The Love of God
WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT GOD LOVES US?
What God's love is and what that means to us is possibly the most important truth in all of Christianity. So let's do ourselves the favour of digging deeper into this priceless treasure.
TWO KINDS OF LOVE
God's love differs from what the world usually means when it uses the term "love”. So to begin with, we will define what we mean by the word. To make things clearer, we will speak of “God's love” and “human love”.
Human love is familiar to us. It is the kind of love that bonds a married couple, close friend and family together. It can show itself in many forms and it can be very beautiful. However, every version of it, has this one enormous limitation: it is born out of need.
We all have a basic need for acceptance and belonging. We want to feel that we matter to somebody. Love gives us that. It has a way of setting the world right. On the other hand, if we cannot find the love we need, we slowly die inside. That longing can become so powerful it can drive us to do things we never imagined we were capable of. And while our need of love is good and right, what we do to try and satisfy it, often is not.
Human love is offered because it has needs of its own. It is given because it hopes for a reply. Our dearest relationships are the ones that offer us the most in return. That return is what keeps us invested, it keeps us giving. If we stop receiving benefit from a relationship, our affections tend to wither away, or in closer bonds, they can even turn to resentment. We can only keep giving without reply for so long until our tank runs empty and we feel spent – this is the nature of human love.
The result is that our love comes with conditions. We expect a measure of return, so we place demands on others in order for them to keep our love. This causes all sorts of fears and insecurities that the love we have today can be lost tomorrow, so we build a complex web of defence mechanisms to try to keep us both, safe from, and exposed to, love at the same time.
Now let's compare this sort of love to the kind which God offers us.
God's love is very different. To begin with, we have to realise that God has no needs. He is perfectly complete and sufficient in Himself. This is why He calls Himself, "I AM." It means He exists without needing the help of anything outside of Himself. He is the source of all things – they spring from Him, they do not add to Him. There is nothing in all of creation which can add to Him or assist Him in any way. This means that He cannot love in the same way humans do, because He cannot love out of any personal need.
Because His love doesn't need a reply, He can keep on loving, and His love never runs out. His tank cannot run dry because He draws the love out of Himself, out of His own limitless supply. And this also means that He alone can love unconditionally, because He alone can love without needing to get anything in return.
The result is that God can love us in a way no human can. Because He does not rely on our affections to fill His tank, His love is separated from our performance. When we fail Him, He can remain faithful. We do not need to love Him, or even like Him, for Him to be able to go on loving us. And because God has no fears, He can love us without any defences in the way.
With that said, let's take a closer look at what exactly love is. How can we define it?
What is Love?
Love is caring about someone else – it is to feel a deep fondness and a deep desire for their good. Love is hoping for their best, even at the cost of ourselves. So we could also say: love is a selfless desire for someone else's good.
This trait is so central to the person of God, to who and what He is, that the Bibles says, “God is love”.
This is important because God has many glorious traits, yet only this one that gets spoken of in this way. Only this one is used to sum Him up, to express who He is. Let's see if it makes more sense when we say it the other way around: The Bible does not say, “God is Holiness,” or “God is power”, or “God is goodness”, even though He is holy, He is all-powerful and good. But these are His attributes, not His essence. Only one word is used to describe His essence:
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God” – 1 John 4:16b
There is a famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 which describes love quite beautifully. It opens like this: “Love is patient, love is kind...” So if God is love, then let us take a small liberty here and paraphrase this piece, swopping out the word “love”, for the word “God”. This just might help us better understand His heart towards us:
God is willing to suffer on our behalf, to be patient and persevere for us. He will show us kindness, not seeking His own good, but ours. He will not parade around for attention, nor puff Himself up with pride when He deals with us. He will not be provoked to rudeness, sharpness or scorning, nor does He have any evil intentions towards us. He will not disgrace us, even though He takes no pleasure in our sin or things that are wrong, instead He celebrates with us when we find the truth. God's love will endure all that we do against Him, always hoping and never giving up. God's love will never lose heart or strength.
When we see God's love this way, then verses like the next one become even more beautiful:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10
It was not for His own pleasure that Jesus come down to earth. He came to a world that did not recognise who He was, or appreciate what He had come for – a world that hated Him. But our hardness did not discourage His love, He still carried on for our sakes. Love drove Him towards that cross. And even though no one understood what He was doing, He held on to the hope that one day we would understand and receive His love. For 2000 years God's love has kept on holding out that same hope to all of us. His love has not given up on us yet.
“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
Because He loves us, it means that what He does, He does for our good. He will hurt, so that we can heal. He will die, so that we can live, He will be condemned so that we can be set free! We know He will – because He already did.
This is Love
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” – John 15:13
Christianity was born out of the most perfect expression of self-sacrificial love. And that one act sums up God's heart towards us. He is good to us, not because of what He gets out of it, but because of what we do. That is love.
So when we say we believe in Jesus Christ, a part of what we are saying is that we believe He offered Himself for our good – we believe that He loves us.
CAN A LOVING GOD CREATE A CORRUPTED WORLD?
Some people struggle with the idea that God could be so good, or so loving, when the world around us tells a different story. We might ask:
• If God is love then why is there so much pain and suffering in this world?
• If God is love, then how can He condemn people to an eternity of hell?
• If God is the creator, then why did He create things like cancer?
