Whakapono: God is love

“The physical structure of the universe is love.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

The famous quote “God is love” has forever endeared God to humanity as a benevolent deity who is intent on being seen in a compassionate and caring way, but unfortunately that has not always been reflected in the message of our religious tradition. We often apply a caveat to this statement, suggesting that it is subject to certain requirements and expectations e.g. Yes God is love, BUT that love will only be available to you if you do certain things in a certain way.

When St John wrote these words he was endeavouring to unpack this primary attribute of God in a way that would invite us into a more mystical understanding of love. Of all the gospel writers, John would be the one who focused on the love motif more than all the others combined. 

Mysticism has been called 'the science of the love of God', and “the life which aims at union with God." Mystics map out new experiences of intimacy with God. 

In one of his letters, St John writes a profound statement about love and its diverse ramifications.

1John 4:7-21

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another."

I have highlighted portions of this text to propose (in my opinion) four fascinating ideas around love and its potential effect in our life. They go to the very core of not just what love does in our life but who God (as love) is in our life.

Love gives birth to God in our lives..  

Love is like a midwife that gives birth to the life force of God in our imago dei (divine image and likeness). John uses LOVE as his supreme metaphor for God and unveils its role in our awakening to, and awareness of, the divine. The explanation of love is always, first and foremost, an explanation of the character of God. In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul—who also takes a mystical approach to love—expounds on it in Chapter 13 in a way that invites us into an experience of God, rather than just a challenge to upgrade our behaviour in certain relational environments. 

1 Cor 13:4-7

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

When we bump into love at work (or outworking in our life) we are bumping into God at work in the human condition.

Jesus life was an archetype of love

God as love is always best understood as an incarnational construct, an embodied wisdom that reminds us of our potentiality as humans. There are numerous theories (atonement) that postulate on Jesus' life and purpose. One of the earliest ideas emphasised the importance of moral transformation as deification (theosis) and that Jesus’ life was a revitalisation of the human perspective of God. My potentiality is linked to the incarnation of Love in Christ.

St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) called the Trinity a “fountain fullness” of love

Love is a cycle of self-fulfilment.

In the early writings of our spiritual ancestors they expressed their devotion to God everyday in the form of a mantra, the Shema. “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”. (Deuteronomy 6) which was followed by “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus would later expound this to include, “and love your neighbour as you love yourself”.

In our very rational thinking we have lost the beauty of love as a circle of life, and have often turned this into a hierarchy; love God first, then your neighbour, then yourself. The mystical tradition sees the idea of relational love as a compounding reality. We love God because we love our neighbour because we love ourselves, and we love our neighbour because we love ourselves and that is loving God. 

Love is the only judgement of God

When we use the word judge or judgement it always has to do with punishment and penalty, primarily because we have defined our universal existence by sin instead of love. If we were to understand a very basic reading of this passage we would come to the conclusion that love does win #robbell. The nature of God is truly benevolent and we have nothing to fear in love. When we are positioned in a loving universe we begin to see fear for what it is, an imposter who is trying to frame God as a pissed off deity. When we cannot preach a gospel of love we inevitably revert to a gospel of fear, which needs a hell and an eternal punishment of some kind. 

“God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God.” ― Rob Bell, Love Wins.

St Paul exemplifies John's writings in his letter to the Roman church. 

Romans 8: 35-39

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For as it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

In the end, when everything 'comes out in the wash', LOVE will remain as the great reminder that God is for us and we will never be SEPARATED from that love

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Greg Burson