God’s “Love Triangle” ©
Some verses from Scripture are so familiar that they roll off the tip of the tongue almost unconsciously. Sometimes they are so familiar that we are less and less conscious of their meaning each time we speak them.
For instance, when we read of Jesus telling Nicodemus, 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, do we appreciate the implications of that statement? To help us do so, we must come to a realization that it has both a theological and a personal meaning. It is the latter that matters most, I think. Simply phrased, it means “God loves me.”
But to get to a fuller understanding, we ought to pay attention to each word and to the meaning that is intended by each. Two words are especially striking in this particular verse.
The first is the word “so”. Young people use it a lot these days: “That is so cool.” “This is so not true.” “You are so dead!” Such intensity is intended by the evangelist John. The word “so” is like a loving hug: “God so-o-o-o loves me.”
The second is the word “world”. He could have written that God so loved the righteous or even man (humanity). The Greek word is “kosmos”, which means universe or creation. But in most of the writings of John the evangelist and the apostle Paul, “world” has a very special moral and theological meaning.
In John’s Gospel, the devil is its prince (12:31). For this reason the Christian is hated by the world (15:18) just as Jesus was (7:7). The world cannot know God (17:25). The disciples are told that they do not belong to it. (15:19) Even though they live in it, they are not of it (17:11). They must be comforted by the fact that he has overcome it. (16:33)
In Paul’s epistles, through Christ, the world has been crucified to him and him to the world. (Gal 6:14) With Christ, he had died to the world. (Cor 2:11) The world was condemned, even though God was in Christ reconciling the world to him. (1 Cor 11: 32; 2 Cor 5:19). Bottom line, the spirit of the world is in sharp contrast to the spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:12)
We are told in the Gospel of John (cf. 3:16-18) that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, knowing that he would be sending the one he so dearly loved into harm’s way and that he would die a horrible death in order to show us the way out of the darkness and into the light. This was an act of unconditional and unfathomable love.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish. God could see and sees still how we mindlessly or stupidly wander to the edge of the cliff, teetering on the brink of disaster. He sees, with tear-filled eyes, the devastation that comes from following treacherous paths such as pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and laziness.
He knows that we often walk along these ruinous roads because we are lured by the Prince of Illusion and that only the Son can speak the Truth so boldly, only the Son can love so wholly so as to draw us away from the slippery edge of the precipice.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes the Truth that has been spoken by the Son may not perish but may have eternal life. This is some rescue operation! Not only is life restored, it is enhanced beyond imagination. Eternal life is a share in the life of God.
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God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. As the Lord proclaimed to Moses, our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34: 6)
When we quote John’s verse 16 about God loving us so deeply that he sent his only Son to give us fullness of life, we often do not read the following verses because they are a bit unsettling. Certainly John tells us that those who believe in God are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
While it is true that the passage from the Book of Exodus does suggest that God is slow to anger, it is implied nonetheless that he does eventually get angry if we persist in being unfaithful to him who is faithful. Still, it may be more respectful of God’s steadfast love to understand this verse as meaning the following: When we persist in walking down the path of sin and fall into the precipice to which it inevitably leads, we do so as a consequence of our wilful march rather than as the effect of God’s anger.
When we are in sin, eternal life is not in us and our sinful life cannot bear the fruits of eternal life. What did Paul tell the Corinthians? Brothers and sisters, put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. These actions are the fruit of eternal life and they are the first duties of all believers.
But what of those who do not believe? Why does God’s steadfast love not save them? The answer follows in the next verse. We are told that they are not condemned by God but rather that they are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. If they are not condemned by God, how can they be condemned already?
What this evidently means is that failure to believe in salvation blocks access to its benefits. In other words, to have something, we must first believe it exists and we must also actually want it.
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Ours is an awesome God, who so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that we might have abundant life. So, what of the Son? Of Jesus, we know that he so loved the world that he died for it and gave his own Spirit, first to his mother and to the apostles, so that that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Was this a matter of passing the buck for saving the world from the Father to the Son, and then from the Son to the Holy Spirit? Not at all. To think so would be a function of our tendency to compartmentalize things and to view each thing as distinct and capable of analysis outside the context of where we found them. In effect, the Holy Trinity functions as a whole. Each person is connected to, and even present in, the other.
Francis of Assisi had three favourite feasts: Christmas that reminded him of the Father’s love for us; the Easter triduum that reminded him of the Son’s love for us and Pentecost that reminded him of the Spirit of Love that dwells within us.
Each person of the Holy Trinity merits our full attention. We must view it as constantly whole, as a triangle of love, each person being inseparable from the others. The Holy Trinity forms a dynamic whole, a field of energy in which the energy is Love.
The Love that animates the Holy Trinity is so strong that it is a creative force, overflowing its energy, first into the act of Creation, and now continuing to give life to Creation.
So, when we separate ourselves from that energy through sin or disbelief, we are dead because love is life and God’s is the true love that is life-giving.
We know that God loves us–a love so great that he gave his most precious gift so we could enjoy the fruits of that love. We confess that he sent his only Son so that we might not be condemned but might live in the fullness of his own Holy Spirit.
To know this is one thing. To believe it in our heart is quite another and to make it a daily reality is yet another. Once we are seized with this awesome reality, we are changed radically. Our attention then becomes fixed on the greatest of all gifts, given gratuitously and undeservedly. Our gratitude explodes when we recognize what steps have been taken so that we might enjoy the fruits of eternal life.
To know that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that we might have peace and joy, that we might not be afraid but rather live to the full potential of our giftedness and to be nourished with abundant grace transforms us into people who have eyes only for goodness and ears only for truth; into people who have a heart only for loving and arms only for helping others.
God’s love triangle is a massive creative energy that shares life. It also demands a response. Filled with that life, in union with the author and source of love, we too become creative and life-giving. It can even be said that we too form a trinity – God, me and others – reflecting the Holy Trinity.
God, me and others: together, we form trinities that lead us to eternal life: a trinity of love(Jesus instructed us to love one another as he loved us – Jn 15:12); a trinity of forgiveness (He told us to ask the Father to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us – Lk 11:4); a trinity of hope (Saint Francis’s great prayer of peace asks the Lord to let us sow hope where there is despair); a trinity of light (Jesus reminds us that a light is not to be hidden under a bushel basket but is to serve as the light for others – Mt 5:14-16); and a trinity of peace (Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. – Mt 5:9).
Indeed, God the Father so-o-o-o-o loves you that he gave his only Son, and they send their Holy Spirit each day that you might have abundant life.