Our planet earth looks blue and beautiful from outer space. It’s the world we know. It’s our living space. And, by the way, it’s the only one we have. Mars is too dry, as we are seeing again – too lifeless.
The world we know is populated by billions of people of different colors, sizes, shapes, languages, ways of living. A place where we find breathtaking beauty, but also immensely destructive forces, arising out of nature or, sometimes, of our own making. A place where we encounter growth and decay, predators and prey, where we experience life and death. A place that seems to be ruled by the stubborn will of all creation to live – but also a place that seems to be ruled by forces of constant destruction.
All in all, the world is a place where the snake has found entrance into the Garden Eden; it is a place where we still see God’s marvelous work and good intentions, but at the same time a place that has been corrupted by sin and evil. You just need to follow the daily news to see what I mean. There’s bad news everywhere, all the time.
In the Gospel according to John, we find quite a few passages in which John describes “the world” as this corrupted place, a place inhabited by people who are estranged from God and consequently misled, misguided onto the paths of destruction and death. If you want a quick reference, just go to the first chapter of John, the so-called Prologue of John: the light was sent into the world, but the world did not recognize it, which is, the world did not recognize Jesus. That’s why the world killed him. That’s a pretty dark view of ‘the world’.
On the other hand, it is this same world which God loves with desperation, sin and evil and corruption and all. We probably have all heard the words from John 3:16, “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.” And John goes on, “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.” This is the essence of the Gospel. Martin Luther even went so far as to say, this is the Gospel in miniature. Jesus did not come to condemn. Jesus came to save. By the way, the Greek word for “saving”, “sozo”, foremost means healing. Jesus came to heal the distorted relationship between “the world” and God.
This is the essence of God’s saving grace. And this allows us to speak less of “saving” unbelievers than of healing the division between them and God — often just by demonstrating that we ourselves are in need of healing, that we are in the ongoing process of being healed. God so loved the whole beautiful, corrupted world, that Jesus came into the world to heal whatever is broken in this world.
Now what does love in this context mean? Let me tell you that it is not the ooey-gooey feeling that many people think of when they hear the word ‘love’. S. C., one of our members, shared a little story with me that demonstrates the complexity of love. Years and years ago, his mother was watching her 2 year old granddaughter – S’s niece. At some point grandma scolded the little girl, who then threw a tantrum. Grandma looked at her and said, ‘Don’t you love me?’ The little girl seemed thought about it for a moment and then said, ‘Of course I love you. I just don’t like you right now, grandma!’ Out of the mouths of babes…
And haven’t most if not all of us experienced this at some point? We love our spouse, our child – but then there are moments we could just shoot them to the moon, as a German saying goes – ‘zum Mond schieβen’. God so loved the world – but that doesn’t mean that God always likes the world and what’s going on in it. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want the world to be turned around. Just last week, we heard the gospel story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple portico and driving out the vendors and money changers. Sometimes, love gets angry. But, just as a footnote, love should never be abusive. There is a difference. A big difference.
Real and honest love doesn’t just accept everything as is, but challenges. Again, we just have to think about how we raise our children. Yes, we love them, but if we don’t tell them ‘no’ at times, they might endanger themselves and get hurt – or hurt others. They don’t learn about healthy boundaries. If we don’t challenge them, they become spoiled brats – and that’s not doing them any favor. Sometimes we have to give them tough love, even at the risk of them not liking us for it. And that doesn’t only apply to children, but other people around us as well. If we love them, we want them to grow. And in order to grow, we need to be challenged.
God so loved the beautiful, corrupted world, that Jesus came into this world, not to condemn it, but to heal it, to challenge it, to push it in the right direction. Healing only can happen if we let ourselves be challenged and pushed, if we actively participate in the healing process, and not just wait for it to happen miraculously as we do things that hinder the healing process. God loves us so much that God wants us to get better and to grow. God loves us so much, that God wants our lives to be changed: changed for the better – for the better of all creation, for the better of all the world. The world may be corrupted. We may be corrupted. But each and every day, we also experience healing. We experience healing through Christ’s grace for us. We experience healing through people reaching out to others, praying with and for others, comforting each other, supporting each other, empowering each other – loving each other. And wherever love is, there God is also. Nowhere do we see this love more clearly than on the cross. And if that isn’t a challenge for us, I don’t know what is. I hope and pray we have the courage and strength to take on this challenge.
This post is also available in: German