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Sunday, August 05, 2012

God is Love

There are a few things that everyone knows (or think they know) about God and Christianity. "It's a sin to do what I like." "Judge not!" Oh, and, "God is love." Everyone knows that. That's one of the complaints, in fact. "If God is love, why are there so many problems?"

The problem, of course, is not the assumption that God is love (1 John 4:8), but in our failure to comprehend either the statement ("God is love") or the meaning. I remember a "church" some decades ago that used "God is love" as their mantra. They understood it to be a statement of equivalency. That is, "There is something we all know as 'love'. That something is called 'God' in the Bible. So, whatever 'love' is God is." Oh, they had a wonderful time in their church, since the culture typically defines "love" as "sex". Yes, you get the picture. "God", to them, was "sex". And we have a total failure to comprehend either the statement or the meaning.

When the Bible indicates that "God is good", there is a substantial difference in that statement than when we use it about humans. With humans, a "good person" is one who conforms to a higher standard of "good". With God, "God is good" means "God defines good by His nature. He is the standard of good." The same is true with "God is love". It doesn't mean "There is something that is called 'love' and God does that something." That would be true about humans, but not God. In God's case, it means "God's nature defines what love is." Thus, "God is love" doesn't mean, as a statement, that God conforms to love. And the concept of love is not external to God, but defined by God.

J.I. Packer defines the love of God this way: "God’s love is an exercise of His goodness towards individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Saviour, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation."1 Thus, you see, God's version of "love" is simply a function of Himself. It isn't some "warm affection" or "omnibenevolence". It is God's kind intention for our welfare at His own cost. It is a function of His goodness. In His efforts for our best interest, He created us, provides for our needs, gives rain to the just and the unjust, gives us laws and precepts, condemns sin, sacrificed His Son, and calls us into a relationship with Him. His wrath and His mercy, His justice and His grace, His severity and His kindness all are aimed at providing for us what is best. That is love.
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are (1 John 3:1).
What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?!
1 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 111.

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