“For God so loved the world” is an oft-quoted verse very close to the hearts of our evangelical sisters and brothers, maybe because it is closer to the moment when Jesus said to Nicodemus “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3: 3). Even the great reformer – Martin Luther – also refers to this verse as “the gospel in a nutshell”, or a contemporary inspirational writer – Max Lucado – says this is “the hope diamond of the Bible”.
“For God so loved the world” is the typical English translation. We usually understand thus: Jesus did not merely love us just like that; he loved us so much, extraordinarily, tremendously – not just through his words but by giving up the Son up to his death on the cross. As the Filipino millennials say “as in”!
But I have read one bible commentator who observed that the Greek adverb “outos” (οὕτως) does not only mean “so”. It also means “in this way”, “in this manner”. So when we read the verse again, we understand this: “For God loved the world in this way.” “For this is how God loved the world” (Jerusalem Bible); “For this is the way God loved” (New English translation).
In the way that is mentioned in the verse before it: “Just as Moses lifted us the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believed in him may have eternal life.”
Three months earlier, the police came to look for him. They only saw his pregnant wife and six children. They brought her to prison, and she is still there now. She delivered her seventh child there. Upon knowing this, Juan, the loving father, wanted so much to come home. One day in December, he came home to cook a little spaghetti for his kids since one of them was celebrating her birthday. And when they have finished eating, the police forcibly came to the house and shot him. He knelt and pleaded but they did not listen. Remy, his mother, was distraught, was in the depths of pain. For even her neighbors did not come to Juan’s wake. No one came to condole or play cards. Yet from these depths, she rose. She had to. For her seven grandchildren!
However, just last week, another chapter of her life was unraveled. I asked Lola Remy if she is not too old to be the mother of Juan. (A journalist who interviewed her asked that if Juan is 35 when he died and Remy is 85, did she deliver him at 50?). She looked at me in the eye and said: “Now, I can tell you the whole truth. Juan is not my real son. His very young mother – my companion at work in the factory who did not want her newborn child – gave him to me right after birth. I already had three children then. But I could not bear to see a boy just left to die somewhere. Despite our poverty, I took him in. He grew up without seeing his mother. But I have learned to love him as my own son until the day he was killed. And now, until his seven children lives.” Remy is a strong woman whose compassion and love covers the whole span of her life - from beginning to end.
I talked to Lola Remy before and I will never forget the determination with which she told me this:
“They wanted to kill us. But no, we will not die. We shall live!”
Dying or living, being martyred or struggling to survive, it is still the same way of the cross, the same manner of being “lifted up”, the same journey to Calvary. Jesus loved us ‘in this way’.
To love in the way that God loved us is “to do justice, to love tenderness and to walk humbly with one’s God” each single day of our lives (Micah 6:8).
What saved us is not only Jesus’ crucifixion and death; it is also his whole life lived in compassionate and loving fidelity.
What is often neglected is the unseen struggle of women and men who hurdle the burdens of the everyday so that others may have life. In the life of Lola Remy, it means to search for a safer home for her fragile children, to provide food each day despite her age, to beg for medicine when they are sick, to send them to school, to talk to lawyers who handle the case of the children’s mother who is still behind bars, and to fight for justice for the son she had learned to love as her own – in a world where impunity reigns.
Lola Remy’s life tells me that God also loved us “in this way”. And the life she lives now is not less than what she already experienced: the pain of giving up her son. It is in fact as difficult if not more: the challenge of raising up his seven children to life.
I asked her if she is resolved to do this. Despite her age, she said yes... for the love of her son. In the end, she has really loved so much, extraordinarily, tremendously... as in!
St Vincent SchoolofTheology (Adamson University)