“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)


We live in a world in which there is a great deal of confusion, even scepticism about the doctrine of the love of God. For some, God’s love is nothing more than mere sentiment, a kind of a general feeling of benevolence or good-will on the part of a distant deity who has little real power or influence. For others, the idea of the love of God is nothing more than an empty mantra on the part of desperate believers, blind to the reality of the world around them. For such people the fact of suffering in the world and the love of God are mutually exclusive. And since our world is undoubtedly full of suffering, God, if He exists at all, can certainly not be a loving God.


When it comes to the Bible, it is striking to see that teaching about the love of God often stands side by side with a realistic view of the world. This can be seen in many places, but nowhere more so than in John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse about the love of God. In this wonderful verse, Jesus speaks of God’s love as real, demonstrable, practical and sacrificial – real love bringing light and hope into a dark world.

For a downloadable version PDF


Jesus’ words in John 3:16 form part of a discussion with a man called Nicodemus, a man of the Pharisees and a member of the ruling council. John tells us that Nicodemus was very impressed with Jesus and came to ask Him about the Kingdom of God, a subject of great importance to the Pharisees. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus was certainly more than the learned Pharisee had bargained for. It exposed his ignorance of the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures regarding the necessity of the New Birth and showed him that no amount of learning or religious pedigree qualified one to belong to that kingdom. To enter God’s kingdom nothing short of a miracle was required, a spiritual ‘new birth’ that opened one’s eyes to the truth about God’s love for the whole world made real in the gift of His one and only Son.


In speaking in these terms, Jesus thus gave a telling assessment of the world, even the world at its most religious and best. According to Jesus the world is full of darkness and evil, not just in principle but in practice – spiritually blind people doing evil deeds. These deeds take many forms of course, but according to Jesus, their apex would be seen in the ‘lifting up of the Son of Man’, that is, in His own crucifixion at the hands of the religious leaders, people just like Nicodemus. This is darkness indeed, an innocent man who came doing good, healing the sick, teaching truth, unfairly accused, unjustly condemned and cruelly executed. And yet, in the midst of this supreme act of evil and unjust suffering, Jesus tells us that the love of God is most clearly seen.


The word ‘so’ in John 3:16 while often taken to mean ‘so much’, is in fact ‘in this way’. In His answer to Nicodemus, Jesus is setting the measure by which we can know that God is indeed a God of love. God’s love is seen not by looking at circumstances, but in the midst of circumstances by looking back at the cross. This is precisely what Paul affirmed when he wrote “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).


God is not a sentimental, well-meaning yet distant and powerless deity. He did not stand back, bewildered by the darkness in our world and our capacity to hurt one another. God stepped in, in person, the person of Jesus Christ His one and only Son. God took the pain and the suffering and the guilt of the world upon Himself, for the alternative though just, was unthinkable – eternal condemnation for those made in His image. God in Christ paid the price of personal, sacrificial love so that we who look to Him in faith and trust, may indeed not perish but have eternal life. In Christ God loved the world and that great gift of love still is ours today. Circumstances bring doubts, evil in a dark world brings fear, but in the midst of the darkness, God gave the gift of His Son. And the cross upon which He died, while a testimony to the unthinkable evil of which people are capable, stands as a beacon of light and love, an invitation to be loved by God and to love Him in return.


Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.