This phrase “God is Love” from the Holy Scriptures has always been one of my favorites. For me it is the beginning of the gospel message, & for understanding all of the Holy Scriptures. In my opinion this should be the first & foremost unquestionable assumption before one begins to study the Holy Scriptures.
1 John 4:8 & 16:
8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
16 And we have known & believed the love that God has for us. God is love, & he who abides in love abides in God, & God in him.
This phrase is absolutely fascinating & extremely powerful in the original Greek: ὁ θεός ἀγάπη ἐστίν (ho theos agapē estin). A literalistic rendering would be “The God love is” or in readable English “God is love.” The Greek forms & grammar preclude any alternative rendering, such as “God is lovely, is loving, or is loved”. Despite the Greek word order neither can this phrase be rendered “Love is God” due to the presence of the definite article ὁ before θεός (God).
The Greek ἀγάπη (agapē) is a word seldom found in secular Greek. This may be the reason the early Church Fathers so readily adopted it for almost exclusive use in Christian literature in the sense of the warm regard for & interest in another; esteem, affection, regard, love in very intimate (nonsexual) relationships.1 This type of love is self-giving, self-emptying, self-sacrificing; it gives without partiality & without ulterior motive.
Holy Scripture teaches us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17) And “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The ultimate example of this type of love was manifested to us from the Cross as the Son of God, with His last dying breath, prayed, “Father, forgive them…” The most intimate relationship possible is that communion of love that exists between the persons of the Holy Trinity, & now by extension, between humans & the Holy Trinity. Due to the Incarnation, Crucifixion & Resurrection of the Son of God, human nature in all of its fullness has been eternally united to the divine nature in all of its fullness. Separation-sin-death was transformed into union-love-life.
The Greek verb form ἐστίν, rendered “is”, is a form of the verb εἰμί which basically means “to be, to exist or to happen”. One interesting usage of the verb εἰμίis to define a very close connection, representation or equivalency between a subject & predicate.2 In these verses ὁ θεός (God) is the subject, ἀγάπη (love) the predicate & ἐστίν (is) the link between them. While I am not an expert in Greek, I think one could colloquially state that God exists as the personification (representation) of absolute & perfect love. We generally tend to think of love as an emotion or feeling, which can be fickle & fleeting; but seldom however, is love thought of as distinct or as concrete as reality, being or existence.
So while all of this linguistic stuff may be interesting, what are the implications for us & the Beginning of the Gospel? Further, why should “God is Love” be an unquestionable assumption before delving into the Holy Scriptures?
Answer: Because this unquestionable assumption is so easily forgotten, is virtually unknown & frequently rejected!
Many people do not even realize nor have they ever heard the phrase “God is Love”. It is not apparent to them due to all of the “religious systems” with flawed theological paradigms or frameworks that are to be found in our increasingly multicultural world. When people such as these begin to delve into the Holy Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, a concept of God may develop of a being that is cruel, angry & vindictive. This “god” convicts children guilty of sin & condemns them to hell because their parents (Adam & Eve) sinned. This “god” demands “Love me or burn in hell!” This “god” orders genocide, slays children, imposes harsh laws, hardens hearts, sends plagues, condones incest, murder & all sorts of evil. This “god” even hates! This “god” hates so absolutely & completely that he required the death of his own son on a cross so that he could quit hating mankind & start forgiving him.
In order for one to “protect” oneself from this “god” (avoid eternal hellfire) a legalistic theological framework is devised & based on some objective moral standard. Furthermore, the Holy Scriptures are inevitably used to substantiate this legalistic, objective moral standard just as they were used to formulate the cruel, angry & vindictive “god”. One must be “saved” (accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord & Savior), one must follow God’s commandments (although just which commandments are highly debated), one must be baptized (this too is highly debated), & a myriad of other oft debated “things” must be done…& done properly as well. Take baptism for example. Some believe that one must be submersed or the baptism is invalid while an opposing school of thought feels that baptism whether by submersion or by sprinkling are both valid options. Yet another school of thought teaches that baptism no longer requires physical acts as it is now baptism by the Holy Spirit. Once one has met the elusive & much debated objective moral standard, then “god” must do “his” part & reward that one with eternal heaven. Thus, “god” too is subject to the objective moral standard.
Our society, in order not to be deemed intolerant or judgmental (admittedly very un-Christian), now demands that every belief, no matter how contradictory, must been accepted as true & valid. Morality, rather than being objective, is now relative & subjective based on our personal preferences & experiences. To be a Christian once meant that one had to actually accept & profess Christ. This is no longer the case as one now only needs to accept Christian principles & ideals in order to be a Christian. It is now “un-Christian” to say otherwise. In effect, the legalistic mindset destroys truth, faith & love as it has replaced God with a mere “god”.
Once this mindset is established it is extremely difficult to eliminate or counteract as it actually becomes a self-feeding monster. Let me state categorically that this cruel, angry & vindictive “god” DOES NOT EXIST. Just as human judges do not convict & incarcerate children in prison nor sentence them to the death penalty because their parents transgress some law, neither does God judge children guilty & burn them in eternal hellfire because their parents (Adam & Eve) committed a sin millennia ago. This type of “god” would be (is) horrifying; & I thank God—the Good God who lovest mankind—that “he” does not exist.
As I stated at the beginning “God is Love”. A priest recently commented that “a dog will always act like a dog”. So too will God always act like God, in accordance with His nature, which is the personification of Love. Any belief, doctrine or theological framework that portrays God as anything else other than Love is error. Any understanding/interpretation of the Holy Scriptures that renders God as anything else other than Love is also error. So too is the legalistic & punitive theological framework error (to the point of blatant heresy & outright blasphemy) when God is rendered to be cruel, angry & vindictive. Such things are not in accordance to the nature of God, who is by nature Love.
I have gone into great detail about God who is Love because this is important to remember in following postings in which I will attempt to deal with the pain & suffering, the sin & death so rampant in our world along with the God of love & free-will. My next posting will be once again about love, or more properly the different kinds of love (agape, philo, & eros). Let us end this with some reminders from the Holy Scriptures & the Church Fathers, all of which had much to say about the Good God who lovest mankind.
1 John 4:7-19:
Knowing God Through Love: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; & everyone who loves is born of God & knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us & sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Seeing God Through Love: No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, & His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, & He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen & testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, & he in God. And we have known & believed the love that God has for us. God is love, & he who abides in love abides in God, & God in him.
The Consummation of Love: Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.
1st Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians; Chap. XLIX.—The Praise Of Love: Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, & His soul for our souls.
IRENÆUS AGAINST HERESIES; Book III; Preface: For the love of God, being rich & ungrudging, confers upon the suppliant more than he can ask from it.
- Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament & other early Christian literature (3rd ed.)