(Author’s Note: Since many of you have responded to my writings with questions about the hymnal we put together “Worship the King,” I am thankful to mention to you that the books are available and for sale. You can order them through our website at wtkhymnal.org)
What in the World Is All This?
Language is such a natural part of our lives that we many times don’t think about where things come from or how things are commonly used. For example, have you ever thought about sayings and clichés like “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” or “That’s too much sugar to make a dime.”? They are thrown about so commonly we don’t think about what they say in literal sense. Yet, when taken literally, many of these things could be considered absurd and ridiculous. And yet – funny enough – when we read the Scriptures, too many theological fancies have come about by not granting the same latitude when considering language. It has never ceased to amaze me that people will try to fable-ize Genesis 1 when the language is literal in scope (the evening and the morning were the 1st day, etc.) and then try to literal-ize the book of Revelation when the language is symbolic in scope (1,000 years, etc.).
When at least an equal sense of latitude is given to Scripture as we would our common expressions, I believe we will step into less theological black holes. For example, the word “world” is likely as misapplied as any word in Scripture due to the repetitious usage of the verse John 3:16. It is not only expressions that have multiple senses but singular words do as well. If I used the word “trunk” or “country,” you would need context to know if I was talking about a suitcase, elephant’s snout, base of a tree, or back of a car with the former and nationality, geographical area, or rural surroundings with the latter. Context matters, and language is a wonderful thing with flavors, nuances, and layers of usage.
So, now you ask me – kind reader – “What in the world is all this you are talking about?” How nice of you to inquire! And in pun as well! Consider the word “world” as we would consider the words “trunk” or “country.” At times the word might mean the globe on which we dwell. At others, it might refer to people in the earth, and yet at others, it might describe influences and manners that are observed and found. Scripture highlights these usages quite clearly with the proper context, and therefore, a verse like John 3:16 can be reasoned through with context, Scripture comparison, and a little common sense thrown in.
John 3:16 cannot use the word world to mean the globe itself based on the language of II Peter 3. Peter describes in some detail how the Lord will set fire to the globe itself and burn it up with the contents in it. This will happen in a moment, and all things still within this globe will dissolve forever. Does this sound like the action of a benevolent God toward that which He loves? Common sense answers that handily.
John 3:16 cannot refer to influences and manners due to the language of the verse itself. Too many verses in Scripture talk of Christ’s death fulfilling His Father’s will to be for people and not objects or intangible influences. Not only that, but John tells us in I John 2 that there are many influences in the world that are “not of the Father:” the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
Therefore, we are left with the definition of world from this verse to mean people. So, the simple proposition becomes, what people? Is it some or all? Another simple Scripture comparison should answer this from later in the same book (John 17:9). Jesus says He prays for “them” and not the “‘world.” He then distinguishes who “them” are by describing them as those the Father gave Him. Therefore, the “world” from this verse could not possibly be the same people that God loved in John 3:16. What kind of sense would it make that Christ/God would love someone He wouldn’t pray for? Again, common sense answers that handily.
So, now I ask you – kind reader – what in the world is all this? What we have attempted to do above is hopefully logical, easy to follow, and above all sound. What makes it so difficult for so many to see? Is it simply a matter of revelation? (Matthew 11:25) Is it a failure to understand rules and usage of language? Is it a lack of common sense? I am no expert, but I suspect it is a combination of all, and with current cultural observation the latter 2 factors sadly become more common. As an engineer in my secular occupation, I am not expected to know a lot about language, and many of my peers seem amazed at my vocabulary and knowledge of language. I have tried to tell them numerous times that regular, devoted Bible reading can do more for that than other things I know. Sadly, I have observed trends where knowledge of language and understanding of its layers degrades as time marches on.
Now, what in the world do we do? I can think of no better method than to pray for those that God loved so much that His Son died for them if peradventure God may give them a little enlightening and refreshing down within their souls. Perhaps we may be the very tools He utilizes to assist them in coming to proper conclusions based on what the Scriptures teach. It has been and I hope will continue to be my fervent prayer that God would strengthen and add to Zion. Not for our glory, but for the edification of His dear people and the ultimate glory of His good name. While the world will one day be on fire and all the worldly influences gone forever, I’m supremely thankful to belong to a world of people “so loved” and adored by He who needs nothing that He gave everything for that world so that they would live forever at home with Him.