The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8 CSB).
God has revealed his glory as God in all his attributes. The living God wants us to know the whole truth about who he is, and not merely a part of the truth. When we think of the truth that God is love, we ought to realize that many people tend to misuse this one truth to construct a false idea of the true God. When done in ignorance, this causes people to fail to give God the honor that is due him for all that he is. And it leads people into various theological and practical problems, such as, “If God is love and he loves me, why am I suffering?” When done deliberately, it is actually the worship of a false god created by a person’s sinful imagination. An example of this would be, “Since God is love, he would never condemn a person and send him or her to hell.” Therefore, we need to approach this subject with humility and a teachable spirit.
In our time, professing Christians have only a surface acquaintance with the Bible. It is not unusual for a pastor to see blank stares when he refers to most of the main teachings of the Bible that are beyond the simplest gospel references or verses misused by prosperity teachers, for example, Jeremiah 29:11. “There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him” (Pink, The Attributes of God, pp. 90-91).
Part of the problem that people have is a misuse of the texts that say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Clearly both texts are teaching that God is love; that is, he not only loves, but love is an essential part of his being that he expresses even toward unworthy, guilty sinners! The error that many people fall into is assuming that John is teaching that love is God’s basic attribute, because he says, “God is love.” However, that assumption fails to notice that John also says, “God is light (1 John 1:5) previously in the letter, and that he records the statement of Jesus that “God is spirit” (John 4:24). There is no reason to deduce from any of these texts the priority of one or the other of these three statements to the other. As we have already discussed in the section on God’s holiness, there is much more reason to say that holiness is God’s basic attribute. Perhaps we should remember at this point what love is according to the Bible. Love is setting one’s heart on seeking the good of the one loved, to the point of self-sacrificial giving for the one loved. Therefore, the teaching that “God is love” is tremendously encouraging to human hearts! The Maker and Preserver of all things, the God who is unlimited spirit with unmatchable holiness and justice is also love. He sets his heart on what he created to seek its good (Psalm 145:13,17). But the question asked by inquiring minds is this. If God is love, as the Bible says, then why is there suffering in creation and why do some suffer eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46)? This question deserves to be answered, and more importantly answering it will lead us to a deeper appreciation of the glory of God. We will invest some articles on the love of God. First, we will think about the characteristics of God’s love, then of his love in a general sense, and then his love in saving his people from their sins. Finally, we will consider how the truth of God’s love ought to affect us and the way we live.
Grace and peace, David