…God is love. 1 John 4:8b (ESV)
I have a hard time wrapping my head around the subject of God’s love. Honestly, if someone treated me the way I have treated the Lord at certain times in my life, I’d have walked away from that relationship a long, long time ago. And, right there in those two sentences, the difference between how I “love” and how He loves is illustrated.
God is love. Apart from God, there is no love. The reason is that, in and of ourselves, we human beings do not possess the capacity to truly love. Not by God’s definition of the word, that is.
Agapē is a Greek word that literally means “a love feast”. In the King James Version it is often translated as “charity”. God’s love is utterly selfless. Unlike relationships between humans, God has no need of us. He does not benefit from loving us, the way we benefit from His love for us. We are truly the benefactors of the One Who does not merely love, but is love. God’s love is pure. It is not need based. It has no conditions.
The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, illustrated beautifully what love manifest looks like:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians13:4-8 (ESV)
Since we are seeking God, and God is love, I think it would be a good exercise to take the verses above and replace the word “love” with “God”.
God is patient and kind. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count lowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He had every right to destroy the Earth. But He didn’t. At least not yet. God seems to reserve that particular action for when the sin of this world becomes so great that there is no other choice. With Noah, the Lord waited until there was one righteous family left.
God does not envy or boast; He is not arrogant or rude. Who does God have to boast to? He is God. Not one of many, but the One and Only. He is gracious to us, for we are truly precious in His sight.
God does not insist on His own way. It’s called free will. And, sorry Calvinists, we all have it. It doesn’t mean God’s will won’t be fulfilled (it will be). But, love can only be reciprocated freely. Love cannot be forced upon anyone.
God is not irritable or resentful. When God speaks forcibly, it isn’t because He is grumpy. When God speaks or acts, it is ultimately for our good. He shows us great favor, but sometimes that takes the form of correction. He is our Heavenly Father. When my son takes off running in a parking lot, or decides jumping off furniture with a cape on trying to be a superhero, or attempts any one of an endless varieties of daredevil stunts that seven year old boys tend to enjoy trying, Dad’s response is generally pretty stern and unpleasant. I love my child. I do not want him to get hurt. And , sometimes, I have to get the message across in strong terms. It isn’t that I’m grouchy. It’s the fact that I love my kid so much that I will do whatever I can to protect him, and teach him to make wise decisions.
He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. This one seems fairly obvious, seeing that God is Truth and the One Who defined morality. Read Exodus or Leviticus sometime. There are laws God put down that make me think, “Are you kidding? Someone had to tell them not to do that?”
God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV). God created you. He knew you before you were born: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13, ESV). You cannot sin so great that God will not forgive you. You cannot run so far that God will not find you. His love for you – for all of us – is unconditional and pure and entirely without selfish motivation.
God never ends. He always has been, always will be. He is the Great I AM, Existence Himself. And He loves each of us with astounding grace, mercy and patience. He is our Father. He is love. And if we want to know what love looks like in the flesh, we need look no further than His Son, Jesus Christ.