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THEOLOGY > God > God's Essence > God is Love  


God is love (I Jo. 4:8, 16). Love is who God is and what God does. In the attempt to comprehend the nature of love the “is” and the “does” cannot be separated.

Love is an attribute of God that is best understood by its action, and observation not discussion affords the greatest insight into its essential nature. It is questionable whether love can be contemplated in the abstract, for love is best conceived as an activity not as a static state of God’s nature. In other words, love is made known by its deeds. Love acts! In this sense the love of God and the acts of God are inseparable. Love is comprehended more by observing what love does than by being told what love is.

Love not only acts, it must act!  Love cannot not act. To fail to act is to reveal the absence of love. This affords insight into the necessity of redemption—the necessity not only is to be found in the moral state of man but also in the nature of God. God must redeem because God is love. God does what He does because He is love (Jo. 3:16; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:4; 5:2; I Jo. 4:7-11). God-love reaches beyond God, outside of Himself to His creation. God loved the world (Jo. 3:16) and God loves the world (I Jo. 4:16). God determined to save; He was never without a plan, a plan that is constant and eternal. And this plan and the implementation of the plan is anchored in God’s love.

God’s love flows from what He is, from who He is; it is what the Divine Essence is and manifests the Divine Essence. Augustine in De Trinitate stated that if you see the Trinity you see love (B. 8, Ch. 8). In the Trinity there are three things: “he that loves, and that which is loved, and love” (B. 8, Ch. 10; B. 9, Ch. 2; B. 15, Ch. 3). He adds: “Where nothing is loved there is no love” (B. 9, Ch. 2). God is love—the Father loves the Son and the Son is loved (Eph. 1:6). Where the Trinity is, love is. Love, therefore, originates from within not without; its impetus resides within God’s own essential character, not with the circumstances of His creation. It is God’s nature to love. He loves because of who or what He is. This is agape, a love based upon the lover not the loved. God loves us because “God is love” and because God is He who loves. In a world that only knows lust as a way of living, the believer is loved and can love.

Love is used consistently of God in the New Testament. Simply put, it is an unselfish affection or attribute that is self-giving, and the self-giving implies a cost. This is the essence of divine love: not only does God’s love act, it acts even though it is costly to act. Love is willing to sacrifice—more than willing, it does sacrifice!  The main focus of God’s love and God’s loving activity is the Cross. God “so loved” that “He gave,” and the giving cost—it meant “the only begotten Son” was given up in death (Jo. 3:16), “the just for the unjust” (I Pet. 3:18). Because God is love He acts; if He did not act, He would not be love. And His love is demonstrated supremely in sacrifice (Rom. 5:8). “Love is the self-giving of God” (Brunner, C D of G, 185).

Love not only acts, not only must act, not only arises from within (from the nature of God), and not only is sacrificial, but love takes the initiative. It is not sought; it seeks. It does not wait to be implored. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Divine love searches for the lost sheep, finds the lost sheep, and carries it to the sheepfold (Lu. 15:4-7). Jesus did not come because He was called; rather, He came to call (Matt. 9:13). It was God who “sent forth his Son . . . to redeem” (Gal. 4:4-5). Uninvited He came, willingly He died. This was because of “His great love with which He loved us” (Eph. 2:4). Love takes the initiative.

God’s love is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 8:35-39). It is not whimsical; it is not fickle. It is not dependent upon circumstances; it is not dependent upon human conduct. The love of God endures; it continues. It endures tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. Even in the midst of all these things “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). No one or no thing is able to separate us from the love of God. It cannot be stopped; it cannot be weakened; it is immutable. What comfort, what consolation, what peace, what assurance!  Our lives are under the providential care of the holy God who loves us with an everlasting love (see: Providence).

The intensity of God’s love is unchanging; His love is His essence, and in His essence God is constant. Joseph and Job are both loved with the same love and loved in the same way; there is no distinction. But the effect of God’s love in the lives of those He loves is different. God’s love ordains that some suffer more than others. For some life is relatively easy, for others it is filled with great affliction and trial. Does this suffering bring into question God’s love? The sufferings may vary but the Divine love is constant. The intensity of God’s love for both Job and Joseph is identical. This is true though there is no way to compare Joseph’s suffering to that of Job. Because the intensity is constant, it would be improper to say that God loved Joseph more than Job because Joseph suffered less. God does not have favorites. All of His children are loved “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). If you belong to God, His love for you never increases; and we cannot comprehend what it means to be objects of such affection.

Closely related to God’s love is His goodness, His grace, His mercy, and His patience. God’s goodness (Nah. 1:7; Ps. 34:8; 86:5; 119:68; 145:9; Mk. 10:18; I Pet. 2:3) expresses the fact that He is good, good in His essence, and that His love is unfailing. He cares for all creation, for “the Lord is good to all” (Ps. 145:9). He is benevolent; He sends the rain and the sun, sustaining and providing for all creation and fills “our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). “O that men would give thanks to YHWH for His goodness” (Ps. 107:8). (Charnock discusses the goodness of God for nearly 150 pages, E and A, II, 209-355.)  God’s grace (I Pet. 5:10) is His unmerited love or favor that contemplates man in his guilt and determines to redeem him from his sin. God’s mercy (Ex. 33:19; Deut. 4:3; I Chron. 21:13; Jer. 3:12; Dan. 9:9; Eph. 2:4), a virtual synonym for pity and compassion, is God’s love focused upon man in misery and distress. The “Father of mercies” (“Father of compassion” in NIV) has great mercy and love (Ps. 25:6) and has mercy on whom He will (Ex. 33:19; Rom. 9:15). God’s patience (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; 145:8; Nah. 1:3; Rom. 2:4; 9:22; I Pet. 3:20; II Pet. 3:15) speaks of God being long-suffering, of the fact that He suffers long with the obstinate; He is slow to anger and delays His judgment. Chrysostom observed that God took six days for creation but waited seven days before He destroyed Jericho. God’s wheels of punishment grind slowly but also surely. How tragic for man to indulge in sin while God is withholding His wrath.

Finally, God’s love can never be fathomed; theological treatises will never be able to explain it. There is a mystery that cannot be grasped. How do you comprehend the Holy loving the unholy? The cross is the supreme manifestation of God’s love but that very manifestation intensifies the mystery. How can you understand the Creator dying for the creature? We see, but we see through a glass darkly. Worship is the noblest response.

O worship the King all glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love;
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.
Robert Grant

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