Putting it in present tense: For God so loves this world . . .

Photo: Casey Horner, Unsplash.

“For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). That’s the most basic thing about our faith, the fundamental belief that makes sense of all the rest. 

It all starts with believing God loves this world. This world exists because God loves to love. We have this life of ours because we are God’s beloved. 

God doesn’t just love human beings. God loves all of creation — all the ecosystems and galaxies, the snails and the stars. God loves all of it, all of us. That’s the meaning of life: God’s love.

God sent Jesus not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). Jesus reinforces the point by emphasizing not only what God does but what God will not do. Condemnation is not what God wants. That’s not what Jesus is about. 

Jesus won’t reject the world God loves, even if the world rejects God’s vision for life, even if we renounce God’s love, even if we deny God’s love for our neighbors. God does not reject us even though we turn our backs on others.

That’s the story of the Bible, the long history of God’s covenant with a people: God’s commitment to this world, to creation, to all that has been from the beginning. 

The story of God is the story of salvation,. That’s what we hear in the words of Jesus. That’s what we see in the story of his life: a commitment to save what has been lost, to restore what has been neglected, to heal what has been wounded.

The Greek word for salvation in John 3:17 is borrowed from the first-century medical world. To save meant to heal, to stitch up a wound, to perform a surgery. 

Jesus’ mission is to bring us into the care of God’s love, which is our medicine. Salvation is God’s act of healing from sin.

Sin names the stuff that harms our lives. Sin is a word for how we cut ourselves off from God’s love. 

Salvation is our restoration, a healing from the destructive practices of sin, from all that harms our neighbors and us.

One of our worst mistakes is to talk about eternal life as something that happens only after we die. If we believe, so this myth goes, our eternal life with God starts after our death. 

That’s not what we learn in John’s Gospel. Eternal life begins with the advent of Jesus, because Jesus is the embodiment of God’s vision for human life on Earth, an antidote to our personal and social habits of destruction, our sickness called sin.

Jesus shows us what God’s love looks like, the love that created us and sustains us and heals us. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see the heart of God, the pulse of the universe. 

Jesus is God’s invitation to join the work of healing, of salvation, of eternal life — here, today, this week, this year. 

That’s what we commit to as the church, the body of Christ: joining in the life of Jesus, God’s love in our flesh, as we live into our healing, our salvation, not just for ourselves but for the world. 

We gather to remind each other of God’s care, to inspire us to let go of everything that blocks God’s work of love in us and around us. 

That’s what lent is all about. We set aside a season in the church calendar to pay attention to ourselves, to notice the patterns in our lives that distract us from God’s love. 

Lent is a time to notice how we’ve become oblivious to how we hurt ourselves and the people we love, the people whom God loves. Those cycles of harm are what we call sin. 

Lent is a time to interrupt those habits and recommit our lives to God’s love and God’s care. It is a time to open ourselves to grace, to receive the healing of God’s eternal love.

During this season, we remind each other of the Good News. We speak the gospel with our lives. We tell one another the truth about this life we’ve been given: God has come among us, not to condemn but to heal and restore. 

For God so loves this world.  

Isaac S. Villegas

Isaac S. Villegas of Durham, N.C., is president of the North Carolina Council of Churches and an ordained Mennonite minister. Read More

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