In recent posts, I have been reflecting on features of God’s perfect glory and how they comfort, encourage and challenge us, especially during the Covid pandemic. I don’t know about you but I have noticed some lockdown fatigue well and truly kicking in now. I’m a little more on edge, a bit more irritable, and at times I struggle to see how this can be good. At times like that it does my soul good to reflect on this most famous ‘God is’ saying:
‘God is love’.
When you think about it though, simply saying that ‘God is love’ can throw up more questions than answers. Why say ‘God is love’ rather than, ‘God loves’? What kind of love are we talking about, exactly?
In fact, reflection on these words means getting an astonishing glimpse into the infinite depths of God’s glory. I guess trying to get fully to grips with God’s love is a bit like trying to wrestle an elephant. It doesn’t matter where you reach, or how wide your grasp, any attempt to grab it all will be incomplete. There will always be more!
To start with, saying that God is love, is not the same as saying that God does loving things. We do loving things because we can love—it is an ability we have, and don’t always use. But God’s love isn’t an ability, it’s an attribute. It makes him who he is. As God, he defines and personifies love itself. The reason he does loving things is because he is love.
But the most mind-blowing way to reflect on this is to see God’s love with other features of his glory.
God is eternal, which means his love is eternal. In other words, God didn’t suddenly start loving at some stage. He didn’t need to create something to love, because he already is love. How is that possible? Who or what was God loving before there was anything but himself? Wonderfully, he was loving God! God’s abundant, overflowing love is rooted in himself. That’s because we’re talking about the God who is Trinity. In all eternity Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been in perfectly satisfied in overflowing other-person centred love.
That’s fantastic news for us because it means that God didn’t need to learn to love. Since God is independent, his love is independent. It’s self-originating. Nothing causes God to love other than God himself. Things please God because he has made them to be pleasing. One of the children’s bibles our family uses puts it brilliantly; God loves his creation, and most of all he loves his people, and they are lovely because he loves them.
But why is that good? Think about yourself before God. If you are in Christ, he loves you overwhelmingly. Why? Not because of something lovely about you which causes him to love you. Most of all it’s because he chooses to love those who are in Christ. Which means there is nothing you need to do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do which will make God love you less. And that means that you are lovely because he loves you!
In other words, since God is unchanging, his love is unchanging. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that somehow means God’s love is static or stuck. People have often made that mistake and re-interpreted God’s love as something fluid and fluctuating as a result. But that’s a reaction against something untrue. God’s unchanging love doesn’t mean its inert or inactive. Rather it means he is as fully active in love as it is possible to be. He is everything he is at full volume all the time. His love is always ‘turned up to 11!’ It is always abundantly overflowing.
When we have thought about other features of God’s glory so far, we have repeated that phrase. God is everything he is at full volume all the time. He is perfectly and fully merciful, just, holy, wise, good, blessed, etc etc. He is the all-powerful personification of all his perfections. Which is why all his perfections combine in the brilliant radiance of his glory.
So what kind of love are we talking about? A perfect love: A merciful love, a holy love, a powerful love, a just love, a gracious love, a knowledgeable love, a wise love, etc etc.
After that famous verse at the top of this email John continues:
“This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Where does God show his love most clearly? In sending Jesus. First, Jesus’ coming shows God’s love by giving us a glimpse of that eternal love which is at the heart of the Trinity. As Jesus steps onto the stage of history God’s love is put on display. He emerges from the waters of his baptism to the Father’s declaration, “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
And what does this Father-love for the Son look like? Giving. As Jesus reveals the way his Father loves him through John’s gospel, he speaks again and again of giving. The Father gave the Son life in Himself (John 5:26). The Father gives the Son people (John 6:37, 17:24).
Let that sink in: If you trust in Christ, that means you have been given to Jesus by the Father!
Most supremely, that active love is shown when Jesus obeys his Father and submits to the death which saves us. “This is love: not that we loves God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 1:10)
What does that mean for us in this viral pandemic? It means we enjoy security. We cannot change God’s love for us, and we are lovely to him because he loves us! No trial, no struggle, not even struggle with sin can change that if we trust in Christ.
It also means we can look to him for resources to love. God’s love starts with the supremely satisfied and satisfying love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit for one another. That overflows and acts in Christ’s sacrifice for us which finds satisfaction in the joy set before him. As the Spirit pours that love out into our hearts, we can receive it and act in that same sacrificial, satisfied and satisfying love, first for God, and then for others.
In the midst of lockdown, perhaps with fatigue building, household tensions growing, and the pain of missing one another constantly gnawing in the background, this is love worth soaking in!
With prayers that you would grow in the knowledge of this unfathomable love!
Onwards, to glory!