I just wanted to share the thoughts of our deacon from a couple of weeks ago on John 3: 13-17. Please read and share your thoughts.
Today’s Gospel reading prepares us for the feast of the Holy Cross, and it contains what is probably the most famous Gospel passage: For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not parish, but would have everlasting life.” And of course, in His love for us He gives us everlasting life through His Holy Cross and Resurrection. In this Gospel the Lord tells His disciples that He is going to take up the cross. He tells them that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must He – Son of Man – be lifted up. This refers to the Old Testament Book of Numbers, in which the Israelites, after they were released from bondage in Egypt and were wondering around in the wilderness, were attacked by poisonous snakes. As a cure for the snakebites, God commanded Moses to fashion a brass serpent, to place on a post, and told him that whoever looked at the brass serpent would immediately be healed.
The Lord tells us now He will be lifted up like the serpent on the post, meaning that just as the faithful Israelites were healed from the serpent’s bite in this way, so we are saved from the serpent’s bite of sin and death through Christ who was hung upon the cross. It is in this connection that the Lord tells us about God’s immense and unending love for us. Many people have defined religion as humans searching for God, but our faith is different - God searches for us. He does not remain aloof. He does not leave us in the darkness of ignorance about who He is and what He expects of us. Instead, He loves so much that He sends His Son into the world. He seeks us out in order to give us everlasting life. The passage does not say “Man so loved God that he constructed a religion with beautiful prayers and elaborate rituals in order to bring Him to mind and make Him seem real.” No. God sought us out. In His love, He came to this world, and endured the cross, in order to bring us to Him.
Immediately after the famous passage, the Lord says that “ God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” This is also an extremely important point, for many people even to this day think and act as if what the Lord came to do to the world was not to love it or save it, but precisely to condemn it. They think of religion as a series of rules and regulations and holiness as excellence in obeying those rules and never stepping out of line. This is not to say that there are not or should not be rules, or commandments, but it is easy to let our understanding of them become distorted.
In fact, our whole understanding of what salvation and condemnation are, and what heaven and hell are, has been distorted in our popular culture, so that even many Christians take for granted views that are half-truths at best. We think of Heaven as above us, and Hell as below us. We tend to think of both as physical places to which we get sent, one or the other, after we die. But there are several things wrong with this view. In fact, both start right here. Heaven is the presence of God in our lives, and at hell is the absence of God, weather it is here on this earth or in the afterlife. We can, and do , experience Heaven in the church, and at prayer, and at any time and place in which we are manifesting love for God and love for other people. We can and do also experience hell, right here on earth, in the bitterness that inevitably follows the choice of sin, in the feeling of estrangement from God, in the pain of broken relationships, angry isolation, and the like.
Yet we know that God is everywhere. So how is it that we could possibly experience His absence? If He is everywhere, how can we lose Him? It is not impossible. It is a very real possibility. But we can do this only by our own choice. We can do this only by our choice to reject Him, to ignore His presence, to turn our backs on Him. The Lord tells us that He did not send His Son to the world in order to condemn the world and He doesn’t. If we are condemned to Hell, in this life or the next, it is because we have condemned ourselves. We can find ourselves in hell very easily, today, by rejecting God, rejecting His mercy, and by being selfish and merciless and unloving to others. Some of us may be in hell right now, and the sad thing is that those who are often do not even realize it. They blame society, or those around them, or even the Church, for their troubles, but the answers to their problems are inside THEM!
There is a way out. The Lord gives it to us today. All we need to do is to believe in Him, to follow in the way of His Cross, and He will give us eternal life. For God loved the world, and He cannot and will not stop loving it. The only awful possibility, and it is truly awful, is that we might stop loving Him. May God preserve us all from that hell.
Always praying and pondering.