One of the most popular verses in the Bible is 1 John 4:8 which states,
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.1
When quoted, it is commonly only the latter portion of this text that is mentioned, “God is love.” However, the full weight of the text begins at the beginning as the apostle John says that the person who does not love does not love God because God is love.
The idea that John is presenting in this text gets to the heart of what the Bible is about. The Bible is not just a book that promises and presents a message of salvation. The Bible presents a history in which God is pursuing a chief aim, namely making people lovers of God and each other. The Biblical narrative begins with the voice of God speaking a world into existence as well as people to inhabit the world and enter into his fellowship.2 It then tells of a garden where God placed a man to walk with him in the cool of the day and the story continues as he makes the man a helper suitable.3 The story moves forward by describing a severing of love between God and his creation through an act of disobedience.4 It also describes the first act that began the severing of love between fellow humans as taking place between two brothers, the first men to ever be born.5 Within the first few chapters of the Bible, you have a story presented of God loving man, man loving God, man loving another person, loving bonds being severed, and a future promise that one day all would be reconciled. This is why, according to Scripture, the greatest gift given in the eschaton (the new heavens and the new earth) is the full experience of divine love expressed between God and his people and his people towards one another. This is the theme presented throughout the Bible. The restoration of divine love is the purpose of the law, the result of regeneration, and the mission of the Church.
Divine love is a term that can be applied in three different ways, At its core, it simply refers to the love that comes from God.
Divine love foremost speaks of the Love of God as expressed within the Trinity. Secondly, it speaks of the love of God for his creatures, and thirdly it speaks of the Love of God experienced in His creatures through the Holy Spirit (causing them to love God and one another). Divine love originates within the Godhead itself and has been present for all of eternity. Having a grasp of the nature of God is critical to understanding him in relation to his love. The uniqueness of Christianity does not begin with the Gospel, it rather begins with the very concept of God’s nature.
In many other religions, God is connected, even in some way dependent upon creation for love. God is typically understood as creating out of a need to love something and is therefore dependent upon his creation for the expression of love. In biblical Christianity, God has been a loving Father before he was a loving Creator. For all of eternity, God the father has loved his Son and the Son has been loving the Father through the Spirit.6 This means that God’s love is not a contingent reality, God by his very nature is a fellowship of persons and has, therefore, always been perfectly and eternally loving. God would be who he is even if he chose to never create. Therefore, the Godhead is in no way obligated to love creation in the same way or capacity in which they love one another. However, even though God is not obligated to love his creation, he has still chosen to.7 Gerard Bray writes, “The Bible tells us that God is one, but in that oneness there are three divine persons bound together in the infinite depth and wonder of eternal love. The love he extends to us as his creatures is therefore a natural outworking of the love he has in himself.”8 When people come to understand that God is completely self-fulfilled within himself and that he is not obligated to love people yet still does out of an overflow of his divine love, then they will seek to understand divine love from a position of humility that recognizes they are but recipients of grace.
Join me in the coming weeks as I seek to do a Bible study on the doctrine of Divine Love. I pray that this Bible Study enriches your soul as it leads you into a greater appreciation and awe of the supernatural love that you have been brought into through Christ.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Jn 4:8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
- Genesis 1
- Genesis 2
- Genesis 3
- Genesis 4
- Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 21.
- John 3:16
- Gerald Bray, God Is Love: a Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 71.