On Valentine’s Day, we’re reminded that, in our culture, love is a god. This is why there’s commercial appeal to get the chocolates and buy the roses. Where love is a god, the god called “money” has quite an opportunity. The two share a bed quite nicely. This isn’t to scoff at the lovers out there who want to express their love to one another. Love is certainly about giving and receiving. But it should bring us back to a foundational question – where does this expressive love come from? None other than the God who is love (1 John 4:8).
Without God, love makes no sense. At best it’s a survival mechanism for the evolution of our species (which means that it’s innately selfish). There’s a reason, though, that this explanation based on evolutionary biology doesn’t sound right to most people – Christian or not. It’s because love isn’t selfish. Romance can be selfish. Sex can be selfish. But true love is self-sacrificing. True love seeks the good of the other. Where love is a god, you’ll often “love” out of love for self. But where we recognize that God is love, we’ll be freed to love as we ought.
Here are the two horizons of God’s love that work in tandem with each other – God’s being and God’s doing.
When the apostle John writes that God is love, he means to say that God is a Trinity. From before time began, God existed in the loving embrace of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Michael Reeves writes:
“Such are the problems with non-triune gods and creation. Single-person gods, having spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything else to exist. Wouldn’t the existence of a universe be an irritating distraction for the god whose greatest pleasure is looking in a mirror? Creating just looks like a deeply unnatural thing for such a god to do. And if such gods do create, they always seem to do so out of an essential neediness or desire to use what they create merely for their own self-gratification. Everything changes when it comes to the Father, Son and Spirit. Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all; it is at the root of who he is.” (Delighting in the Trinity)
God is love. It’s who He is in His triune being. We catch glimpses of this at creation when God bellows out “Let us make man in our imagine, according to our likeness” (Gen.1:28). We see it bursting forth in beauty at Jesus baptism when “the heavens suddenly opened…and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased’” (Matt.3:16-17). We hear Jesus’ prayer: “Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with that glory I had with you before the world existed” and “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they will see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the world’s foundation” (John 17:5, 24). Behold the beauty of eternal love! No start or end date. God – is – love.
This same God loves. Who He is informs what He does. Right after John tells us that God is love, he writes, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). God’s love not only created us, but God’s love redeemed us – even after we chased after other lovers (cf. Hos.2:7). God’s love sent Him on a rescue mission to save those who weren’t asking to be rescued. Want to see God’s love put on display? Look no further than the cross of Jesus. It was there that He gave Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. It was there that His arms were outstretched to welcome us in, so we could be included in the embrace of the triune God who is love. This is the greatest act of love the world has ever known. It’s the substance of which all other acts of love are shadows. It’s a kind of love that, when received, can make us alive!
Whatever your relationship status, this is the relationship that lasts forever. May you know this Love; and as a result become one who gives themselves away in love. “Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another” (1 John 4:11).