“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” - Dostojevsky
But let's assume that some people have been exposed to the Christian faith. What kind of faith would that be, I wonder? I don't think I am way off if I claim that it is a faith mainly or solely concerned with some variation on the theme that "God is love". I can't tell you how many times I have heard this phrase from people with anything from a very shallow faith to a very deep faith. It pops up everywhere, from deep theological debates to Twitter-wars.
Of course, this is all very understandable. Who can have anything against a God that is love? Love is, after all, what all of us want and many of us struggle to find. It is our deepest desire (that we can control). It permeates everything from the highest to the lowest. We know it can't be bought and we know that it is all we need.
First of all, however, let's make something very clear. The Bible does say that God is love. However, that doesn't mean that "Love is God". Do you see how that is important? If not, ponder it for a moment and it'll come to you.
Second, even though the Bible does say that God is love, I am saying that He isn't. No, I am not stupid or full of myself. Here is my point:
When the Bible says that "God is love" it doesn't say what you think it says because the word "love" doesn't mean what you think it means. We all have a skewed understanding of eternal things, like love, because we are fallen. Further, nothing that we experience or think about or do is the same as it is with God simply because we use the same word. Basically, though there are similarities between what we call "good", for example, and what God calls "good", they are not identical.
BUT, this is not some fancy interpretive dance on my part to get rid of some Scripture that I don't like. I know that many people believe that evangelical Christians like myself are love-less and cold and all about Law and Order. That is neither true nor my point here.
Let's examine the facts, shall we?
What is love?
Let's see, in almost every single movie we see love is about sex. How long does it take for the actors who fall in love to have sex? It's usually the next scene after they kiss. I can't think of a movie where love didn't turn into sex within seconds, 50 Shades and all that. Maybe you can, but they are the exception.
Second, how many songs have you heard recently that included love and not more or less obvious innuendo to sex? Right, neither have I. There is even a song about sex being "taken to church", imagine that.
Third, what is all advertisement about (that has anything to do with love)? Sex or the intent to produce the desire for sex. I could go on.
This is not some atypical Christian rant about how sex is everywhere and we need to throw out our televisions and computers. I am simple stating that all of us have been indoctrinated that love equals sex...which is neither true nor good.
But God is not sex. So, when we hear the words "...but God is love!" or (the more neutral) "God is love." we must realize that what the Bible says (through John) is that God is NOT sex or has anything to do with sex as something identical with love. To say that "God is love" and then assume that one can partake of all kinds of sexual activities is just dumb.
To continue, if we can move on to the next point, I would like to point out that in the Biblical context love is not a feeling. This is harder to process because surely love is a feeling, right?
True, love has to do with feelings. I feel something that I call "love" when I see my wife or my kids (or if I tap into my American side: when I see chocolate, steaks, pro-football or anything in between :)). You also feel something when you see someone you love or talk to them or make love to them. Feelings, it seems, are very important to our understanding of "love"...but feelings aren't love. We are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies, for example. Do you think he meant that we should feel loving towards them? Clearly, no.
The Bible is not saying that our feelings of love is the same thing as love. In fact, in the one place where it says that God is love it doesn't say anything about feelings at all. At. All.
So, what does all of this mean? It means that we, you and I, must make a little extra effort to understand exactly how God is love. It doesn't involve sex and it doesn't involve feelings.
I think we should avoid some hot-potato topics for now and move on to what the Bible actually means when it says that "God is love".
What the Bible (in John chapter 4) says about God is that he is "agape"...which is Greek for love. Well, one of saying "love". It is not primarily a feeling or even an action based on a feeling, such as erotic love. It is not primarily a friendship love. It is not primarily an altruistic love. It is something new.
Agape is a love that, as the context for the passage in the Bible makes clear, is primarily a choice and something that creates worth in the receipient (It is also how we can understand that God is Trinity, but we'll leave that one for now). It is, as the Bible says, that Jesus died on the cross for the propitiation (to regain the good-will of God) for our sins. In short, to make things right between God and us. By being torture and murdered and dying. For our sins.
"God is love" is the Cross.
"God is love" doesn't mean that your or my understanding of what love is, is God. That is a fatal mistake and wrong thinking.
"God is love" doesn't mean that whatever we think is loving or "a loving relationship" is God or of God. (For example, I know of a man who truly believes that he loves little boys and girls. Clearly, this isn't God.)
"God is love" doesn't mean that God is loving feelings or some sort.
God is not that kind of love.
God is, as we should expect, a different kind of love. Something that we could see traces of and feel glimmers of in what we usually consider love BUT that is at the same time altogether different. This is one reason why the secular world doesn't get Easter and tells us to buy things nobody needs. It doesn't get love (for all its infatuation with it). It doesn't get love that hangs, literally, on a cross battered and bruised. It doesn't get that "love" involves sacrifice and death...does it? Shouldn't "love" mean flowers and unicorns and puppies?
No, it doesn't.
"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."
1 John 4:10-11.
Of course, God is love.
Just a different love.
Now, let's take a moment and ponder how this understanding of "God is love" impacts us. Tomorrow is Good Friday, after all.