God’s New Age
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
March 12, 2021, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: Unknown
When I was a kid, one of the things that I looked forward to was the vacation bible school program at the end of the school year. It was an awesome experience. I got to play with other children, do crafts, sing, and eat lots of snacks. We also learned a new Bible verse every day, and at the end of the week we would get a prize if we remembered all of them.
One of the verses I remember learning first was John 3:16. Memorizing it was like a rite of passage. Success meant we were ready for more difficult texts.
So I learned this famous verse when I was about 6 years old, and have never forgotten its words: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
But the way I understand this text has shifted over the years. When I started working in the slum communities in Guatemala City, John 3:16 was constantly in the back of my mind. I had been taught it was about people’s ticket to heaven; they had to accept Jesus as their personal savior for the salvation that resulted in everlasting life. Consequently, the way I engaged the youth I worked with in the slums was focused on their souls.
The communities were, and still are, so violent that I acted out of a sense of urgency in case the youth died prematurely. When my friends Clemente and Kevin were tortured and murdered, I was not only deeply saddened, but also filled with regret. At that moment, I realized I had been so focused on their afterlife salvation that I wasn’t really present for them in the way God called me to be in this life. Ironically, my future-focused tunnel vision meant that, in some ways, I had missed out on God’s presence in them in the here and now. I had missed some of the most important moments of our friendships.
My epiphany was quite unexpected. But I guess Scripture shows us that smashing expectations is sort of God’s forte.
In this week’s text, Jesus foretells his death. He relates it to a moment in the Bible when God used Moses to save the Israelites from snakes by looking at a … snake. It was unusual, to say the least. In the same way, Jesus reminds his listeners that his salvation will happen, but everything about it will defy our expectations.
And then he shows us how. In verse 17 we are told that he does not come to condemn, but instead to save … the whole world — everyone. He is never the source of condemnation in these verses.
A little later we hear that his judgment is the act of shining a light into the world — his judgment is … love!
Even the language around “eternal life” or “life everlasting” is unexpected. As N. T. Wright has suggested, the words can be translated as “God’s new age.” In other words, it’s not a future salvation in a faraway place with God, it’s God present and at work here and now in a way that stretches into eternity.
Imagine how differently I would have related to Kevin and Clemente if I would have realized that God does not condemn, God’s judgment is love, and God’s salvation, God’s “New Age,” begins here and now. I would have been able to relax into God’s love with them instead of trying to force it on them.
I am not implying that salvation is not what we have been taught. I am suggesting it is much bigger than what we’ve been taught. I still want to go to heaven when I die. But I also want to experience the fullness of God here and now as well … in the least expected ways and with the least expected people. God, give me eyes to see your fullness in this moment.