To begin with we have to understand that the current state of the world, is not the state of the world which God created. This is not the world which God made and said “It is good”. The world which God created had no suffering, no sin, no sickness or corruption in it. It did not decay, it did not demand hard labour, even the idea of “survival of the fittest” was not a part of that world. The world which God created was perfect. That is the world which God said, “is good”.
But after creation things changed. They did not change because of what God did, but because of what mankind did. Mankind (in the form of Adam and Eve), decided not to trust God or believe what He said. The result of “our” choice is the brokenness we see in the world today. The mess we humans made, because of continually choosing darkness, caused God so much heartache that He reached the point of being sorry He ever created us:
“The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” – Genesis 6:5-6
In the beginning God decided to give mankind a free will. That can only be true if He allows us to choose what He doesn't want us to – to go the way He wishes we would not. Mankind chose to obey Satan rather than God. And the consequence is that Satan's nature has seeped into all of creation. That is what brings every kind of decay and destruction into this world.
Does God like the state of His creation? No! Does He tolerate the brokenness of the world? He does for now. Why? Because to fix it, He would have to remove our free will. He has chosen instead to give free-will its season. When that season is done, He will separate us out by our choices. Those who love and follow Him will be with Him. Those who love and follow Satan, will be with Satan. Then free will will have run its course and God will restore the world to perfection for eternity.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time... [but] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. ” – Romans 8:22, 21
We discuss this topic in much more detail in, God's Grand Plan. For more, please click on the link below, since we can't devote more time to the subject here.
GOD'S GRAND PLAN
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LIVING IN HIS LOVE
In God's design, He made humans to be like containers for love. We need love, which is why we spend so much of our lives searching for it. We were made to be filled and so emptiness is a kind of torture for us – we simply know that everything about that state is wrong. God's love is the only thing that truly satisfies us. In Him we can finally come to rest – we have no hunger, no need or lack. This is what Jesus meant when He said:
“whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” – John 4:14
Satisfied by love
God's love knows the way into the very deepest, most intimate parts of our hearts. He formed us, so He knows our needs, our thoughts, our fears even before we do. He understands us perfectly. He never misses a thing. When He loves us, He fills us completely, He heals all our hurts and calms our fears. When He loves us we feel perfectly known, perfectly accepted, and perfectly safe.
You would think that because God's love satisfies us so completely, that it would make us love people less. After all, if we have no need of their love (like we did before), then what would make us love them now? Strangely though, God's love has the opposite effect. Because His love is like a stream that never stops, we overflow with it. God's love simply pours out of us. People become effortless to love because we have all this love in our hearts, it spills right over. We can give without placing conditions, without needing control or expecting them to love us back. We can finally offer pure and selfless love.
“love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7
This is what Christianity was made to be.
Loving those who hate us
It is because of the love which God pours into our hearts so abundantly, that He can ask us to:
“love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you" – Matthew 5:45
Not only were we first loved, while we were still the enemies of God, but now He has given us all the love we need to be able to pour it out on even the worst of people. Those who have only human love to draw on, can only love those who love them back. But the love which God gives makes us able to love even the unlovable.
“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them [back]... But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” – Luke 6:32, 35
If we can love those who do not deserve our goodness, then how much more will we be able to love those who do.
Loving those who love us
Even our treasured relationships are made richer in God's love. God does not take away their prized place in our hearts, instead He makes us even more able to love them. His love frees us to enjoy them, to give them more and ask less in return. And because we can love them better, it becomes easier for them to love us in return. His love binds us together in a more beautiful way than we could be without Him. What an extraordinary God we serve!
And then there is the love we have for God. With all the love and goodness He pours into us, our hearts want to burst with love, and gratitude back to Him. He becomes our greatest treasure, our joy, our hope, our everything. And when we learn to trust Him with all our hearts, all our decisions and all our cares, something glorious happens.
You will recall we said that God does not put any defences between Himself and us. Well, there comes a moment when God knows we are ready, and He calls us to strip away our own defences too. When we trust Him enough to abandon all our safe places and let Him in, then every obstacle between our heart and His falls away, and we experience a union that is too beautiful to speak of, too holy to try and reduce to words. It is a treasure that we share only with Him. This is the secret place that God's love longs to draw us into.
THE POWER OF LOVE
God's love can carry us through anything. He can hold us in the midst of a cold marriage or a painful rejection. He can comfort us in loneliness, grief, abuse, betrayal and anything life can throw our way. His love – if we will let Him take that precious place in our hearts – will guard our hearts and keep us steady. His love will never fail us.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Roman 8:35, 37-39
With all we have said, we have not even begun to scratched the surface of God's love for us. But we do hope we have at least made you long for it more than you ever did before. So one last question remains:
How can we experience God's love?
It does us very little good to know about spiritual things if we cannot enter into the experience of them. And there is no point in pretending that just because we know about something, that we actually have that thing. Knowing about and Entering into are two very different things. So while this discussion is helpful, it is not complete until we talk about how to enter into God's love in a deep and meaningful way.
This page is in the – True Christianity – section of our website where, where we focus on the theological understanding of things (so that we can know about them).
The – Spiritual Growth – section of our website is where we have our “how to” discussions, on the practical walk of Christianity (so that we can enter into spiritual things).
So for those ready to discover all God's love has for you, please go to: EXPERIENCING GOD'S LOVE. We pray you will be richly blessed!
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ... that you, [may] know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:17, 19