God Loved the World Indeed

God Loved the World Indeed

This reflection on John 3:14-21 by CCS Principal Alan Lai is included in “Questioning Privilege, Working Towards a Day Without Racism“, the 2024 Lenten Reflection series put out by the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

When I was studying in New York City, I didn’t miss a chance to go to the Yankee Stadium to watch a baseball game. I assure you, there are wonderful moments that can only be experienced in the stadium and not on television. The game I watched was the New York Yankees playing against the Boston Red Sox, a classic. In the middle of the game, a man sitting in front of me suddenly stood up and waved a handwritten cardboard that read “John 3:16” in super large letters. A few seconds later, he sat down and continued watching the game. I thought to myself, what had he accomplished? I did not doubt his love for the Bible or God. But did he bring to world peace, harmonious coexistence among nations and communities? 

One of the important themes in the Gospel of John is the contrast between light and darkness. In John’s mind, darkness and light cannot be together. Those who follow Jesus are in the light. If not, then they are living in darkness. Even worse, they are doing evil things. It may sound binary to contemporary minds. 

John 3 is well-known and may have been understood in various theological directions. Today I ask: Are all those who do not follow Jesus, evildoers? Are people who aren’t Christians, living in the dark? You know where I am going. Even in my short lifetime I have seen enough Christian evildoers who participated in unjust social systems. They didn’t raise their voice for the oppressed and the marginalized. And I come to know many who are not professed Christians living in the light the way I understand Jesus is asking us to do.

John’s Gospel was written to respond to specific social and national situations. More than two thousand years have passed, and history has shown us that those who follow Jesus may not necessarily do things that honour God’s will. People who do not follow Jesus do not necessarily do things that are contrary to God’s will. The kinds of questions we ask today would have been impossible for John to answer back then.

Faith in Christ invites us to address complex issues of our time: racism, sexism, inequality, and discrimination. As Christians, we must resist using the gospel and the Bible as weapons to attack others, as if we have the right to do so. No! We don’t. Christians are still learning and haven’t perfected – and never will – the act of following. Instead, we need to have Thomas’s mentality of doubting, or Nicodemus’ desire of searching. The gospel is an invitation for us to go outside our comfort zone to take a serious look at the troubled world. Not a tool to make quick conclusions, but to ponder and to ask tough questions. We have a duty to exercise suspicion when we encounter overly simplistic answers. The Christian message of love requires actions of love, not just words of love.

For our personal reflections, how should we treat biblical texts that seem to be judgemental or binary? What opportunities do we have to encounter people of other faith and cultural traditions and to learn from them?