I have often had difficulty with 3:16, so familiar to many as an evangelical rallying cry: "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." Thanks to popular images of zealots waving placards and athletes with this verse etched in their flesh, the emphasis of the first six words have become lost. Lost, or at least blurred, by the implication that those who do not believe would be excluded from life everlasting. An emphasis reinforced by v. 18: "Those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only son* of God." Ahem.
It is easy to forget that John's context is one of hostility -- specifically, against the Jewish leaders who have recently kicked the Christians out of the synagogues once and for all (In the previous verses, John's Jesus has fried and filleted the Pharisee leader Nicodemus verbally.) Not knowing this context, we can easily dismiss John altogether. I sometimes still do.
It is then that John's poetic words that follow fetch me up: Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (v. 21)
My friend in ministry, that fabulous "Lesbyterian" Janie Spahr -- a woman who lived in a heterosexual closet the first 35 years of her life -- is fond of observing that "we're only as sick as our secrets." Indeed! Not that we are called to the promiscuous confessionalism encouraged by "reality" shows and steroidal social media -- contrary to Bill Clinton on MTV many years ago, I would never tell the world what type of underwear I wear. But that the light of Jesus' humanity (his favorite self-reference was son of man, not son of God!*) might effect an honesty and clarity in our lives that leads us to claim that most desirable of virtues: Integrity.
Integrity. A wholeness of being, attracted by the light we "come to". And that allows us to "come to", as well. With words such as,
- "What am I compartmentalizing in my life?"
- "What (or Who) am I hiding from?"
- "What am I so afraid of that I cannot share that fear -- or a behavior borne of that fear --with my loved ones?"
*"The Christians who translated these titles ("son of man", "son of God") into English fifteen centuries laters believed they showed that Jesus was uniquely related to God, and so they capitalized them -- a linguistic convention that does not occur in the Greek." -- Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (NYC: Random House, 2005), 38.