The Warring Cosmos, Part 1
What John 3:16 is hiding.
“Hey, what’s your favourite Bible verse?”
I was nineteen, in the change room of the manufacturing plant where I worked. Opening the locker to where my coveralls were kept, I was suddenly accosted by the boss’s son, a zealous Jehovah’s Witness. This was a person I tried to avoid since, in those days, I was beginning to walk away from my boyhood faith and wanted less and less to do with religion. Also, I thought him supremely annoying.
“So, what is it?” he repeated, his loud question accompanied by an uncomfortably leering gaze.
I hemmed and hawed for a moment before coming up with a reply designed to get him off my back more than anything, not to mention the fact that it was the only verse I seemed to be able to remember at the moment.
“Uh, John 3:16?”
He guffawed, and proceeded to rattle off several of his own “favourites” in rapid succession, searching me carefully for the expected impression. I felt sure he was going to lead me through the guideposts of whatever cultist script lurked in his mnemonic cerebrum, so I consciously organized my face into the blankest expression possible. He gave up, and we parted ways.
The Missing Piece
For God so loved the world[?] as to give the Son, the only one, so that everyone having faith in him might not perish, but have the life of the Age.
As it stands, John 3:16 is easily one of the most remembered verses in the Bible. There is a reason everyone defaults to it, for it is the good news in miniature for every Sunday School child. Rightly so!
Yet, I later discovered that there was something about this verse that I had been missing for nearly all of my Christian life.
What most Bible versions translate “For God so loved the world” is actually a door to something much deeper. For the actual word underlying this phrase is kosmos, a noun that among Greek speakers meant something ordered, decorated or adorned.
Interestingly, this happens to be where we get our word cosmetic from —at which point one imagines God ordering creation in the same way a woman adorns herself. Shades of Solomon’s Song? At any rate,
God saw that it was very good.
The implication of this is that God’s love extends to more than people, or for that matter, our singular planet. To the ancient man, whose cosmological perspective of the universe amounted to a dome of glass arcing over a flat disc (above which ran myriads of waters and angels) I suppose world is accurate enough. But it seems clear that the love of God can be thought of as extending to the whole of His created handiwork.
In other words, God did not send Jesus because He loved people only (though Matthew 10:31 does confirm us as at least sparrow-superior). As Creator, He genuinely adores everything He has ever made, a pride of work seen in the wonderful poetry of Genesis’ first two chapters.
How We Fit In
That being said, the latter half of John 3:16 is about mankind, us. Whoever believes in Jesus will receive eternal life. The two clauses are clearly linked—the fate of Creation, including our world, hinges on the outcome of its most venerable inhabitants. This is powerfully echoed by Paul:
For the earnest expectation of Creation anxiously awaits the revelation of the sons of God. Because Creation was made subordinate to pointlessness, not willingly but because of the one who subordinated it, in the hope that creation itself will also be liberated from decay into the freedom of the glory of God’s children. (Rom 8:19–21)
Of course, Creation here ironically includes mankind itself, especially so, according to Gill’s commentary on the verse:
The vanity and emptiness of the minds of the Gentiles, who were without God and Christ, and the Holy Spirit, without the law and Gospel, and grace of God; also the vain conceits they had of themselves, of their wisdom, knowledge, learning, and eloquence; likewise their vain philosophy, particularly their gross idolatry, their polytheism, or worshipping of many gods; together with their divers lusts and vices, to which they were addicted, to such a degree, that they might be truly said to be made subject thereunto, being under the government of these things, slaves unto them, and in such subjection, as that they could not deliver themselves from it.
Yet we know from Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 that Creation was placed under human rule. And whatever one has authority over, one has the capacity to bless — or else corrupt. Scott’s take on it is compellingly sober prose:
Every thing seems perverted from its intended use: the inanimate creatures are pressed into man’s rebellion; the luminaries of the heaven give him light by which to work wickedness; the fruits of the earth are sacrificed to his luxury, intemperance, and ostentation; its bowels are ransacked for metals, from which arms are forged, for public and private murder and revenge; or to gratify his avarice, and excite him to fraud, oppression, and war. The animal tribes are subject to pain and death through man’s sin, and their sufferings are exceedingly increased by his cruelty, who, instead of a kind master, is become their inhuman butcher and tyrant. So that every thing is in an unnatural state: the good creatures of God appear evil, through man’s abuse of them; and even the enjoyment originally to be found in them is turned into vexation, bitterness, and disappointment, by his idolatrous love of them, and expectation from them.
But Paul makes it plain that God never intended to take it upon Himself to rescue fallen creation alone (though our Easter celebrations memorialize how he emphatically broke ground). This is the reason why it was so necessary for the Divine to put on flesh — for the Son of God to become the Son of Man. In fact, there are at least four reasons why Jesus was born to earthly parents:
- Authority “over all His handiwork” had previously been given to man (Psalm 8:3–6). Therefore, it was unethical for God to act unilaterally in earth’s affairs. Cleverly, then, heaven embedded its own double agent.
- Sin, confusion, shame, sickness, death and a host of other maladies had tainted humanity’s intrinsic nature and “crimped the hose”, so to speak, of the succouring link between created and Creator. This required nothing less than God becoming human and extending to each one of us an offer to be recreated in his likeness (as “last Adam” and “firstborn among many”). In this way, we could finally accomplish our original mission— being fruitful.
- Lasting cultural transformation always takes place at the grassroots level. For a mankind endowed with free agency to identify with and comprehend another Realm’s cultural values, the metanoia method of a mustard seed must be given room to manifest. According to the culture of heaven, this is not accomplished by fiat from above, but foot-washing influence from below.
- Life is in the blood. Covenants cannot be made or annulled without shedding the blood of a living thing. Only the death of either Israel or God as covenant partner could free Israel from the Law, and God made His choice. His blood, infused by world-creating Spirit, was able to establish a new and better covenant with the kind of universal scope and efficacy sufficient for every future variation of mankind.
Thus, for God to break his word over man in Genesis 1 was so anathema to him, he was willing to gamble on subjecting creation to man’s own futility, in the hope that, if sons and daughters could find their way back to freedom, the whole of Creation would follow.
Then, he did what no one expected, and loaded the dice with His Son.
This is the power of the incarnation, for Jesus was not only son of God, but son of us. He was not only God, He was us. In that sense, we are covenant partners, not individually, but corporately, through Him. As firstborn, all responsibilities and obligations lie with Him. Just as Moses represented all of Israel on one mountain — Sinai — Jesus represented the whole world on another — Golgotha.
Next, I’d like to tackle the role of the serpent, the diabolos, in this cosmic equation, or non-role, as the case may be.
N E X T → The Warring Cosmos, Part 2
Journey to the Center of God’s Earth, Part 2 ← P R E V I O U S
The more I learn, the more I discover just how vast a realm of history, language and culture the Bible contains. It’s not easy! That’s why I made a deck of ultra-convenient cards unlocking an historical understanding of the Scriptures, one card at a time.
Plus, for the first time, you can become a patron and get all kinds of New Covenant merch sent to you every single month.