John 3:14-21
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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.
3:17 “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. 3:18 Those who believe in him 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.
3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

John 3:16 — What Else Is There To Say? based on a reflection by Karoline Lewis (Professor and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota)

“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.” (3:16)

John 3:16 is one of the most memorised verse in Scripture. It is one of those verses that once read out loud, it demands our attention. It seems so simple and yet it is far more profound. And it has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused by many. Why?

Some interpretations of John 3:16 concentrate on the misguided idea that God only loves those who believe in Jesus and no-one else. So the verse becomes a stick to beat up people who are unwilling to accept God’s love rather than a word of hope for those who are yet to believe.

So rather than being a statement about God’s love for the world it becomes a threat for those unwilling to accept God’s love? Because rather than being heard as an invitation to participate in spreading God’s love it becomes a summons to exclude those we think God does not love?

It is so unfortunate when Bible verses like John 3:16 are taken out of context. We can imagine God not liking this any more than we do.

John 3:16 is part of a longer explanation of God’s  judgement. If we keep reading on into 3:17-21 we will hear that God became flesh not to condemn the world but to experience life with us. If we stop reading at John 3:16 words of judgment then we miss out on what judgment actually means in John’s Gospel. Judgement here is not that which we do or God does, but represents our own moment of crisis – crisis about whether or not we will choose to enter into the life-sustaining relationship God provides. Here God is offering us intimacy, the intimacy God wants with us here and now.

So what do we do with John 3:16?

Firstly we admit to ourselves that we will never fully understand what verses like John 3:16 mean. When we can  admit to ourselves our own uncertainty, especially those verses and passages that we think we should have all figured out, we are free to think again and again, and again. We can take the time to reflect on our own relationship with John 3:16. And then we can enter into the sacred space of figuring out what difference this verse can make, or what God may already be doing, in our lives.

Karoline Lewis