don’t know, maybe God was off somewhere else in the world, working with some other people, but it certainly doesn’t seem as if God was working with God’s chosen people.
So that’s where all the dis-comfort comes from. If as a people of faith, we haven’t lived up to God’s commandments—be them 10 or be them two—then why bother showing love for us anymore. God had decided to start things over again a few times, why not just do so again? It doesn’t make sense, it isn’t rational. Logic and ration would dictate what we would call “corrective action” or discipline for our transgressions.
That’s what we expect—failure to live according to the rules, requires immediate punishment. If you read the article in the Post, about the students at M.M. Robinson that were victims of assault—hazing if you wish—then you know your own response. Failure to live according to the rules, requires immediate consequences for those who fail to live by them.
The other part that brings me dis-comfort is the part of God giving God’s only Son to us to kill. I thought my parents asked me to do some tough things in life, but nothing like that. I just can’t even fathom such an action, such a request. Think about it, if you had children, think about sending one of them out to die to save the world, and if you didn’t think about all the children you’ve met, and pick one of them, to die for the salvation of the whole world. Wow! Do you think you could ever do that? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. I’d want to send myself instead.
So then, if we don’t warrant such love, and if the way to show it is so abhorrent, then how can these words ever bring us comfort?
I guess that is one of the paradoxical things about God, and how God works. Every time we think we understand, God does something to flip it all around.
The Hebrew term often used for God’s love is “hesed”. We don’t have a good translation for it into English. The one that is often is “loving-kindness”, but I think that translation is pretty weak. We also translate it as “mercy, kindness, steadfast love”. I don’t think though that we have a good term for it, because we can’t even begin to understand it.
How could God love us after all we’ve done? How could God’s love cause such a thing to happen?
That’s the foolishness of the cross that we celebrate today—it is unexplainable.
That is though how much God does love us—no matter what we’ve done wrong—no matter how we’ve acted—no matter how we’ve hurt each other or forgotten God’s laws, God will loves us.
So much that God was willing to go to the cross for us, to die and show us God’s boundless love.
May we show that same love in the world. May we love without bound, without restriction, without keeping record of how much someone else has loved us. For that is what we’re called to do, and who we are called to be.