Today's Gospel reading brings us several power-packed verses. One could spend a great deal of time on each of them. In the reflection yesterday, I briefly touched on John 3:16. Since it was not actually in the set of readings, I did not dwell for very long. And since so much has been written on it over the years, I will only add that 3:16 must be read in the overall context. It must be read from within the dialogue with Nicodemus, and with the surrounding verses in view.
Yet, even within the most famous verse itself, there is something quite profound that can often escape our attention.
God so loved the world.
The term used for 'love' in the original Greek is agape. This is sometimes called self-sacrificing love, for it refers to the love of God exemplified by giving His only begotten Son. Agape is often contrasted with eros and phileo (or philos), which are different kinds of loves, affections, or dispositions (romantic and friendship, respectively). In the Christian context, it is often said that, at the most fundamental level, to love is to will the good of the other, as other. To love is to will what is good for the other's own sake.
When we think about who and what we are as rational creatures, we affirm or explicate certain qualities or attributes of our nature. Within our nature is an intellect (capacity for intellection, the ability to reason, order, and apprehend universals or formal causes). We are also endowed with a will. The will is the rational appetite for the good. The will moves us to act for what the intellect judges as good. True goods are what is desirable.
The attainment of (genuine) goods or the Good itself is desirable because it perfects the rational creature; it is what we are made to do, it is who and what we are. Our will seeks fulfillment of desire for the good until there is nothing left to seek. Only by recognizing various goods can we be moved toward the Good. In this context, 'good' is ultimately convertible with being (existence), for something can only be desirable insofar as it exists and is understood in some way in the intellect of the creature.
In loving, we properly judge was is good for the other and are moved to act in the attainment of that. When we love another person, we realize that what is most desirable for them is true happiness, and beatitude. We realize the Good is what is ultimately desirable for all. The most loving thing we can do is help someone toward God, who is the summum bonum (highest good). God is not one good among many. Rather, He is Goodness itself.
Now, anything that is in an effect must exist pre-eminently in the cause. For creatures to have the capacities and attributes described above, there must be something within the cause of creatures bestowing that upon them. Since God is the First (primary) cause, all effects exist in Him in some way and are made to exist in creatures in accordance with the nature of the creature. Ultimately, creatures can love because God is love.
From what has been said, I hope it will be slightly more evident how profound it is for the Evangelist to tell us "God loved the world." The Greek term for 'world' is kosmos, which generally refers to the created order en toto. If the scope is brought to its most narrowly plausible, the reference would be to worldly inhabitants. In other words, we might say that the Creator of the entire cosmic order, of all reality, so wills what is good (ultimately perfective) for that order and its inhabitants, that He gave His only begotten Son so that those who believe in the Son will enjoy the Highest Good. The way to the Good itself, the way to true happiness where our wills can desire nothing more, is through the Son.
God wants us to be happy in the truest sense. He wants us to enjoy beatitude. The disordered state of the cosmos is coming to an end by the power of the Eternal Son entering into it. John the Baptizer proclaims that the "lamb of God is taking away the sin of the cosmos." Beatitude is given to us in Jesus Christ. It is the desire of God that the broken created order be fixed. It is the desire of God for us to fully participate in the divine life. It is the desire of God for us to enjoy Him forever.