John 3:16 Revisited
Lately I’ve quit taking offense when I see “John 3:16” stickers on the bumpers of huge, gas-guzzling pickup trucks – which seems to be where I most often find them. It used to be that I would get indignant for so many reasons that I would have trouble sorting through them all. For one thing, the reference is to a verse out of context and therefore often misconstrued, and for another, the bumper sticker has always seemed an aggressive, in your face kind of display. And then, what the verse does mean isn’t what I think the truck driver thinks it means. Nor, to coin an Ann Lamott word, is it very Jesus-y to be driving one of those gas-guzzling monstrosities around town. What kind of good stewardship of the earth and its resources is that?
Needless to say, my assumptions cloud every single aspect of the above considerations. Do I really know why the truck driver put the bumper sticker on the rear end of his truck, or what he believes about the passage, or why he thinks he needs to share the reference? Can I really turn up my nose at his pickup when I drive an auto myself, and mine is only minimally less hard on the environment than his? What am I thinking?
I’m thinking divisively. And I don’t need to.
I’ve taken to using the “John 3:16” bumper sticker as an invitation to contemplation. As I’m idling behind the pickup at a stoplight, I’ll muse about the passage. Have I remembered it rightly? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” right? “So that all who believe in him may have eternal life? Before the light changes, I quickly type “John 3:16” into Google on my phone. No, it really reads, “. . .so that all who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Each part of the sentence is laced with meaning. God so. God loved. I could spend an afternoon thinking about all the creatures that God loves, all the fascinating variations on the theme of living a life, from the tiny one celled organisms you can see under a microscope when you look at pond water to the great grey whale wending it’s way along the California coast; from the little plankton the grey whale eats to the magnificent redwood trees just a little ways inland; and from the jeweled hummingbird that visits my bird feeder in the summer to the wide-winged pelican that makes love to the surface of the lake as it fishes. And then there is you and me. What does it mean to be loved by God, to be held dear for our individual attributes and peculiarities? God so loves the world.
God gave the world his only Son. What does that mean – that there is a Son? This immerses me in another contemplation, this one of Jesus. Who is he in relationship with me? Who is he in relationship with the world? In his book Jesus, the Teacher Within, (2010, SCM Press) Laurence Freeman suggests that this question is key to a transformation of all our thinking and feeling, because it brings us not only to knowledge of Christ but to to knowledge of ourselves as well. Who is Jesus? Is he the one who feeds, clothes, comforts and heals? Is he the author of salvation? Is he the embodiment of wholeness? What does all of that mean? And if he is any of these things, what am I? In relationship with Jesus, this son of God, who am I?
Assuming I can follow my heart through these meditations before my journey ends, then I come to the phrase ”. . . so that all who believe in him. . .” Do I believe in Jesus? What do I stake my life on? What do I trust with my whole being? If I give myself to Jesus through believing, what am I committing myself to? Again I find myself at a life-altering gateway, because if I truly put my trust in the yeasty catalyst whose story unfolds in the Gospels I can never look at the world the same way again. It will become a place where transformation happens, a place where love changes everything all the time.
So it goes. There is still “. . . may not perish . . .” and “. . . have eternal life . . .” to consider.
One meditation becomes a whole flock of meditations, each lifting its young, strong wings into an endless sky. And I drive on.
Icon by Laurie Gudim
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.