St. Hilary now begins an analysis of John 3:18-19:
The terms of this utterance of the Lord are disturbing to inattentive hearers and careless, hasty readers. For by saying: ‘He that believeth on Me shall not be judged,’ He exempts believers, and by adding: ‘But he that believeth not hath been judged already,’ He excludes unbelievers, from judgment. If, then, He has thus exempted believers and debarred unbelievers, allowing the chance of judgment neither to one class nor the other, how can He be considered consistent when he adds thirdly: ‘And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light?’ For there can apparently be no place left for judgment, since neither believers nor unbelievers are to be judged. Such no doubt will be the conclusion drawn by inattentive hearers and hasty readers. The utterance, however, has an appropriate meaning and a rational interpretation of its own.
St. Hilary reminds us that Scripture cannot be understood if we do not spend time with it. A hasty reading will inevitably result in a careless understanding which will lead to error.
When I was in seminary, one of my professors would use an analogy to describe a healthy means of studying Scripture. In Raesfeld, Germany sidewalks have what are known as stumbling stones — brass bricks offset from the sidewalk so that when anyone walks over them, the walker is forced to look down and see them. Thus they are encouraged to look down at the names of holocaust victims inscribed in each brass brick.
When we read Scripture, there will be things that catch our attention — things that are beautiful, that excite us, that confuse, that make us angry, that trouble us or a slew of different reactions and emotions. When this happens, it is akin to those stumbling stones. The Holy Spirit is reaching out and tripping us, forcing us to look down at a particular verse or phrase or word. It is these things that we, therefore, should pay attention to because the Holy Spirit is leading us to dig deeper.
Such is the case here with John 3:18-19. As St. Hilary points out, there is an apparent contradiction. One one hand, there is no judgement for either the righteous or the ungodly. There is no need to judge the righteous and the ungodly have already been judged. So why does Christ go on to talk about judgment as light in a world where men loved darkness?
The Holy Spirit has reached out, tripped us and forced us to look down. We must now dig deeper.