I saw that phrase on the December 2020 cover of Christianity Today. A giant, cosmic hand reaches out toward a world wrapped in darkness, drifting alone in the starry expanse. The phrase floats along the curvature of our little planet, printed in letters so tiny you have to lean in to read them:
“For God Still Loves the World.”
The cover was striking. So was the phrase.
They’ve both stayed with me, but the words especially have been floating around my head—probably because of the way they contrast with John 3:16, arguably the most well-known scripture of all time:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That’s such a beautiful verse. We might roll our eyes at it when we see it overused or emphasized to the exclusion of all other context, but it doesn’t change the fact that these words contain a truly incredible truth:
God loved the world. The world full of wayward sinners and wicked miscreants, the world where even His own chosen people had (again) lost sight of what mattered—He looked at that world and loved it enough to send His Son to die in a truly excruciating way, all so that the doors of salvation could be opened to a planet full of people who didn’t deserve it. Who couldn’t deserve it, not in a million billion years.
And His Son loved the world enough to agree to the plan and follow through.
But the problem with that verse (I speak as a fool) is that it’s in the past tense. Of course it is. It has to be—it’s talking about an event in the past. The real problem—not with the verse, but with the way we might be inclined to read it—is that it’s easy to look at God’s love as past tense.
“God so loved the world.”
Then, but not now.
Once upon a time.
I guess that’s why the phrase stuck with me the way it did. For God still loves the world. As if to say, “He’d do it all over again if He needed to.”
Even now. Even today. For any of us.
But He doesn’t need to do it over again, and that’s a beautiful thing, too.
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.
The sacrifice that tore the veil to the Most Holy Place in half two thousand years ago is the same sacrifice that covers our sins today and lets us run our race to the Kingdom.
But it’s bigger than just our sins. It’s bigger than just the relative handful around the world who know God and who obey Him. “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
The whole world doesn’t know or understand that yet. It doesn’t know how to accept that propitiation or even why it needs it.
But it will.
In time, it will. In time, “Ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'” (Zechariah 8:23). In time, everyone will come to understand that the God who so loved the world is the God who still loves the world, and that from the dawn of time itself, He has been working toward the completion of His plan to transform flesh and blood humans into His sons and daughters, made fully and completely into His likeness, ready to explore the depths of eternity as His spiritual family.
The world is a confused and angry place right now. A lot of people are doing a lot of things they will one day look back on in shame and disgust. It’s hard, knowing the truth, not to be angry at so many of the things that are happening.
It’s hard not to be angry at the people doing those things, too. But maybe not wise.
Wisdom asks us to be discerning about where our anger is directed.
Yes, be angry at the sins. Be angry at how the beauty of God’s creation has been corrupted and trampled and perverted into a deformed husk of what it was intended to be. Be angry that our adversary the devil has convinced billions upon billions to heap pain and misery and suffering upon their own heads while believing they are doing something good and noble.
Be angry at all that, but never forget that God so loved the world.
That God still loves the world.
Remember the plan.
Until next time,