I once heard a pastor substitute my name in the most famous verses from the New Testament: “For God so loved Sarah he gave his one and only Son, that if she believed in him she would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son to Sarah to judge Sarah, but that Sarah might be saved through him.” It was powerful. It reached down into the depths of my heart and cracked it open. God so loved me? Me?!
Me. God loves me. This is a true statement, and I am grateful for that pastor who made verses that felt so distant become so intimate. When I’ve talked to others, I’ve used this device, and it drills down to excavate all kinds of god-harm done in decades past. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you.
However, the actual verses are not a Mad Lib with an empty line after “loved” that asks you to “say your-name-here”: “For God so loved _________…”
The Greek word for “world” in John 3:16 is kosmos, which means at its root “orderly arrangement.” It also refers to the universe, mankind, the heavenly hosts, the earth and its inhabitants. It also means the world.
Back in the beginning of creation, God so loved the world. At the end of each day of the creation story, God says it is good. It is good. It is very good. All that he made he declared good. Everything had its kind. Everything had its place. Everything operated within the realm of God’s perfect love and communion. When our confidence that we knew a better way than perfect love and communion emerged and we pursued our own path, the orderly arrangement that is the kosmos broke.
We broke it. We continue to break it. We oppress women and minorities. We abuse natural resources. We pollute air and water. We act gluttonous, greedy, selfish, vain, murderous, and hateful. We feed the ego and seek to satisfy our every desire with little regard for the rest of the kosmos.
It’s not just me who God came to save. He came to save the entire world. He came to restore order to the arrangement he set in motion at the beginning of creation. He came to set humanity back on the right course, to demonstrate the way of perfect love and communion. Since he walked this earth, humanity has made the slowest of progress on his example with many steps back and several steps forward.
Just this September, the United Nations proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals for nations to adopt. It delights me that there is a global call to action, to bring about right order, a movement that aspires to that perfect love and communion for all nations and peoples. Each one of these goals is in harmony with what Jesus preached while he was here on earth, and here we are two thousand years later, the kosmos, the world, working toward perfect love and communion. Here is the Holy Spirit at work, carrying on that good work begun at the time of creation, until it is complete.
God loves you. Once you are done feeling the impact of God’s love given on the personal level as a John 3:16–17 Mad Lib, erase the “you” and restore “the world.” We cannot stay in the position of God as our own personal Jesus because it keeps our focus on our inward self. It causes us to forget the world. That personal healing is real, but after each encounter the broken have with Jesus in the Gospels he says to the healed, “Now go, and do…” or “Now go, and make…” or “Now go, and tell…”
A whole world out there hungers after perfect love and communion, looking for some orderly arrangement. He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. What does he require of you but to act justly, love mercifully, and walk humbly with him. What is he doing in the world? Loving it so much that he sent his Son. What did his Son do? Loved the world. We love because he first loved us. Go, and love.