I have heard over and over again that the Bible is just a book of old words that have no relevance for today. That is partially correct. It is a book of old words. Very old words. Ancient words in fact. The rest of that opening statement, I believe, is categorically false. I think anyone who reads these ancient words will agree with me. The Bible is not just any old book. The words are as old as time, but they are as fresh as any new manuscript. The words on the page stay the same (ok – there are minor changes depending on the revision or the translation), but the meaning of the words on the page is constantly changing. The message is always relevant. I believe it is because God is still at work through the words in the Bible and through God’s Logos, better known as the Word of God, or Jesus Christ. I have read the Bible from cover to cover several times. I am in the process of doing it again. In addition to that I delve into Scripture every day either in preparation for the weekly sermon or in my personal quiet time. There are passages in the Bible that I have read hundreds of times. And each time I do I receive something new from them. The words are the same, but the meaning or the insight or the message or the relevance is different.
Today I have been focusing on the words of John 3:16. This may easily be the most famous verse of Scripture ever. Most of you probably know what it says. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” There are so many messages contained in this sentence, not the least of which is a message of hope that we will live forever in God’s kingdom. But today that is not the message I am receiving. The words speaking to me today are “God so loved.” Even in that small portion of this sentence, I think we can get a whole lot of different things out of it.
For me today, I am thinking about those that we tend to cast off to the side; the people that we overlook or turn away from; the people we don’t let have any power or any voice. I am thinking specifically about those who are having trouble, for whatever reason, functioning in today’s society. Perhaps I am here because one of my son’s best childhood friends is having some struggles that have landed him in the psychiatric ward in a state far away from his home and family. I know this now young man. He was frequently at my house as the boys grew up. He was a rambunctious young man, to say the least. That may be one reason he and my equally rambunctious son were such good friends. He is well-mannered, respectful, and polite. He has always had the biggest heart for helping those who were in need. He is also a young man of deep faith. And yet he is in the psych ward. That alone is enough to cause us to put labels on him. We don’t even have to know what his struggles or his prospects for recovery are. Just the fact that he is in the psych ward is enough for many people to call him a head case or deem him mentally ill. When we place these labels on him it is easy for us to start thinking that he no longer matters. It is easy to push him to the margins where he will be overlooked and have his voice and power taken away.
But you know what? God so loved. God loved this young man before he was born. God loved him as he grew up in my home and in his. God loves him still today. God loves him enough that God would still send his one and only Son to die just for him in order that his relationship with God could be made whole and righteous. God loves him enough that God sees perfection even in him regardless of the things he is struggling with.
Think about what that means for a little bit. God so loved. God doesn’t just love those who are always perfect and pious. God loves the sinner, the broken, the labeled, and the marginalized. God loves the one who is in church every Sunday morning and the one who is at the bar instead. God loves the one who is sexually pure and the one who has prostituted her or himself for years. God loves the chronically sober and the chronically addicted. God knows our public persona just as intimately as God knows our inner demons and failures. And yet God chooses to love, no matter what. That is the good news for us, because let’s face it, we all have something we struggle with. God so loves. God loves all of us, now and forever.
So as we move into May and mental health awareness month, let’s remember these words, “God so loved.” God sees God’s perfect creation in all of us, no matter where we are physically, mentally, or spiritually. Yes, it hurts God’s heart when we struggle and when we fail. But God will never see us any differently than the perfection that he created. More importantly, God will never stop loving us, no matter what. God so loved! God so loves still today! God so loves forever! Nothing will ever change that.