A God of Love or Condemnation

Posted in: Liturgy

March 11, 2018 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

March 11, 2018
John 3:14-21
Fr. George Smiga

Sometimes at a football game or as you are walking along the street, you might see someone with a poster on which is written “John 3:16.”  This is because some Christians believe that this particular verse of John’s gospel is the most important verse in the New Testament. It is found in today’s gospel that we have just heard. You all know it, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son; that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” What John 3:16 reveals to us is the reason that God saves us. That reason is love. God gave His son out of love that we might have eternal life. What more good news do you need than that?

But, two verses later, in the same gospel, things seem to change. In John 3:18, Jesus says, “Whoever does not believe is already condemned.” Within three verses, we receive two very different pictures. Which is right? Is God a God of love or a God of condemnation? Are we in the process of being saved or in the process of being rejected? Is our future towards eternal life or eternal punishment?

These are drastic alternatives. They are not just theoretical. Everyone in church here today can plot his or her relationship to God on a continuum that runs from love to condemnation. Wherever we place our relationship to God on that continuum determines the way we live our faith. If we place our relationship to God closer to love, our faith tends to be positive and hopeful. We believe that God sees us as valuable and is always willing to forgive us. We see ourselves as sons and daughters on the way to glory. If, on the other hand, we plot our relationship to God closer to condemnation, we imagine that God is always looking over our shoulder to see when we will make mistakes. We wonder whether God really does care for us and is willing to forgive us. We worry about our worthiness to reach heaven.

The difference between love and condemnation is fundamental. It is very important to get it right. Each one of us here, of course, will have to decide where we place ourselves on the love-condemnation continuum. But before making any final choices, allow me to make three observations. First, salvation is best described as letting the love of God in, in believing that John 3:16 is right: that God wants to save us. Our role as disciples, then, is to let the love of God deeply into our souls. I am convinced that any person who allows God to love them will find salvation.

The second point is this: Condemnation is best defined as keeping love out, as refusing to give love priority in our lives. Now, some Christians would say that the only way that we can live in the love of God is to consciously—and even verbally—accept Jesus as our savior. If we do not do that, we will be condemned. The Catholic stance on this is much more flexible. It states that you do not need to believe in Jesus, or even to believe in God, to be saved. As long as you do your best to let love into your life to the extent you understand it, you will find eternal life. The only way to be condemned is to keep all love out.

This leads to my third point. God does not condemn anyone. God simply loves. We can condemn ourselves by keeping all love from our lives. But that of course is very difficult. It is not easy to be so self-absorbed, so selfish, that we keep all goodness and love out. But, it is possible, and if we were to succeed in doing that, there would be condemnation. But the condemnation would not come from God. It would come from us.

These three points together, assert the priority of God’s love. It is possible to be condemned, but we would have to work very hard to achieve it. Another way of saying this is that John 3:16 and John 3:18 are not equal. God’s love is stronger than our condemnation. God’s grace is more powerful than our sin. Eternal life is more likely than eternal punishment. In other words, John 3:16 is the most important verse of the New Testament. It tells us that our salvation flows from God’s love. All we need to do is let it in.

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