Jesus said, ‘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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But 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.’
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” It is much easier to condemn the world than to save it, much easier to say what you disapprove of than to go out and do something useful for other people.
For a couple of years I was receiving a newsletter from an extreme right-wing group of Catholics. The contents were pure poison: slander, calumny, detraction – all the vices whose names we learned in the penny Catechism. The local bishop was the special object of their hate. I frequently asked them to remove my name from their mailing list, but the hateful thing kept coming. A friend told me how to deal with it: don't write ‘Return to sender’ on the envelope; write ‘Refused’. The senders then have to pay the return post! I did so, and it never came again. (Even wickedness has its price: in that case, the price of a stamp.) That group is probably still condemning everyone... but not to me!
It is easier to condemn than to do good. “In the evening of life you will be examined in love,” said John of the Cross. What you have condemned won't figure on the exam-paper at all – it’s the wrong subject. “Those who believe in him are not condemned,” John wrote – except that he didn't write English! He would be astonished at some of our uses of the word ‘belief’. We speak, for example, about ‘nominal believers’. For John, such couldn't exist. Nor, I think, for earlier speakers of English. The word ‘belief’ comes from an old word, ‘lief’, used by Shakespeare but now obsolete, meaning ‘love’. There cannot be real belief without love. If John were to come back he might say to us, “Don’t tell me what you ‘believe’; tell me what you love.”
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