For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son… Like many of us, John 3:16 was the first verse that I memorized. In my early days as a Christian, it spoke to me of God’s love for me as an individual and gave me an assurance of personal salvation. As my faith grew and expanded, however, I realized that this interpretation was limited. I started pairing it with 1 John 3:16: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Salvation isn’t just about me; it is about God’s concern for all the people of our world, I reasoned.
As I read the passage today, however, it was the first words, For God so loved the world, that really caught my attention. Not God so loved me or you or even humankind, but God so loved the world — this beautifully crafted masterpiece created lovingly by God’s own hands for which we were created as caretakers and stewards. And I started to think — maybe we have salvation all wrong. I don’t think that salvation is about individual soul rescue at all. It is more about God’s desire to redeem all creation and bring it back to the wholeness, abundance and harmony of the original creation — the restoration of shalom. Maybe part of our sinfulness is that we no longer take our role as creation stewards seriously — instead of tending and nurturing, we consume and destroy.
Maybe God’s plan for our salvation as human beings isn’t so that a few more souls can get out of hell (though that is obviously a great thing). Maybe God saves us so that we can once more become the responsible caretakers and stewards that God intended us to be.
As I watch the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey over the past few weeks and ponder the effects of climate change and our complicity in it, I wonder how long it will be before we really take our need for salvation seriously. How long will it be before we recognize the groaning of creation around us as a symptom of our need for transformation into responsible citizens and stewards?
September is, in some churches, known as The Season of Creation. I love these beautiful liturgies and other resources that have been created to help focus our worship and bring us to a recognition of our responsibility.
Christine Sine is co-founder, along with her husband, Tom Sine, of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at Godspace, where this post originally appeared.