Pity the poor preacher who is assigned John 3:31-36 for the sermon. It is going to be a challenging Sunday morning stepping into the pulpit to declare boldly the Good News of Jesus Christ that,
whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. (John 3:36)
The first thing to notice in John 3:31-36 is that the voice changes from John 3:30 to 3:31. John the Baptist who has been speaking in verses 26 to 30 is no longer the speaker in verse 31. We now hear the voice of John the Gospel writer making an editorial comment on the truth he sees in the story of John the Baptist.
The Gospel writer affirms the ascendency of Jesus that John the Baptist has announced. Jesus is the one who has come from the realm of the Spirit and who speaks of spiritual realities.
John’s is concerned with the reception John the Baptist’s bold testimony about Jesus will receive. He seems to be of two minds.
First he says,
no one accepts his testimony. (John 3:32)
But then in the next verse John refers to
Whoever has accepted his testimony. (John 3:33)
The wording is identical in both verses, except that in verse 32 John seems unable to imagine a single person who has accepted the testimony of Jesus. In verse 33, John imagines that there are those who have received the testimony about Jesus. John affirms that they have
certified this, that God is true. (John 3:33)
I suppose there are days when it looks as if one of these statements may be more true than the other.
There are days when it seem that at every turn we encounter little points of light, people who clearly produce the fruit of a life lived from the depth of union with the Divine reality that permeates all existence. They verify, by the lives they live, the presence of the hidden abundant reality of God who
gives the Spirit without measure. (John 3:34)
Sadly, it seems, there are other days when it appears that there is not a soul on earth who is concerned about the hidden realm of the Spirit. We seem to be surrounded by those who refuse to trust the presence and the power of Love in this world and in their own lives. All we can see are people living on the surface of life, preoccupied by the clutter of material reality. These people, John says have chosen to “disobey the Son”.
The word the NRSV translates as “disobeys” in verse 36 to describe these people is “apeitheo“. “Apeitheo” is the opposite of peitho and peitharcheo, “to persuade” or “to convince”. “Apeitheo” is the failure to believe. It is the choice to withhold trust in the power of love and light.
John the Gospel writers says that those who decide against love and light
will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. (John 3:36)
There are two important points here, the first is clear and easily verifiable in our experience; the second is more difficult.
When we choose against the love, purity, integration, and wholeness embodied in Jesus we miss true life. It is entirely possible to be physically alive while being spiritually dead. When we are concerned only with earthly things, we “belong to the earth.” We are dead to the life of the Spirit. The invisible realms seem to those who “belong to the earth” to be nothing more than a vain fantasy, the wild imaginings of a raving mind, the crutch a cripple uses to avoid facing the pain of reality.
The one who persists in the choice against the spirit-realm, John says,
must endure God’s wrath.
What can it possibly mean to “endure God’s wrath”?
Speaking about the love of God in commenting on John 3:16, I said,
To say that God loves the world, is to say that the power that created everything is absolutely oriented toward the complete fulfillment of all life forms.
When I love someone I am deeply committed to that person becoming all that they were intended to be. This means, at the same time, I am deeply opposed to anything that would stand in the way of that person becoming fully the person they were intended to be.
To say that I must “endure God’s wrath” if I live in a way that is contrary to the fullness of my humanity, is to say that, just as God has organized life to support my full becoming, God has also organized life to oppose those things that hinder my becoming. When I encounter this opposition it hurts. It feels as if life is angry with me. But the hurt I feel is the sign of love. It is the reminder that God wants only what is good and life-giving in my life. Therefore, God has organized the universe in such a way that I will inevitably, even if I do not recognize it, experience pain when I choose to live outside of love.
Why can I not choose selfishness, greed, envy, violence, and death without feeling pain?
A world that did not inflict pain upon me when I stray from love would not be a loving world. The pain I experience when I choose to live according to death, is always the voice of Love calling me to come back to my true self. “Wrath” is the demonstration of the Love who yearns so deeply to be known that it refuses to shelter me from the consequences of my deadly choices.