What Does It Mean When The Christians Say, "God Is Love"?
"Beloved, let us love one another; for Love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is Love."1 John 4:7-8, KJV
Love is one of the central Christian theme and a message upon which Christianity pivots.
The above verse is a clear indicator that love in itself is not limited and that God Himself is love (agape). The verse in question does not say that 'God is the love'. The absence of a definite article before the word 'love' intends to explain the very nature of God. If God is Love and his nature is Love, then love by definition is a person. Though many -- like Christian Science -- have gone a step ahead and tried to mathematically equate this concept by saying that, 'since God is Love, then Love is God'. However, they fail to recognize a simple fact, that a statement with a grammatical construction like this cannot be reversed.
Over the centuries, love has been the most discussed subject and theme. The concept of love gets more attention than any other topic. Love finds place in poetry, art, mythology, media and church pulpits. Yet it is one of the least defined concepts and an individual can understand this, only through personal experiences.
The New Testament Greek had various kinds of words that defined different aspects of love. 'Storge' was one of them and was used for family affection. Then there was 'philia' which was an expression of genuine affection or emotional love. 'Eros' had to do with sexual love from which we derive the word 'erotic'. However, there was another form of love 'agape', that was known to be complete in itself and had no strings attached. (Though in the New Testament the word Agape in certain cases has not been purely used in a divine sense, yet many have applied it to mean the greatest form of love).
From the vantage point of this topic, it is imperative that we understand that, scriptures have used three comprehensive terms that describes God: as a Spirit ("God is a spirit" John 4:24), as a Light ("God is light" 1John 1:5) and Love ("God is love" 1John 4:8). God IS, what these terms actually signify. These are His attributes and this is how God is structured. All His activities are centered around His nature. For instance, if He creates, He creates in love; if He judges, He judges in love and if He chastises, He chastises in love. Whatever He does, His actions are an expression of His nature.
One can understand this fundamental characteristic as 'perfect love', which in itself is part of a perfect nature. We ourselves have this attribute of love, but because of our fallen nature, is imperfect. God is the source of all love and His 'creation' reflects this aspect of His personality. His divine Love for the lost world knows no bound and reaches out to the whole world.
A Christian concept of Love is summed up in John 3:16 that says, "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." An important point to note here is that since God is Love, it is His love for the world, which prompted Him to take such a big step as to sacrifice His only son who was the sacrificial 'lamb of God'. It is the very same Love that was reflected on the cross -- a love-letter written in blood some two thousand years ago. A sacrifice made for us despite of His knowledge of our transgressions and sins (Romans 5:8). Jesus is this "lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Revelation13:8.
In light of John 3:16, it can be observed that love in Christianity is exactly the opposite of what other religions of the world have to say. For instance in Islam, Allah has conditional love and only loves those who love him first and are willing to make sacrifices for him:
"Say, If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins". Surah 3:31 (Qur'an)
"Spend your wealth for the cause of Allah, and be not cast by your own hands to ruin; and do good. Lo! Allah loveth the beneficent". Surah 2:135 (Qur'an)
In the god of Islam we find judgment and no love. Though there is an element of superficial love present, it is only made available with a believer's sacrifice and is not perfect. On the contrary, Christianity is a religion where God is Himself sacrificed.
All the religions of the world have tried to focus on the issue of love, but have miserably failed to implement and manifest it in a perfect manner. All their love defines is, appeasement.
What we see is a stark contrast in a comparative realm of understanding Love, because in a Christian perspective, God took on the form of a man manifesting His divinity and power in Jesus: "for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Romans 8:3.
Jesus came into this world to prove God's love, He was crucified and His precious Blood was shed to cover our sins (Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). All the religions of the world have traditions to the effect that 'God is Love', but have no physical evidence to prove God's love.
God's love is an infinite love -- a love without end, and is longsuffering and kind (John 13:1, 1Co 13:4). It's a gracious love that we do not deserve and are unworthy of.
Human love is limited to the extent that it is governed by laws of this world and by its very nature. It may be argued that a complete stranger's act of throwing himself in front of a zoo lion to save a five-year-old child from the jaws of death was 'gift love' - a love that centers around others rather than on self. However, this act can still be construed as 'need love' rather than as 'gift love' since the basis of jumping in front of the lion was to get rid of the 'uneasy feeling' that emerged after seeing the child being mauled.
To need to satisfy one's own hearts desire and to quench the burning emotional fire of an 'uneasy calm' within one self, is a need based phenomenon. The very act of giving your coat to a homeless on a minus-twenty cold night can be easily argued as selfless love. But a close scrutiny reveals that the pounding and uneasy heart of the person, would not have let him rest in peace, if he wouldn't have given that coat to the homeless. In essence this is a selfish gesture. That's why the apostle who understands the limits of a human nature says, "we love Him, because He first loved us" 1John 4:19. This is the reality of mankind, the rebellion in him forces him to reciprocate only when he gets something in advance or in return. I both the cases above, it's the satisfaction one receives in doing good.
It is also interesting to note what 1 John 4:8 says, that "God is Love". He is described as love in a present tense. God is eternal and so is His love and His love is beyond time and space. He is love even before the creation of time space and matter. He is love even before angels or men or for that matter any other creatures were created. In eternity love is and will remain in its present form. God's love can be summed up as - the way it was, the way it is and the way it will be. It is an unchanging love.
A Christian gets a glimpse of this love once he is in a personal relationship with Christ and invites Him into his life. Jesus has made way for all of us to experience that abundant and everlasting life. The relation between man, Jesus and God is reflected in the high priestly prayer of Jesus when He prays to the Father and asks for one perfection, "and I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." John 17:26
A Christian understands this love with the help of the 'comforter', which pours out God's love in our hearts, >"and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Romans 5:5
A non-Christian can never comprehend this concept and love, because of the absence of belief and relationship with the second member of the Godhead. "But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you." John 5:42
When a Christian says that God IS Love, he knows what he is saying because he has experienced that divine love, first hand and it is different from the 'love' of this world.