“For God so loved the world that He gave…” How often are these words quoted? Even at football games, banners with “John 3:14” appear in the stadium. Popular preachers often fall back on these familiar words to communicate to the faithful when they do not know what else to say. What is often used and over-used is rarely heard any more. Minds are numbed by mindless repetition, thinking stops, and one may just wallow in the warmth of the familiar—perhaps like a sow in mud. Others become bored or even antagonistic at the staleness of preachers who fall back on clichés and over-worked quotations—as if they no longer can think for themselves, but parrot supposedly comforting words. Parrots become tedious in their repetitions, eh?
Long have we noticed that virtually never does anyone quoting John 3:14 continue with the rest of the passage, even though what follows develops what has been said, and grounds the words in real human experience. Consider how St. John continues: “… Whoever does not believe in Christ has already been condemned.” Now we are getting closer to the evangelist’s intention, and now the words are sounding more true to us—who live in a “culture of death” that considers human life so cheap and expendable that we load ourselves up on drugs, and even kill pre-born infants for the sake of “convenience,” or to assert “a right to choose” to kill, if one so wishes. What gods we make ourselves.
That St. John had in mind spiritual and moral corruption such as we experience daily, consider his words that follow immediately after “God so loved the world….” “Now is the Judgment: the Light came into the world, but human beings preferred darkness to light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does wicked things hates the light, and does not come into the light, so that his deeds might not be exposed.” Those who quote John 3:16 so glibly seem blind to these words, which are among the most acute analyses of good and evil we find in the entire New Testament. Those who do evil hate the light, they resist the truth of God, they prefer their evil deeds to the hard work of personal conversion and actually doing good. How many Americans want to be told that we have dabbled in evil by ignoring God, by removing the awareness of God from schools, by allowing and even promoting the killing of infants in the womb, by destroying our minds and bodies by drug and alcohol abuse, by distorting minds by hardened and poisonous ideologies? Resistance to the light of God and God’s truth is far more common in our midst, in our communities, in our society than virtually anyone admits. In the words of Jesus to his own people: “How often I would have gathered you up, as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and yet you refused.”
Wallowing in our wicked ways, or are we drawn to the light? The evangelist John continues: “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be clearly seen as done in God.” If and when we Americans really learn to do good, and reject our evil ways, then we will “come to the light” of God, and then and only then can we be “a shining city on the hill.” There is nothing shining about evil, self-deception, or self-destruction. Goodness and mercy; deeds of justice; protecting human life from the moment of conception to natural death; nourishing our youth with truth, rather than poisoning their minds with mindless pop culture and rigid ideological non-thinking—these are deeds that will shine forth, and show that we are indeed drawn to the Light of God, and coming clean in His eternal presence, faithfully doing His will, and not our own.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son….” And now you know the rest of the story.