This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
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.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’*
Verse 16 has of course been used by evangelical Christians as a convenient summary of the gospel; and so it is, as long as we remember other summaries in other books of the New Testament, for example Jesus’ quotation from the Old Testament “You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbour as yourself.” John’s Jesus emphasises the love of God which is not primarily emotion but the sending of his son into the world. The content of God’s love is the story of Jesus. The purpose of this loving intervention is also material: that those who trust in him may not perish but have eternal life.God’s love creates life in the place of death.
The particularity of this gospel has always been scandalous. Is there no eternal life for those who have not heard of Jesus, or not heard of him in ways they can understand?
The first answer is to admit the particularity: the sending of God’s son is a particular event in history; the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We should notice that it is a positive statement. God has done this so that people may have life. It does not adjudicate on whether God also sent Buddha or Mohammed, nor on God’s attitude to those who have not heard the Jesus story in a way they can understand; but it does say that the love expressed in this particular event is for the whole world. There is judgement, however; but it is not God’s judgement on people. Rather, it is their judgement on themselves. Light has come into the world but evil people avoid it so that their evil is not exposed. True people on the other hand, come to the light. In the First Letter of John, the writer adds that those who come to the light are not perfect but “the blood of Jesus cleanses them from sin.”
The writer believes that Jesus is the light of the world; but he is so as God’s son. In the First Letter of John God is described as the light in which there is no darkness. I think that while Christians hold to Jesus as the full shining of God’s light, and have a duty to make his story known everywhere, it is already the case that God’s light, however dimmed by culture or circumstance, has always been shining everywhere. Those who do what is true will come to the light, whatever name they give it; while those who choose evil will hide from it.
This radical understanding of God’s judgement is a feature of John’s gospel. Those who belong to the light will be drawn to it, not only because it reveals them as they are, but because in it they are cleansed from their sins. Those who refuse the light are left in their darkness. For ever? The Apostles creed gives us the hope that Jesus descended into the darkness of hell to find them, and the he will be our ultimate judge. The gospel nevertheless leaves open the possibility that there will be some who choose to perish. The freedom given by the Light of the World is also the freedom to choose darkness. The gospel however, encourages people towards the light:
1. God loves the world
2. Jesus, the Son of God was sent into the world as an expression of that love.
3. Those who trust in him will not die but have everlasting life.
-sounds good to me.