Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read John 3:16–18
Have you ever been at the mall, DMV, or anywhere in public, scanned the scene, and thought, “Really, Lord, You love everyone? Even that guy?” Asking for a friend, of course.
It’s hard to wrap my head around the reality of God’s kind of love. Love the world? I barely love the people I live with! Believing in God’s love for the world is not where I struggle. I struggle most with His love for me.
This week’s gospel reading recounts a late-night discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus and reveals a powerful proclamation, the very core of the gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). I think that author John Bartunek says everything we need to know when he writes, “In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus lays bare the heart of God.” Sit with that for a minute. It’s quite powerful.
In short, John 3:16 is everything. Yet, I’d be doing you a disservice if I failed to mention that there are days I question, is it true?
Why do I doubt? Shall I show you the catalog of my sins? How about you join me for a latte, and we review my handy checklist of objections to God’s love? I can tell you all about the girl I used to be (good grief, she was a mess), the woman I am (I mean, seriously, have I learned nothing?), all those thoughts and words, what I have done, and what I have failed to do. I am confident you will agree that when Jesus said He so loved the world, He wasn’t talking about me.
And what about you, sister?
Where is your heart?
Do you question His love for you?
I keep a folded piece of paper tucked between the pages of my prayer journal. It’s from the “Stand Up for Your Sister” activity that Lisa Brenninkmeyer led at the Walking with Purpose Flourish retreat. It’s an anonymous survey of statements, such as “I have felt invisible” to “I have tried to hurt myself,” a variety of sensitive issues that get to a woman's heart. After each woman checks the box of each statement that rings true, she folds it, passes it to the woman next to her, and that woman passes it to another woman, and this goes on until every piece of paper has been shuffled. Then, we unfold what is essentially our sister's heart in our hands, and as the leader reads each statement, we stand up for every box that has been checked.
There were thirty statements, and the sister whose heart I received checked over half, but one, in particular, grabbed me:
“I don’t believe God really loves me.”
Oh, sister, how I wish I could find you, hug you, and assure you, He does. I’d be sure to convince you that God loves you so much that He sent His only Son to come and rescue you from your sin and bring you to paradise to live with Him for eternity. And then I’d confess: I checked that box, too.
It all goes back to that checklist. I can’t let it go. And here’s the great irony: God knew everything on that list before I was born. He knew every thoughtless word, all the wrong choices, the wide roads, and every selfish motive. And yet, He created me, still. Nothing on that list makes Him love me less. How can I be so sure? Because “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Scripture tells us that Jesus did not come to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17). He came to break the chains of the world, and bind us to God. He leaves us story after story of how He heals and offers an ocean of mercy to the sinner. Why can we rejoice in His forgiveness of the adulterer and the thief but label our sin “unforgivable”? We think it’s an act of humility never to let go of confessed sin, but in truth, it is an act of pride. Pride often keeps us from moving forward even after we have confessed our sins. Oh, how Jesus weeps when we condemn ourselves with our list of objections. Yet, He whispers, “Don’t you know? I died for that list.”
John 3:16 might be the most popular Scripture verse, but knowing and believing it are two different things. Sometimes, the more familiar a verse, the less impact it has. This is why I love what St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote in his Sunday sermon on the Holy Trinity:
“Seeing the whole human race doomed to perdition, God resolved to send a redeemer to save mankind. Who shall come to accomplish their redemption? Perhaps an angel or seraph. No; the Son of God, the supreme and true God, equal to the Father, offers himself to come on Earth, and there to take human flesh and to die for the salvation of men. O, prodigy of divine love!”
While religious education classes taught us at a young age that God is love, did any of us understand what that meant? Praise God for the WWP Bible study Living in the Father’s Love for unpacking kindergarten catechesis! In this study, Lisa Brenninkmeyer guides us to 1 Corinthians 13, the Scripture that tells us what love is and reveals the truth. “If God is love, then a description of love is a description of God.”
Everything changes when we recognize that John 3:16 is not about how much God loves us but simply how God loves us.
Sister, it’s time to drop your list of objections and receive His love.
Food for thought and journaling...
What list of objections keeps you from receiving God’s love?
In the name of the Father who created me, the Son who redeems me, and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies me, thank You for Your divine love. I know it in my head. Please help me to believe it in my heart. Amen.
 John Bartunek, The Better Part, (Avila Institute, 2007), p.819
 St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Sermons of St. Alphonsus Ligouri For All the Sundays of the Year, Fourth Edition, (Tan Books, 1982), p.219
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living in the Father’s Love, (Walking with Purpose, 2020), p.15