A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, November 06, 2020

John 3:16: Back to Basics

by Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church,  Ashland, Ohio.
What a week, huh? 

On Tuesday, America went to the polls and we still do not fully know what is going on. Ballots are being counted, Trump is falsely claiming an early victory, and Biden is doing his level best to get us all to chill out. In the Funtik household, election night consisted of a tight grip on my weighted blanket, too many snacks, and a heart that refused to stop hammering. Things are messy. Things are not simple. Some sort of conclusion needs to be reached so that we can all think and talk about something else, for goodness’ sake.

I know that I am not alone in pondering theology while processing this election. On each side of the aisle, there are people who are clinging tightly to their convictions and voting in the way that they think best glorifies God. The conversations have moved us beyond normal politics and brought us into the realm of what it truly means to become Jesus to our neighbor through the vehicle of our vote. So many of us are struggling with anger and resentment and sadness and disappointment and how in the world we are supposed to live as Kingdom citizens while also responsibly investing in the health of our nation. How to not over spiritualize to the point that, while earnestly praying, we let people go hungry or die without health care? How to be a part of this moment in history without forgetting that there is a divine rule and reign that surpasses the Oval Office? 

In short, how do we theologize right here, right now?

I have answers to these questions and I am confident in the ballot that I cast, but this week I have been challenged to press pause on my angst over theodicy and hospitality and transformation in favor of getting back to the basics. 

That’s right, John 3:16.

Anyone who has spent time in church or has watched Tim Tebow play football or has walked through any store with an “inspirational” section knows this verse:

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. (NIV)

I am going to be honest, I really like to gloss over this one. I was blessed enough to have spent my childhood in Sunday School and, since I was a little girl, I have been able to rattle this off. I even remember getting into a little friendly contest with my grandpa to see who could say it first from memory. He won, and went on to quote more of the chapter because he was a boss. 

Anyway, this verse is one that I can say without thinking but it is not one on which I often dwell. I think that this is true of the Christian life: the deeper we go, the more complicated we make things. Make no mistake, God is both knowable and unfathomable; we will never be able to plumb the divine depths. But while there will always be more to learn, at the heart of our faith is the Gospel, the story of Jesus, John 3:16. The key to God’s plan of redemption is found here, and it is so easily taken for granted. 

So today, as the things swirling around us grow more and more murky, I want to wrap us up in this one sentence. I want to remind us of the Gospel. Here I present three truths to be found in John 3:16. As you read, I encourage you to actually stop and think about these things. “Yeah, yeah Jesus died for me” should never be our reaction. 

1. God loves the world. 

I look around at the division and hatred and anxiety through which we are all living and I can’t help but to think: why? Why would God on high, perfect and eternally relational in the Trinity, decide that the world is lovable? God does not need us, but for some reason God wants us. Sit with that: God loves you. So much. He loves the world around you. He loves nature and your family and friends and, I have to imagine, baked goods. He even loves the democrat or republican that you might want to throttle at the present moment. Despite all of Israel’s unfaithfulness in the Old Testament, He still chose to act in love. He loves the world. I don’t know about you, but any Being that can look at brokenness and see potential and goodness and worthiness is one with whom I want to associate. He sees us and He loves us anyway. Take a moment and marinate in that richness, plain and simple. We are loved.

2. Jesus came and suffered.

Because God loves us, Jesus Christ graced the earth. He walked a human life, bore our brokenness, nailed our sin to a cross, and was raised from the dead so that the grave no longer has a hold on us. He did this freely. He went before us as the way by which God reconciled us back into a relationship with Him. As I was typing these words, I wholeheartedly believed every one while simultaneously looking at it from an outside perspective. What a mind-blowing thing. Such sacrifice and course of action might be confusing to us, but it is a holy mystery in which we are invited to dwell. Not only are we reconciled (again, sit and think about that–the bosom of God is open to us), but we also have a Lord who knows what it is to wade through darkness. He lived all of this, too. This is a grace freely given and offered to everyone. Woah. I want to live in this forever. Thankfully, I will! Which leads me to the final point…

(Side note: When it comes to government, remember that Jesus told us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but He was also brutally executed by Rome. Just because a system of power is put into place and we can respect its authority does not mean that it is just or should be unequivocally supported.)

3. Eternal Life

In all of this, we can rest confidently in the fact that God was not pleased to be eternally alienated from us. Jesus came out of love so that “forever” might be restored in us. We are our truest selves when we are aligned with and engaged in relationship with God. When we believe in what Jesus has done and accept the healing that He offers, that union goes on eternally. A common misconception is that this will occur only after we die and while, yes, we will meet God face to face one way or another, eternity starts now. The relationship that I have with Jesus today is the same that will continue without end in a different setting. How incredible: death’s sting has been stolen and the presence of God is here and will be there tomorrow. We don’t have to be left to our own destructive devices. We can belong to the One who loves us most. 

It is good to go deep with our theology, and may we never believe the lie that this verse, which has grown rather trite, is anything but deep theology. This is the core of our profession, the thing which keeps us alive. A lot surrounds it, and everything stems from it, but this is it, the glorious and incomprehensible truth. 

I was once told by a friend to “Keep the main thing the main thing.” As we face other big questions, let us be guided by the Gospel. Preach that Gospel to yourself and others. As we wade through chaos, let us remember the cross. As we approach the dilemma of living faithfully and peacefully, let us be reminded that we are all eternally loved. Keep the main thing the main thing. Amen.

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