It is possible that the most recognizable verse in the Bible is John 3:16 – and this is thanks to the prolific influence the reference has had on hand-made posters for professional wrestling events. In this verse the author makes a broad declaration saying that God loves the world; He loves the world enough to send His Son Jesus to die for the salvation of the world. As always it is a good idea, whenever possible, to seek understanding about God in the example of Jesus, and attempting to understand God’s love of “the world” is no different.
I finished the book “12 Types” by GK Chesterton yesterday, and in one of the concluding chapters the old British sage once again found a way to express something in a wonderfully insightful way. He said,
Christ did not love humanity; He never said He loved humanity: He loved men. Neither He nor anyone else can love humanity; it is like loving a giant centipede.
– GK Chesterton
The love of God is not merely an obligatory expression of His character. His love is not something that He is cornered into because of who He is. The love of God is not a broad washing over, or some kind of beneficent acknowledgement of the worth of the species of humanity.
No, far from generalized and unremarkable, the love of God is more like a lion’s gaze upon its prey. It is a personal and intimate thing. The love of God watches carefully how its target moves, how the contours of its life flex and stretch as it navigates the journey of its days. If the love of God seems hidden at times, it is only because it is crouching, cloaked surreptitiously by the tall grass of the events of our lives – but rest assured it is never far and its attention is never diverted from each of us as individuals.
Jesus made no reference to broad, sweeping claims of affection for a generalized species. But He did touch the leprous outcasts with hands that transferred His undistilled fondness and compassion in ways that could never be communicated to a group. He cares what happens to the world, He has concern for the implications of geopolitical intrigue, certainly, but when it comes to love God does not deal in ambiguities and abstractions. He loves as Jesus loved, one person at a time.
As a Christian, I do not believe that you are just part of “the world” that “God so loved.” You become an adopted child of God, complete with all the individual attention and devotion that any good parent shows to their daughter or son. We are not just numbers in a larger sum. We are not just smaller pieces of an eventual aggregate. Our illustrations and understandings of God’s view of us ought not come from the cold world of mathematics, but from hot-blooded examples of nature and passion and bravery. Square roots and formulas will never explain what swashbuckling tales of rescue and courage only can. And God’s love is not an equation where we are the coefficient, it is a story where He is the hero.
If you would allow yourself to meditate on the ever-present gaze of the Lion, to truly think on the way that God will never release you from the gaze of His love, I cannot imagine that you would remain the same. The love of God has the power to change us. And instead of running away from the ferocious love that sees us, if we would give in to that passion, we will find ourselves rushing toward Him, longing to know Him, desperate to embrace Him.