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In today’s world, God is not so much dead. He is cancelled. He is not to be spoken about. If he is, there’s nothing good to say about him: ‘he is uncaring and grim’.
How different this is from what the Bible actually says about God. Consider the most well- known words in the Bible: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
For God so loved the world… God… Yes, he does exist.
At the recent Anglican Connection Online Conference, Dr. Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer, one of the world’s leading quantum chemists, commented:
“The laws of nature look just as if they have been selected as the most simple and elegant principles of understandable change by a wise creator. Belief in the decipherability of nature strongly suggests the existence of a cosmic mind, who can construct nature in accordance with rational laws.”
Dr. Schaefer also drew attention to the words of Francis Collins, Scientific director of the (US) government’s Human Genome Project, on the discovery of the human genome: “It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.”
The Bible tells us that God’s essential nature is love. In Psalm 145:8-9 we read: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
The theme of the love of God permeates both the Old and New Testaments. What is more, we find that his love is not sparked by something attractive about us. God loves because love is at the very heart of his being.
Now it’s important to note that our English word ‘love’ translates four Greek words (the language in which the New Testament was written). One word is eros, from which we get our word erotic. It’s a word associated with intense emotional feeling. It’s a word that pagan religions have long used in part as a reference to the mystical experience of the supernatural. One form of yoga in Hinduism exploits sexual intercourse as a technique for achieving spiritual enlightenment.
But nowhere does the New Testament use the word eros. It uses a rare word in the original Greek: agape. There are no rapturous, mystical experiences associated with agape. Rather, agape is committed to serve the best interests of the ones who are loved – self-centered us.
Furthermore, John tells us, God so loved the world that he reaches out to all men and women. This is breath-taking. God could have shut humanity down at the moment of their rebellion. We deserved nothing less. But God in his love, had a bigger and very costly plan in mind that would benefit a world that rejected him.
God gave the world a gift. He gave us his Son…
John is not saying that God loved world enough to give his Son. Rather, it was out of God’s love for the world that he gave his Son.
In the first instance this means the Son personally reveals what God is like to us. As Jesus says later, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). More than ever we need to hear and respond to him.
But God did not only give his Son to shine his light of revelation into a dark world. The gift was to reach its climax and fulfillment with the Son’s crucifixion. God’s love is seen not so much in the coming of his Son, but in the death of the Son, the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.
This was the action of a holy and just God whose love found a way to forgive, rescue and restore men and women who had shown no love for him. Extraordinarily, God in and through his Son, was willing to make great sacrifices for undeserving people. We needed a Saviour because we are sinners. And God himself was willing to take the initiative to do it at great cost to himself. It is here we see the immeasurable depth of God’s love.
And John tells us of the offer that God holds out – So that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life is contrasted with perishing. John doesn’t tell us what perishing is, but it does tell us that it will be a most unwelcome experience. Elsewhere we learn, mainly through Jesus’ own teaching, that it is a very serious thing to refuse God’s gift. The perishing won’t be perpetually partying on with friends. They will lose everything that is good, beautiful and true. T.S. Elliot put it this way, Hell is oneself. Hell is alone…
Life eternal, on the other hand, is the experience and joy of a life that is appropriate in the coming age. It will be a life of perfection and beauty, where there will be no more pain or suffering, self-interest or injustice; rather it will be the fullness of joy in the glory of the Lord.
And John tells us who will benefit: Whoever believes in the Son… We can’t achieve eternal life by our own efforts or merits. We are totally dependent on God’s generous gift. To turn to Jesus, the Son of God and to trust him, is the key to our benefiting from God’s precious gift.
Have you turned to Christ? Are you aware that at least one-in-five people around us are open to an invitation to explore Christianity? Pray. The fields are white unto harvest. God can’t be cancelled.