To Love What God Loves: Understanding the Cosmic Scope of Redemption

The most well-known, and perhaps well-loved, verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (NRSV).

God so loved the world — the kosmos, in Greek. Could that mean what we mean today by the “cosmos”? God loves … this universe?

We know that elsewhere in the Gospel of John, and also in 1 John, the term kosmos refers to the social order, indeed, the corrupt, fallen “world” that humans have constructed.

So 1 John 2:15 tells us: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them.” This verse understands human beings as loving, desiring creatures; what we set our hearts on shapes our lives. So we’re warned against internalizing the values of this corrupt world, this twisted social order. Love of the world in this sense is antithetical to true love of God.

Likewise, Paul tells us in Rom 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” In other words, love what God loves, which involves a reshaping of our desires.

Yet according to John 3:16 God loves the world, a world that includes people, even fallen, sinful people. This is the world that Jesus, the Son of God, came into, a world that God wants to save (John 3:17), to give life to, through his Son (1 John 4:9).

How can we be told both not to love the world (because it is corrupt and fallen) and yet that God loves the world (so much that he would send his only Son)?

Paradoxically, this world of evil and corruption stands under God’s judgment; but it also generates God’s compassion, because he sees the depth of our need.

It generates God’s love.
But why would God love this sinful, corrupt world?
Because the world (though fallen) is first of all God’s creation — God’s good creation.

According to Gen 1, after God’s first creative act, the bringing forth of light out of darkness, God saw that the light was good (1:4). Five more times in the creation account of Gen 1, we are told that God looked at what he had made, and saw that it was good (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). And when creation was complete, God surveyed everything he had made, “and behold, it was very good” (1:31).

Yet it wasn’t perfect.
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