God Is Love: The Doctrine of God’s Love

God is love! Christian frequently proclaim this. If you surveyed Christians about the attributes of God, I suspect this one would end up near the top of the list. But what is love? And just what does it mean to say that God is love? This article will examine those questions as well as challenges to the idea that God is love.

What is Love?

The English word ‘love’ is used in a variety of way. I love pizza, the Seahawks, and my wife. One is related to the satisfaction of physical desire. The second has to do with enjoyable entertainment. And the third typically related to an emotional feeling. What is meant by the word ‘love’ can only be determined by the context.

But the Greek language that the New Testament was written in was more precise. It had three distinct words that end up translated into English as love. In the expression ‘God is love’, as used in 1 John 4:8, the word ‘agapē‘ is used. Mounce defines this word as ‘love, generosity, kindly concern, devotedness; the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies.

This agapē love then is a love that is others focused. An active love that is seeking the best for other people. Even if that love cost me personally. The expression ‘love is a verb’ is definitely applicable to agapē.

God’s Love

1 John 4:8 makes the claim that ‘God is love‘. It would be easy to read this passage and understand it to mean that God has love. But it actually says that God is love. And that is quite different. God is not defined by love; rather love is defined by God.  

We often see love as some abstract standard. And we judge people against it; the better your score, the more loving you are.  But love is not something that is external to God that he could be measured against; he is love; and thus he himself is the standard that others should be measured against.

The Call to Love

The measure of my own love is in how well I conform to the love of God. 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. But the larger context calls on us to mimic that love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8 NIV

I am called to love other believers with the love that comes from God. This is not an optional command. John explicitly tells us that those who do not love, do not know God. If we are his children, then we will love each other.

But that love is not something that is automatic, requiring no effort on our part. It is an active love. It calls on me to be actively engaged in demonstrating love to those around me. Not just an emotional feeling, although that may be there. But an act of the will. Choosing to love, even at my own expense.

A Loving God and a World of Evil

Many critics of the God of the Bible will use love as a point of attack. How could a loving God allow so much suffering among his creatures? This is sometimes known as the Problem of Evil.

Is it loving to allow a hurricane to devastate a city and its population when it is in your power to prevent it?  Is it loving to sit back and allow children to be abused and killed by parents or other people?  Or is it loving to allow AIDS, or Ebola, or even the flu hurt and kill so many people?  I have to admit that that does not seem to be a loving thing to do, and I suspect that most people, at least secretly, struggle with it as well.

But people who do this are disconnecting love from God. They envision ‘love’ as some form of abstract object that is independent of God. They believe they know what love is. And that they are qualified to judge God against their understanding of what love is. But if God is love, then that makes no sense. If he is love, then everything he does comes from love. Even if we do not understand it.

Understanding God’s Love

Given that God is love, how do I reconcile that with the evil found in the world today? Evil that it seems God could eliminate if he choose to. Evil that seems incompatible with love.

My first response is that by and large I do not know. I serve a God that is well beyond my ability to comprehend, much less judge. And I believe that God is love, and trust that what he is doing is done in love.

It is argued by some that God has sufficient reason for allowing evil to exist in our world. That it accomplishes some purpose in his plan for creation. And I do see that a fallen world can produce in us a desire for something better. A desire that would open us to God’s redemptive plan.

Others will argue that it would be impossible to create a world of free creatures without accepting a certain amount of evil coming from them. If we are truly free, then we will sometimes act in evil ways.

My concept of love is admittedly small and incomplete. I do not understand much of what God, as love, does. But then I am not God, and he is not answerable to me. God is love: he has created me and the world around me; he has brought me into relationship with himself; and he has prepared something much better for me. And it is not just me. He reaches out to everyone in love. That some reject what he has done, making a mess of their own lives as well as others, does not make him any the less love.

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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