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The God we believe in


Just three densely packed verses constitute the gospel passage for today. They would be enough to correct any distorted image of God that may still be present in the minds of many Christians—that of the stern and inflexible judge—and to open our hearts to trust in his love.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him may not be lost” (v.16). It can be considered the summit reached by the biblical revelation on the meaning of creation, life and human destiny.
John, who has seen with his own eyes and touched with his hands the word of life (1 John 1:1), arrives to say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8); love that manifested itself in the only begotten Son’s gift to the world.
He has not only given him in the incarnation; he delivered him into the hands of men on the cross. There he has shown his true face, without any veil.
Paul shows that he understood this miracle of love when, writing to the Romans, he says, “But see how God manifested his love for us, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
In the face of this gift, what is required of man? One thing only: that he trusts, abandons himself in his arms—as does the bride with the groom—who hands herself to him, immense love, in the certainty of meeting life.
When we think of God who became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth, sometimes we make the mistake of considering this as an episode, a sad parenthesis of his existence. He came among us, remained a little more than 30 years, suffered and died on the cross, then returned to heaven, far away, happy to have retaken the former state.
That is not so. Our God took on our human nature and remains forever one of us. He has not pulled himself out of our world. He is and remains always the Emmanuel, the God-with-us (Matthew 28:20).
In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus does not appear as a judge who condemns, but only as a saviour of persons. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through him, the world is to be saved” (v.17). “For I have come, not to condemn the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).
The third and final verse of today’s passage is read in this perspective. In it, the responsibility of each person in front of God’s love is highlighted. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned. He who does not believe is already condemned” (v.18).
Today we are called to welcome the joy that God offers, but we can also commit the folly of delaying or even refusing his embrace. He expects an immediate yes, because every moment spent in sin, in the rejection of his love, is a wasted opportunity.
At the end of life, when God “will test the work of everyone” (1 Corinthians 3:13), the conformity or discrepancy of each person’s action with the person of Christ will appear clearly.
God then surely welcomes all in his arms, though some will be forced to admit to having badly managed and hopelessly wasted the unique opportunity that was offered to them.
The work of this man, warns Paul, ”Will become ashes; although he will be saved, but it will be as if passing through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications