John 3:16. It’s a Bible verse much beloved for many reasons. Its message is full of comfort. It’s the elevator pitch for Christianity — the heart of the faith in one sentence. And everyone likes being told they’re loved, especially when the lover is the Lord of the universe.
But it’s a tough message too. Look what God’s love cost: his only begotten Son.
Love is hard and costly. And that’s the kicker. We can’t just go about our lives in the warm glow of knowing that we are beloved children of God. God’s love demands a response — and it isn’t always about soft, fuzzy feelings and valentines and violins.
“God so loved the world,” the verse begins. Not just us. Not just God’s chosen people. Not just Lutherans or Americans or people we like — loveable people. God loves the whole world — and not just the people in it, but the entire creation.
Real love on this earth demands that a parent become sleep-deprived to nurse a sick child back to health or work two jobs to keep food on the table. It calls a spouse to give loving care to a partner suffering from dementia. It calls firefighters or soldiers to risk their lives to save others. It calls volunteers to spend long hours in soup kitchens housed in “bad” neighborhoods to feed some of the least among us.
Loving the rest of creation is hard too. We love our comforts. What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of other creatures? Cut down on driving miles? Give up big houses on huge patches of land? Turn away from deep-green lawns kept that way only through more fertilizer and pesticides than are good for the land? Say no to more trinkets and gadgets that will six months from now end up in a landfill?
Loving the whole world is hard. So is loving our family members and friends. Loving people we don’t know is harder. And as for loving our enemies…
But God so loved the world.
How should we love the world today? In the present public climate, we can say the most evil, hateful, hurtful things we can think of about people with whom we disagree and excuse it as “free speech.”
Speaking the truth in love or even respecting or being civil to them is just so last century. So how do we love people who disagree with us about matters of public policy or have lifestyles we find repugnant or who are in competition with us for scarce resources?
How do we love people of a different faith, or who speak a different language, or who look different, who are “not our kind”? How do we love those that say openly that they hate us and want to destroy us?
God so loved the world.
What about the non-human world? Are we willing to pay more for meat and vegetables we know are humanely and responsibly produced? Are we willing to not buy the latest “must-have” gadget because we know it’s produced in conditions that brutalize the people who make it? Are we willing to live more frugally and simply, giving up some luxuries and comforts, so other creatures also have a chance to survive?
We know what God was willing to do for love. What are we willing to do?
- What difficult choices do you make in response to God’s radical love for creation?
- Who is it difficult to love? How do you move from dislike or hate to tolerance and love?
- What is your grateful response to God’s love in your everyday life?