By Joe LaGuardia
This is the tenth anniversary of my seminary degree. I went to seminary with a love for the Bible; and, although some Christians warned me about learning too much in higher education, I left with a deeper love than I had before.
I grew up in a household in which learning was simply another step in becoming a life-long learner.
In the academy I learned about the language of the Bible, theology, traditions, history, and Bible interpretation.
In my personal devotion, I learned that the Holy Spirit moves where it will and that God will forever require us to be holy as He is holy. No amount of learning can replace one’s responsibility for cultivating an abiding relationship with the Lord.
In the church, I learned how to listen to people and how to make room for others with patience and prayer. The church has been for me an incubator of mutual learning and sharing, inculcating the rich ways of God and of faith centered around liturgy and congregational celebration.
And, yet, even with all of this learning, I am impressed with the utter simplicity of our faith.
I have hundreds of books in my personal library. They all express different things for different reasons. But no matter what I read, I always return to one truth about how the world works, a truth summarized in John 3:16-17.
In the passage, Jesus, speaking to an educated rabbi, Nicodemus, says, “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. Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
It expresses a beautiful and simple truth that “God so loved the world.” God is not a distant being who set in place the laws of nature only to leave nature to its own devices.
God is a creator–love itself–that seeks a relationship with all living things. Whereas some see the world “going to hell in a handbasket,” God sees the potential in every soul to turn back to him in an attitude of repentance and belief.
God loved us so much, God gave us His son. This theological quip has caused great debate for decades, but its simplicity cannot be overlooked. Jesus came to be God in our midst that we might know, obey, and worship God.
Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection point to that higher calling of sacrifice and glory in which God wants all of us to share.
God does not want anyone to perish, but share in eternal life. For those who do not know Christ, life is a fatalist enterprise. Sure, we can enjoy life to the fullest and build great relationships and fulfill vast accomplishments; but, without the promise of eternal life, all our years on earth are fleeting.
There is an old joke that reminds us, “Death visits us all. I know I’m going to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
When you believe in Jesus and experience the blessing of knowing eternal salvation, life no longer seems fearfully short. It becomes grand and full of surprises.
God does not condemn the world. Too often, God’s followers are quick to condemn everything about the world. Christians rush to judgment; they tend to exclude others who don’t think, believe, or behave like they do.
God shows us a better, inclusive way. God embraces the world in all its fragility and failure and gives the gift of grace where it is most undeserved.
God is not pushy. God does not coerce or force people to accept that gift of life; it must be freely chosen and received by the one who surrenders to God in sincere belief.
For all of the stuff I learned over the years, this simple truth–that God is love, that God gives us Jesus, and that belief in Jesus leads to eternal life–is far more precious than anything I’ve taken away from any book, class, or mentor.