Whoever Believes

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Unlike many Christians who are so fond of this most famous verse in the Bible, I have struggled all my life to make this text connect for me meaningfully. As a result I have felt like an inferior Christian, almost a turncoat in the midst of so many who seem to have a better appreciation for God than I seem capable of feeling. I have tried for years to grasp the true meaning of this verse only to repeatedly have compulsive questions and doubts spring up in my heart that challenge the meaning of this verse. I can see that many of these doubts emanate from my early years of living with hidden inner terror of God.

A number of years ago when I first was introduced to the method of inductive Bible study which revolutionized and revitalized my personal times of devotion with God, one of the first passages I chose to explore for myself was the context for this verse. I decided to start back a chapter or so to give it context and then spent a number of months soaking in each verse and pondering each word and phrase leading up to this verse trying desperately to make it become more alive for me. This exercise was not disappointing and a great deal of progress was made in changing my thinking about God.

Yet because my own heart has so seldom felt unconditional love, especially from a person it perceives as a real father, it still keeps raising the same old objections reinforcing the doubts of my inner skepticism. It is not something I choose to do but rather springs from deep-seated lies about God that became the foundation of my psyche for much of my life.

In recent years I have decided to just trust that God is the one who is capable of repairing the damage of my heart and is the only one capable of making me able to feel His love, not just talk about it. As my perceptions of the kind of God He really is have been challenged and replaced with new insights He is showing me in His Word, this healing process is starting to have more effect in my mind. My own heart has begun to warm to the same messages I have started passionately expressing to others.

As I once again find myself contemplating this verse again this morning, I feel my own heart beginning to stir again with new awareness. For one thing, I just finished reading a stirring article by a friend of mine who shared it with me in response to a question I posted on FaceBook. It is something he wrote years ago about forgiveness. Some things in it really caught me by surprise and awakened within my heart a deeper appreciation for the goodness and kindness of God. And for my heart to get excited more than my head is a healing event for me. (here is a link to that article)

As I again ponder the word believe in this verse, a word that has confounded me much of my life, something began to stir in my awareness. I have spent years seeking to grasp what it really means to believe in Jesus, to believe in God as I have noticed the writings of John particularly emphasis over and over. For most of my life I couldn't make sense out of what it really means to believe. Believe what? Believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But what difference does that make? would always be the next question. And even though I never disputed that Jesus was the Son of God as I had been taught from infanthood, it has never seemed to have had the effect that everyone implies it is supposed to have.

In recent years it began to dawn on me that what Jesus meant was that I need to believe that God is just as nice and kind and loving as Jesus, that God would treat people no differently than the way Jesus treated people. That revelation has led to me challenging all of the theology I was taught and revisiting everything I believe from a new perspective. The result has been that I now believe very differently about God than what I believed most of my life. But still my heart still remains trapped in that old cycle of questions, fears and doubts about how much God actually loves me. I have long realized that I cannot force my heart to believe anything, but what I can do is to keep immersing my mind by flooding it with evidence and information about that love until my heart finally begins to slowly embrace a new opinion about God and His love for me.

A new thought came to my attention this morning that is having an interesting impact on my heart's opinion about God and is awakening appreciation along the line of what it means to believe in someone. What if I turned the idea of believing in someone around, even temporarily laying aside my efforts to believe that God is just like Jesus. I could start instead with contemplating what transpires in those heartwarming stories I have heard when a person like a wealthy business owner chooses to believe in an unlikely young person. These stories sometimes involve a rebellious teenager that most people feel has little hope of amounting to anything good in life. But an older, wiser mature person with unusual perception and a magnanimous spirit takes them in and begins to speak words of confidence and vision into their life. The older person is really an investor, a high risk investor who chooses to believe in that young person seeing something in them that no one else can discern. They somehow discern something buried deep inside that young person they consider very valuable and worth encouraging and cultivating even though no one else believes in that young person themselves.

As the story usually goes, the older person is willing to take great risks in trusting the young person with responsibility that no one else would be willing to trust with them. And even when they make mistakes and fail the one who believed in them, the elder one continues to invest in their relationship consistently until the younger person becomes so affected by the unusual trust and confidence of the other that they are inspired to become the very person that the older one discerned in the first place. This is what it means to believe in someone.

These kinds of stories have always stirred in my heart in an extra special way. Maybe its because I spent so many years as a sullen teenager myself, filled with a spirit of rebellion against what seemed so unfair all around me. I was raised by a father who tried to use negative motivation on his children which too often had unwanted results in the effect it had on their spirit that affects them years later. I suppose I have secretly longed to have someone believe in me the same way that was portrayed in this heart-warming stories. Yet as I have now grown much older, my heart now wonders if that could ever happen for me. I am no longer a young person with a future, and these stories always seem to highlight young people as the ones with the potential for bringing out hidden potential inside.

So does that mean it can never happen for me? Or is God starting to say something to me here, something that He wants me to see first in this verse more along the line of what so inspires us in these stories. Does He too use this unusual way of salvaging people from self-doubt and sullen rebellion that is very different than how they are usually treated? Is He saying He wants me to see how much He believes in me instead of insisting that I first believe in Him as I have always read in this verse?

As I ponder these things I feel motivated to rewrite this hackneyed text from a new perspective, one that just might make it start to come alive and resonate more clearly in my own heart.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

For God – because of His passionate love for us, so believed in each one of us caught in this fallen world who are filled with apprehensions about Him – chose to release into our custody His own Son – the only being in the universe competent to fully reflect and reveal to us what God is actually like and how He feels about us.
God handed over His Son to us to let us do whatever we felt like doing to Him, knowing that He could trust His Son to consistently and unflinchingly respond to us with only love and forgiveness even if we subjected Him to the most cruel mistreatment and injustice. God believed that if we could just see this revelation of how the godhead feels toward each one of us, that we could be won over to begin trusting in Him instead of remaining angry or afraid of Him. He knew that as soon as we did that, as a result we would be reconnected to His own heart and begin to experience the eternal, abundant kind of life that He originally designed for us to enjoy in fellowship with Him and each other. (expansive version)


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