How would you finish the phrase, “Love is…”? We could, and we often do, put all kinds of things and people into that sentence. We use “love” to apply to a radical array and variety of items in our lives. I love a well made mocha. I also love my wife. I love hiking in the Colorado Rockies. I also love my friends. Because we use this word to apply to so many different things, we often lose sight of the power and meaning of love. Sometimes, when a word means almost anything, it comes to mean almost nothing.
So, what does it mean that “God so loved the world” that he gave his one and only Son? John uses a powerful word for love here, and we ought to look at it in at least three ways. This love is attention. When we have a deep love for someone or something, it consumes our attention. They are on our minds often if not all the time, and we are interested in their well-being and their condition. To love a thing is to give our attention to a thing.
This love is also attachment. When we love a thing, a person, or an idea, we will attach ourselves to them. We will rearrange our lives and prioritize our time so we can be with, or think about, or do for those people. My heart, my mind, and my life will attach themselves to the things I love.
This love is also sacrifice. We sacrifice for the things we love. And we sacrifice to the degree we love them. I will sacrifice money for a good meal. But there are people in my life for whom I would sacrifice my life.
God so loved the world that he gave all these things to us. He has lavished his attention upon us in the form of his Son. Christ came to reveal the will and heart of the Father in his life among us. God also attached himself to this world through the incarnation. Jesus took on real flesh and bone and lived a human life as God with us. And then God sacrificed for us out of his love. Jesus suffered real betrayal, humiliation and pain. Jesus really did die a torturous death upon a cross, forsaken by his closest friends. It cost God to love us.
And in this love we see the will of God. We become shockingly aware of what God wants when we pay attention to his love. We, his creation, were separated from him and lost in our brokenness and sin. He saw the chasm and initiated reconciliation through giving us his Son. Paul says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:6-8). The disciple Peter says that God’s will is that none should perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
But just as we learn of God by his love, we also learn from our loves. The problem is not with God’s love, but with ours. Jesus is clear that though the light came into the darkness, people did not receive him because they loved darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). The shocking thing is, our love of darkness is just as deep as God’s love for us. God loves (agape) the world, but humans love (agape) darkness.
So then, where is my mind naturally drawn? To whom and what am I naturally willing to attach myself? What do I naturally sacrifice for? Just as God’s love drives him into our lives to reconcile us to himself, our loves, when they remain in darkness, blind us to the gift of God.
But that is not the end of the story, because, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to us that we might believe and not perish, but have everlasting life. God loves the world.