What does it mean to say that “God is love”?

It’s one of the foundational beliefs of Christianity: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). But what does it mean to say this? Here are a few thoughts.

“God is love” means that God always loves. God cannot not love. Everything God does is motivated by love and enacted in love. This means that anything we experience that is not of love is not of God. God is not the author of evil or suffering or harm.

“God is love” means that love is at the heart of who God is. The Bible says that “God is holy,” but it never says that “God is holiness.” Love is the essence of God in a way that God’s other attributes are not. God’s holiness is a holy love. God’s justice is a just love. God’s wisdom is a wise love. God’s power is a powerful love.

“God is love” means that all has been created in love. As all things exist out of the overflow of God’s being, so all things exist out of the overflow of God’s love.

“God is love” means that all is being moved by love towards God’s good purposes. Love is stronger than injustice or violence. Love is stronger than every other power. Love is stronger than death. In the end, love will win, and all will be well.

“God is love” means that all that is not-love is not-God; it is anti-God. This, then, is “sin”: thinking and acting and speaking out of apathy or antipathy, causing harm to others, ourselves, or other creatures, and thus grieving the God who is love. And this is “death”: dying, or even living, in the consequences of this non-love.

“God is love” means that you are beloved by God. This is your most basic identity: God’s Beloved. And this is true of each and every person, every creature, all of creation.

“God is love” means that when you are at your lowest, or your loneliest, you are never alone. There is a Presence always with you, embracing you in their love.

“God is love” means that when you are at your worst, and you know it, or when you have done your worst, and you know it, there is One who is already moving toward you, to forgive you and restore you, to make you whole.

“God is love” means that God is calling us into a Beloved Community, a society of friends where peace with justice prevails over violence and injustice, where love and trust triumphs over fear and hatred. It means that, ultimately, God is moving all things toward a Peaceable Kingdom, God’s vision of true justice and lasting peace and flourishing life for all creation.

Then God, who is love, will be all in all.

Living and Loving in the Way of Jesus

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”  (1 John 3:16-17).

The whole passage from this coming Sunday’s lectionary readings is worth reading: 1 John 3:16-24. It’s a good summary of what the Christian faith is all about.

It’s all there: a focus on Jesus, on his life and teachings of love, on his death as the ultimate example of love, on his resurrection presence in which we abide, alongside a call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, praying boldly and relying on the Spirit to love not with mere words but “in truth and action.”

The passage reminds me of words from earlier in the Elder’s sermon-letter: “By this we may be sure that we are in [Jesus]: whoever says, ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:5-6).

And this in turn reminds me of the famous words of early Anabaptist Hans Denck: “No one may truly know Christ except one who follows him in life.”

May we keep it simple in our Christian lives: day by day focusing on living and loving in the way of Jesus. In this moment, and now in this moment, and now in this: how can I live out the love of Christ for those around me, for the person right in front of me?