It seems like a simple statement. And yet I was challenged recently by the idea that God is, in fact, love. While having a conversation with a friend of mine who is from another faith, it suddenly dawned on me that many sincere Christians have a perverted understanding of God’s character. For my friend, and many, many others, God’s chief objective is to “win praise.” As Reformed theologian John Piper writes, “Everything He does is motivated by His desire to be glorified.” Piper goes on to admit that this idea is a hard pill to swallow in this “me-first” generation that we live in. But his explanation as to how this jibes with God’s apparent love for, and interest in, humankind leaves a lot to be desired.[i]
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time reconciling such an idea with what the Bible teaches. Perhaps we take it for granted sometimes, but the apostle John quite unequivocally declares that “God is love” two times in his tiny epistle (1 John 4:8, 16). Agape love is the very essence of His character. It is who He is, what He does, why He acts. It is His raison d’être. All of His movements stem from this supreme motivation and principle.
Incidentally, the idea that God is love is also one of the best arguments for the doctrine of the Trinity. If God’s very essence is love—and love necessarily has to have another in order for it to be love, since love is other-centered and not self-centered—then there had to have been more than One person from eternity past. As Skip MacCarty writes, in his magnificent work on the Everlasting Covenant:
Before creation existed, God existed, love existed, covenant existed—everlasting God, everlasting love, everlasting covenant. This everlasting covenant expresses the heart of the everlasting God manifested in the sacrificial love that existed among the Trinity before the beginning of time. The term “everlasting covenant” can never be invoked without calling to mind the love bonds that existed from eternity past within the divine, triune heavenly council, each seeking the happiness of the other.[ii]
Proverbs seems to give us a small glimpse into this symbiotic relationship that the Trinity enjoys. Describing the relationship between Wisdom—which Jesus ultimately personifies[iii]—and the Father, we read of the creation account, “I [Christ] was beside Him as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Proverbs 8:30).[iv] With love as their very essence, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always acted with complete other-centeredness towards one another, and They have enjoyed infinite fellowship from eternity past.
I can only imagine the heavenly counsel that took place when the plan of salvation was first discussed. Knowing that humankind would sin, I can see the Father volunteering to give up His life for the world, only to have the Holy Spirit insist that He would be the one to die in our place. And then, finally, Jesus, the Son, steps forward and says, “No, I will die instead of You two. I will give My life for the world.” Each wanted to die in place of the other, and thus, when Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Christ tasted death “for all,” Christ didn’t just die for humankind, but He died for the other two members of the Trinity as well.[v] Out of complete self-disinterest and love for the Father and Holy Spirit, Jesus was allowed the opportunity to die in Their place, and ours as well.
And this is what love is. And this is who God is. Completely other-centered. Completely self-sacrificial.Completely the God I want to serve.
[i] See John Piper, “Is God for Us or for Himself?” Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/3_The_Glory_of_God/242_Is_God_for_Us_or_for_Himself/ (accessed 11 Sept 2008). Piper has coined the curious phrase “Christian Hedonism,” which seems to be an extreme contradiction of terms.
[ii] Skip MacCarty, In Granite or Ingrained? (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2007), 5, 6.
[iii] See 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30.
[iv] All scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version.
[v] The Greek phrase in Heb 2:9, huper pantos, does not have to limit Christ’s sacrifice to only human beings. It does not say that He tasted death “for all men,” but simply, “for all,” or “for everyone.” Compare this to Col 1:20, where Paul says that Christ “reconciled all things to Himself . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Evidently, Christ’s death on the cross reconciled, not only humankind to Himself, but the whole universe, including the other members of the Trinity (to some extent). Thus, Ellen White can write that God loved Jesus more and that Jesus was “endeared to [His] Father,” as a result of His sacrifice. See The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1940), 483.