"For God so loved the world ..." Lately John 3:16 won't leave me alone. It hovers above my shoulder as I read The Washington Post. Really, God? You love this world?
The Indus River flooded this summer. Engorged to 40 times its normal size, the raging water left 1,700 Pakistanis dead, made environmental refugees out of millions of people, and sentenced countless to death by second-hand consequences. If those floods happened in the U.S., they'd spread from Dallas to Duluth.
Pakistan's leaders and relief agencies sent up urgent pleas for aid. Response was slow. Didn’t we just give to Haiti relief? What if our aid goes to the Taliban? American taxpayers just bailed out Wall Street; we can’t bail out every flood, hurricane, and drought that comes along. Really, Divine Creator? You agape this clamoring chaos?
In 2007, climate scientists predicted these floods. Glaciers feeding the Indus river basin are the largest ice fields on earth, other than the polar caps -- and they are melting. Pakistan's heavy monsoons are cyclical, but climate change is making them more erratic and extreme. The massive, World Bank-sponsored Tarbela Dam project on the Indus disrupted its natural flow and vastly expanded the flood plain. The project also managed to transfer a major portion of Pakistan’s natural resources into the hands of a wealthy few while displacing 100,000 people. The "timber mafia" -- a network of organized crime that includes government officials, land-speculators, and the desperate poor -- has accelerated deforestation. Timber gangs can clear 90,000 trees in two nights. "These forests used to absorb the ferocity of the floodwater," explained a Pakistani forestry scientist.
Maybe so few gave aid for the Pakistani flood victims because we know it's going to happen again. And again. This is "what global warming looks like," say NASA climate experts.
"For God so loved the world, that God gave God's only begotten Son ..." John's verse continues to work on me. Far from a simplistic claim to a private Jesus bent on conquering the faithless, it hints instead at a wild, feral lineage. That "sonship" is not about male or female; it's about the Human One who has no necessary affiliation with a Davidic dynasty, priestly tribes, religious institutions, or CEOs of the apocalypse. That agape love is the pouring-out kind, the "my water just broke" kind; the hard pushing out of new life into the world’s insanity.
Why did God do this? So that whomever comes to love this Human One will not die but will learn the healing ways that lead to perpetual life. Not only life in heaven beyond, but in the life-sustaining principles that God breathed into the world at its birth and that exist still if we are willing to follow them. The Human One was born not to hand down a verdict on us, but so that all this chaos might teem with life.
Now, turning back to The Washington Post, I hear the echo of the prophet Isaiah: "Like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be ... " (65:22). Here is the principle that human cultures and forests must grow together to prosper. When I read that the pollution generated by over-industrialized nations is causing glaciers to melt, I recall God's interrogation of Job: "Out of whose womb came the ice" (38:29)? When I consider how the poor have been forced off their lands and left without access to clean water, I hear Isaiah again: "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none and their tongue fails for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them" (41:17). How will God provide for them? By "opening up" the rivers and removing all blockages (41:18); by restoring the natural aquifers (41:18); and through a massive reforestation movement ("I will plant in the wilderness the cedar ... " 41:19). God does all this so that the powerless of the world may "see, know, consider, and understand together" (41:20) how God works, how God's creation is made.
I want to embrace John 3:16. I want to be part of God's saving project. You too?
Rose Marie Berger, author of the new book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood (available at store.sojo.net), is a Sojourners associate editor.