When it comes to understanding the nature of God, love is at the center of many mysteries.
If you have been following along with this series, we have touched on some difficult questions that arise when we consider the nature of God. For example, if it is true that God knows everything, if it is true that He is all-powerful and supreme in authority, if it is true that perfect righteousness and justice are integral to His nature, why does He not put an end to sin and suffering in the world? The love of God is at the very center of this mystery.
Love requires relationship. Love cannot exist in absolute isolation. There cannot be love without both the one who loves and the one who is loved.
God loves. And love is such a fundamental aspect of the nature of God that the Apostle John wrote, God is love (1 John 4:8).
But, the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). If God were to immediately execute justice upon sin, humanity would have been eradicated long ago. You and I would never have had the opportunity to love and be loved by God. Therefore, because of the great love of God, He Himself provided a solution to this dilemma. He provided a way by which justice could be fully satisfied and yet people would have an opportunity to escape death and enter into a loving relationship with God as their Heavenly Father.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17)
In the English language, we have one word for love and we use it to mean a variety of different things. We say we love peanut butter and we say we love our children. We use the word love when we mean like, we use it to describe sexual attraction, and we also use it to describe genuine loving relationships.
In ancient Greek, three different words were commonly used for love: agape, eros, and philos. Philos describes fondness or affection toward a friend, neighbor, or relative. Eros is an intimate love and is often associated with sexual intimacy. Agape is used to describe pure, selfless, unconditional love. Humanly speaking, agape is most likely to be experienced between parent and child. Biblically, agape is used to describe the love of God.
People often focus on the emotional aspects of love. The emotions of being loved can bring us deep contentment and a sense of well-being. A brief search will yield numerous articles that describe the beneficial aspects of loving relationships on our emotional and physical health. But in truth, the emotions we experience may be more of a byproduct of loving actions and loving choices than the essence of love itself. Emotions can be fickle. But we can choose to love even when our emotions don’t feel particularly loving, because,
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1Cor. 13:4-7 NLT)
Love does not have to be subject to the whims of emotion. Indeed, the love of God is steadfast and sure. His lovingkindness endures forever.
Love is also at the center of the mystery of free will. Why does God allow people to choose when it is possible for them to choose sin? Why does He allow human beings to choose to act with malice and contempt and utter disregard for the well-being of others?
Loving relationship requires reciprocation. Love that is one-sided is incomplete. It is not enough for God to love. People must be free to love in return.
Love without a choice is not love. Love gives of itself for the other. It is impossible to give without volition. Suppose you were considering giving away a possession. You might be pressured to give it away, but you still must choose whether or not you will yield. Your possession may be taken from you, but only you can choose to give it. In the same way, love cannot be taken, it can only be freely given. Thus, a God who seeks to enter into a loving relationship with a human being must bestow upon that person the freedom to choose – even if it should mean that he chooses not to love God in return.
The love of God is a mysterious and wonderful thing. We may spend eternity searching the depths of His love and never come to the end of it. In the words of the Apostle Paul, may you know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge and may you be filled up with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19)!
From the Series: Nature of God