16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.” These words are familiar to a majority of Christians – so familiar that people will flash large cards with John 3:16 at major sporting events. Remember the guy with the rainbow hair who could always be found in the end zone at big time football games. We know the words, but what do they mean?
For the Gospel of John it’s extremely important that we embrace the concept of the incarnation. As John declares in the prologue of his gospel, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus, and therefore Christian spirituality must be embodied.
Although we’re in Lent, perhaps to best understand the message of this passage is to turn to a Christmas song written by Iola Brubeck and her husband, the Jazz great, Dave Brubeck (who recently passed away). The first stanza of the song:
God’s love made visible! Incomprehensible!
Christ is invincible! His love shall reign!
From love so bountiful, blessings uncountable
Make death surmountable. His love shall reign!
Joyfully pray for peace and good will!
All of our yearning he will fulfill.
Living in a loving way! Praise him for every day!
Open your hearts and pray. His love shall reign! (Chalice Hymnal 171).
Too often, we think of the word “believe” in terms of giving ascent to a doctrinal truth or statement. So, we assume that we have to profess a certain doctrinal formula if we’re to experience the eternal presence of God. There is another way to understand this word, which I think fits better. Instead of calling for us to give assent to a doctrine, we are being invited to entrust our lives to the God who is revealed to us in Christ. He is, as the Brubeck’s declare – “God’s love made Visible!” and “His love shall reign!” Yes, God loved the world so much that God sent into the world a person who could embody the love that is God.