The Wickedness of the World (Part Two of an Exploration of John 3:16)
Today we turn our attention to the object of God’s immeasurable love: the world. John uses one word: “world” (kosmos). Many try to magnify God’s love by pointing out how many people have lived in this world. “Just think,” they say, “of the multitudes of men and women who have swarmed across the face of the earth. Oh, how great the love of God must be that it could encompass such a countless multitude.”
I’m not so sure that is what John is saying here. I don’t think we learn anything about God’s love by counting heads. God’s love is not magnified when we ask, “How many?” Rather, it is magnified when we ask, “What kind?” In other words, the issue isn’t quantity but quality. The nature of the people whom God loves is crucial, not their number.
What makes John 3:16 and the love of God so marvelous is that he loved, of all things, “the world”! The contrast here is moral, not mathematical. The difference between God and the world isn’t that God is one and the world is many. The difference, the contrast, is that God is holy and the world isn’t! That’s what makes his love so astounding.
The lover is righteous and the loved are not. God loved the moral antithesis of himself! Light loved darkness. Holiness loved wickedness. The immeasurably pure loved the indescribably defiled. Thus the “world” here is not to be thought of in terms of its size but in terms of its sinfulness. The point is not that the world is so big that it takes a great quantity of love to love it all. The point is that the world is so bad that takes an amazing kind of love to love it at all.
When I first met my wife, Ann, to whom I’ve been married for over 47 years, I had several things in mind about the kind of woman I was looking for. I’m sure she had an image in mind of the sort of man she wanted to marry.
Among the many things that each of us highly valued would probably have included physical health, intellectual abilities, personality traits such as kindness and humility, as well as those things that make compatibility possible. Spiritual commitment would also have ranked extremely high in both our assessments of the other.
But I can assure you that neither of us said anything along the lines of the following:
“Of all the many traits and features of the person I hope to marry, what I’m really looking for is a person who utterly despises me. I want a man/woman who is worse than indifferent towards me. I’m hoping for someone who hates me, treats me with contempt and disdain, and who wants nothing whatsoever to do with me.”
But God did! When the Father sought a bride for his Son, he set his affection and love on a people who were his enemies. He loved a world that hated him. His heart was moved toward those who felt bitter enmity for him and refused to honor him as the most honorable Being in the universe. God chose to love his enemies. “For God so loved” this fallen, corrupt, wicked world. Such was the nature of the immeasurable love with which he loved us.
And how did he demonstrate this love? That will bring us to the third great truth in this passage.