God Is Love

Have you ever eaten one of those power-packed nutrition bars? I am talking about the nutrition bars that are calorie-dense and loaded with vitamins. The ones that give you everything you need for a week of Olympic training. I have. But, for some reason, I am always hungry about twenty minutes after I eat one. I think it is because –I like to eat them in the same way that I eat mini-muffins or cookies – two or three at a time, with a cup of coffee. Eaten in that way, they leave me feeling quite unsatisfied. I always walk away, craving something more – something that feels more substantial.

Similarly, the truth that ‘God is love‘ (1 John 4:8) is about as calorie-dense and nutrient-packed – theologically speaking – as any Biblical truth is. Yet, I have observed that many Christian women crave something that feels more substantial when it comes to practical living. I am not sure why this is. Perhaps it is because we have heard so much about the love of God that we are no longer amazed by the thought of it. Or maybe the statement doesn’t seem weighty to many of us because we have redefined God and love. Of course, as Christians, we know that God is love, but do we know what that means? We also know that God loves us, but do we understand the nature of that love enough that we are strengthened, fortified, and nourished by it?

The Simple Nature of God and His Love

Typically, we think of love as an attribute of God – part of His nature. An attribute is a quality that is part of someone’s personality. However, we should realize that God’s qualities, traits, and characteristics – His attributes do not exist the same way as they do in humans. And this matter is worth a moment’s reflection before continuing the discussion about the love of God.

Human attributes, characteristics, and qualities are indeed part of what makes up our personalities. We are composed of different personality traits in varying amounts. However, God does not have parts as we do. He is not composed of anything. God is a simple being, as opposed to a composite being. That is, God is not composed of many parts. Hence old confessions teach that God is ‘without parts.’[1] Another way that theologians explain this is by saying that God is identical to his attributes. One theologian wrote, “God is identical with all that he is in and of himself. In the purest sense, God is one; he is singular perfection.”   (Barret, 2020). We could also say this by saying nothing in God is in addition or external to God. In the same way that you cannot separate any one Person of the Trinity and still have God, you cannot separate God’s attributes from His essence and still have God, for his attributes are his essence. This truth about God’s nature is called the doctrine of divine simplicity.

If you took away the loving part of my nature, you would still have me, albeit a pretty sour version of me. But I would still be here. This is because the loving part of my nature is precisely that – a part of my nature. And to be honest, at times, a pretty small part at that. You could never rightly say ‘Beth is love.’ Not so God. God is, in fact, love, for God is identical to His attributes. Actually, the correct way to speak of God and any of His attributes is to say God is _______. God is love. God is justGod is holyGod is righteousGod is pureGod is sovereignGod is wise. God is good. And the list goes on. The idea is that God is what he is – through and through – wholly complete, indivisible.

The Simple Truth about the Love of God

The practical implications (the so what?) of the doctrine of divine simplicity are tremendous, especially when it comes to experiencing the love of God as strengthening, fortifying, and nourishing for our souls. By understanding this doctrine, we come to know that we can trust the love of God because it isn’t going to change – for it cannot change. God’s love for us will not change because God does not change. As we have seen, His love is not part of His nature – it is His nature. This also means that God is not conflicted in His feelings towards us (so to speak). He is what He feels towards us. And, what God is will never change, is not divided, had no beginning, and will never end. The love of God is rock-solid and trustworthy because God is rock-solid and trust-worthy.

Contrast this with the love of people for a moment. The love of people is very tenuous and often dependent on what we can do for them or how they feel at any given moment. And we shouldn’t let this bother us. For the most loving among us are the same way except for the grace of God. However, God’s love is never dependent on us, our behavior, or an emotional state. It is constant, unchanging, and inalterable – because it is based on His constant, unchanging, inalterable essence. God’s love could only cease to exist or change if God ceased to exist or change. And we know that that could never happen. As He says, “For I, the Lord, do not change…” and the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). 

The Not So Simple Lavish, Sacrificial, and Intimate Love of God

However, this all means very little if we were taught that love is a four-letter word that people say to get whatever they want, or we learned to associate the idea of love with hurt and abuse. And, so it is that now we have come to the real work of sanctification. For sanctification is a process of replacing the lies of sin, Satan, self, and the world with the truth of God’s Word.

To do this, we must first understand what the Bible means by the word ‘love.’ Biblically speaking, love is a complex concept with many meanings. But as far as we are concerned here today, the love of God is a very straightforward matter. Consider the following texts.

“…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV).

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 ESV).

From these short texts, we can see that the love of God is lavish, sacrificial, and intimate. Through the sacrificial gift of God, Jesus willingly laid His life down for His friends. God lavishly pours His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us. And, now, through our union with Christ in His great love, God calls us into the intimate fellowship of His Holy Spirit. And so we read in Second Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV). 

It might be a simple truth that God is love, but it is also a soul-strengthening one when you understand what it means. God loves you and me – lavishly, sacrificially, and intimately. And, now that we understand a little bit about the doctrine of divine simplicity – we can rest in the certainty of God’s love. Real-life is really hard. We often find ourselves in situations that we would rather not be in, dealing with people and problems that we would rather not have to deal with. But there is no reason for us to reach for something else in our emotional refrigerators in hopes of finding something more substantial and fulfilling when we need strengthening, encouragement, and nourishment. The simple truth that God is love is more than enough to satisfy our deepest cravings and fulfill our greatest longings.

 

[1]  There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. Westminster Confession 2.1. https://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_02. Retrieved 12/17/2020

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