Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Deeper Look at John 3:16

"For God so loved..." (John 3:16). These are popular words right now. In the simple rawness of Tim Tebow, people are wanting to find out about his favorite verse of scripture. But what exactly is going on in this verse? It's packed with meaning on so many levels. What does "God" mean? What does love mean according to God's way of loving, not ours? What is the "world?" What does "gave" mean when you consider that the Son died on a cross? And what does "eternal life" mean, especially when the modern mindset of the good life is so focused on the "my" well-being?

It's so easy to read John 3:16 through our own understanding of these words and miss a deeper reality of the life that God wants to give us.  I read this quote this morning by the theologian Miroslav Volf in his award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace:

"When the Trinity turns toward the world, the Son and the Spirit, in Irenaeus's beautiful image, the two arms of God by which humanity was made and taken into God's embrace. That same love that sustains nonself-enclosed identities in the Trinity seeks top make space 'in God' for humanity. Humanity is, however, not just the other of God, but the beloved other who has become an enemy. When God sets out to embrace the enemy, the result is the cross. On the cross the dancing circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling divine persons opens up for the enemy; in the agony of the passion the movement stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears so that sinful humanity can join in (see John 17-21). We, the others—we, the enemies—are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace." (Exclusion and Embrace, 128-129)

I'd like to propose these clarifications to those terms in John 3:16:
  • "God" = Trinity, which is Father, Son and Spirit who live in the eternal, perfect, unity of love 
  • "Love" = making space in oneself for the "other" for the sake of the other
  • "World" = humanity, the enemies of God, those who have rejected God's embrace of love, which means that humanity stands as the position of the "other" to God.
  • "Gave"= The opening up of a portal into the life of God so that we might enter into his love
  • "Eternal life" = Being embraced by God's love even while we are in the position of the "other" so that we might participate in the receiving and giving of love to God and others.

The Trinity is an eternal dance of love between the Father, Son and Spirit. The cross opens up a way for us to enter into this dance and dance all the more by having the freedom to share in and share forth God's kind of love. I need more of this everyday.


mikefriesen05 said...

What does this have to do with Tim Tebow?

Scott Boren said...

Well, John 3:16 is really not about Tim Tebow. But because this is his favorite verse and Focus on the Family ran an ad during the playoff game on Saturday night about this verse which supposedly led to hundreds of thousands of hits on websites where people were looking up this verse, it's a bit of a pop culture phenomenon.

Steve Shaw said...

I would add that "world" (cosmos) extends to the whole created order. God loves, and intends to put right the whole of the created order in Christ (Col. 1:19-20). Of course, the redemption of the "image-bearers" (human beings) meant to take care of creation is paramount.