Yes, God Is Love—but Do You Know What It Really Means?

This post is excerpted from Who God Is: Meditations on the Character of Our God by Ben Witherington III.

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Something has bothered me for a long time. I’m referring to the fact that even devout Christians seem to place far more emphasis on the adjectives applied to God in the Bible than on the nouns. This is not to say that the adjectives are not vitally important—God is almighty; God is righteous; God is holy; God is merciful; God is compassionate, and so on. But frankly, nouns are more important than adjectives when it comes to the character of any sentient being—whether we are talking about God or angels or human beings.

That God is love tells us something very different than saying we have a loving God. That God is life is different than saying God is living or lively. That God is light is different than saying God is enlightening. You see my point. Too often we emphasize the adjectives without fully taking in the implications of the nouns. In this particular book, I intend to rectify this problem as best I can.

Consider the matter from another angle. As I stressed in my earlier study The Indelible Image, the connecting point between our theology and our ethics as Christians comes from the fact that we are created in God’s image, which is to say that our character and behavior should mirror God’s character and behavior, though on a lesser scale. “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” says the Bible (1 Pet 1:16 KJV; see also Lev 11:44). Working backward, we may ask, “Why is the Great Commandment to love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself? Why does Paul say that love is even greater than faith or hope in 1 Corinthians 13? Why is “love” the first of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5?” (I could go on.) My conclusion is that what God most requires of us and most wants us to manifest in all our relationships (including with our enemies) is that which most characterizes the very nature of God—love.

free video chat blogMost of us are familiar with 1 John 4:8 and 16, which states unequivocally, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. . . . Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” That seems to be clear enough, but what happens when we make “God is love” into our starting point for reflecting on the character of God? 

Since we must take into account all that the Bible says, I will hasten to add that God’s love is a holy love, which is markedly distinct from human love as we often use the term. God’s holiness is not without love, and he’s not love without holiness; indeed, the very essence of holiness is love—a love that transforms sinners into “holy ones” or saints.1

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Watch an introduction to Who God Is

Read high praise for Who God Is:

There is much here to inform, correct, and inspire the Christian mind.

— John Barclay, The University of Durham

A thoughtful collection of meditations on God’s character.

— David A. deSilva, Ashland Theological Seminary

As a pastor and church leader, this was the most important book I have read this year.

— Jacob Armstrong, Providence Church, Mt. Juliet, TN

Simple, approachable, and understandable.

— Philip Jenkins, Baylor University

You will be reminded of just how glorious our holy God of grace and compassion is.

— Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary

Want to keep reading? Pick up Who God Is, the brand-new book from Ben Witherington III, which explores God’s character through the nouns in Scripture.

The title of this post is the addition of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.

god is love blog

  1. Witherington, Ben. Who God Is: Meditations on the Character of Our God, Prologue. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press), 2020.

Comments

  1. And what is love?

  2. A;lan Good says

    Certainly the article is true with the reinforcement that “God’s love is a Holy love.” A major short coming with preaching, teaching and writings of this type is a clear understanding of “Holy” and “love” or better, Agapé.
    There is a typical assignment by hearers to the word “holy” as a religious value rather than “uniquely set apart” active in Reality.
    For “love” there is the thought that an emotion must be assigned and that emotion is characteristically more similar to “stogie” (a parents love for a child) or “phileo” (love for a brother or close friend). A struggle occurs when we are commanded to “love our enemies” and the emotions don’t fit the command! Agapé, even as a secular word can apply to an object so the definition must fit all contexts, especially its Biblical use of God, neighbor, one another AND enemies!
    Try this definition: Agapé – A passion for completeness.