Sometimes repetition renders things virtually meaningless. Think of the first time you told your spouse or a romantic partner "I love you." There was so much meaning behind those words, a bit of risk and even a little fear. We thrilled to hear the words repeated back to us. Then, later, months or years into the relationship, we use the same three words every time we sign off on a phone conversation... "I love you. Bye." Not that we don't love the person or that we love them less, but speaking the words doesn't have the same impact on them or on us. It has become just one of those things we say.
I think sometimes the same thing happens with God's word. If you are raised in the church, you probably know the Bible verse John 3:16 by heart. Even if you weren't, you are still probably familiar with it, having seen it on evangelical material or even at sporting events. It says: "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It rings so familiar with so many of us that we almost bypass it. We don't really hear it; we don't absorb it. We just smile and move along.
I want to pause on John 3:16 today. I want to soak it in, to let it seep through me like a fine bag of English Breakfast tea in a cup of hot water. Because there is a reason it is oft repeated; it is terribly, terribly important. In fact, I think if you never read anything else in the Bible, if you never heard another verse or were told another truth, it would in itself be enough. It says not only that God loves you but how much. It says that no matter who you are or what you've done, you have salvation and it tells you what that is and how to get it. That should give us chill bumps, just like that first time someone we loved told us they loved us too.
When Christians talk about "the world," usually it has a negative connotation. We are trying to not be "of the world" but rather "of the kingdom." We sometimes look down on the world. But John 3:16 tells us that God loves the world. Every soul in it, from those worshipping in a church, a mosque or a synagogue to those selling drugs or their bodies on a street corner. He loves people sitting in prison because of crimes they really did commit as well as those who suffer in innocence. He loves people who abuse children. He loves women who have abortions. He loves those fighting in wars and he loves both sides equally. If you hate any single person or group of people, keep in mind God loves them just as much as He loves you. He loves the whole wide world.
He loves us all so much that He gave His Son for us. This part has a special meaning to me, because I know what it feels like to lose a son. We sing a song called The Stand in church that says in part: "So I'll stand with arms high and heart abandoned in awe of the One who gave it all." I realized the last time I sang this song that when I thought of the "One who gave it all," I was always thinking of Christ, giving His life for us on the cross. And I think that is a fine interpretation. We often think of there being no greater sacrifice than dying for someone or some noble cause. But on reflection I think there is a greater sacrifice. I would have happily died in Eddie's place and it would not have been sacrificial. It would have spared me the pain of losing someone I loved more than my own life. But God choose to sacrifice Himself for us in every way possible, not only becoming a human, carrying the weight of our sin and dying for us Himself but also losing a child on our behalf. He suffered every single pain for us to save us and to illustrate to us the depth of His love. When I really think about this I am struck dumb. I am so humbled to think God would love me that much. That He always loved me so much, even when I was denying Him, even when I was sinning against Him in abhorrent ways. He looked down on me then and loved me with a love that would nail its own child to a cross for me. How can we even comprehend such a love?
When Eddie was just a few days old and his prognosis was already considered terminal, I was asked if I was angry at God. I answered with the truth; I was not. I know that seems impossible, even to me, but it is the truth. And it was because God had given me insight not only into who He was but how He loved. I said what I knew and know to be true: God was not asking me to do anything that He hadn't already done for me.
I prayed for Eddie to live. Every day, all day, I prayed for healing for my baby. My faith well exceeded that of a mustard seed. I consented to every medical treatment that we thought could save his life. But even with those attempts and in those prayers, I laid my child at the foot of the cross, trusting God and loving Him with a love that accepted His will even if it meant my child's death. Eddie was going to die whether I loved God or not. Whether I placed him in God's care or not. But God still honored the sacrifice of my heart by assuring me of His great and all encompassing love for me and blessing me with a quiet peace that transcends every circumstance.
All of that to say: HE LOVES YOU THAT MUCH TOO. His love doesn't care what you have done, how you have worshipped or not worshipped, what sins, great or small, you have committed. He loves you with a love that broke His child's body and hung it on a cross to die for you. If you aren't a Christian, I just want you to take a moment and think about that. I don't want you to think about whatever preconceptions you have about the religion, about its "rules" or its dogma, about the dos and don'ts. I want you to think about a God that loves you beyond any other love you could ever experience. He exists and is just waiting for you. With an open invitation to heal every wound and bring you to a place of peace, hope and joy.
Even if you are already a Christian, I invite you to meditate on this truth. I know I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating... The pastor at my church once said something to the effect of if we truly comprehended the nature of the gift of grace, all we would be capable of feeling is gratitude. Instead, I find we as a body of Christ spend a lot of time shaking our fists at God. At a God who gave us EVERYTHING, who sacrificed His own life in human form and His son's in divine. I may love you, but I can tell you right now if God had told me I could either sacrifice Eddie's life or you would go to hell, you would be hell-bound. I would never have given up my child for the salvation of another human being.
Luckily, God's love is so much greater than mine. Would you sacrifice your child's life so that some random murderer could go to heaven? How about a terrorist? The suggestion seems ludicrous. But that is just what God did. He sacrificed His only son so that all of us could be saved. He gave us all the free gift of eternal life bought with the blood of His own child.
All you have to do is believe. No matter who you are or what you've done, all you have to do is come to God with a heart that knows the Truth. That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sacrificed Himself on your behalf and that you believe He is your Savior. If you believe, you won't die. Your body will go to the ground but your soul will have everlasting, joyful life. That is a great deal. And it is all right there in a verse we hear so often that it becomes almost silent: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Period. If you already knew this, I want you to ask yourself if you are living in gratitude for what He did for you. Because, frankly, most Christians are running around like a pack of ingrates. If you aren't a believer, I want to assure you that the details beyond this simple truth are unimportant. God will lead you and guide you once you allow yourself to know Him. It's not about politics, it's not about denominations, it's not even about morality. It's about pure, unadulterated, and inconceivable love. God loved you so much that He gave His only Son for you so that, if you believe, you can spend eternity with Him. His invitation is always open, His hand always extended, and His love is everlasting.