Love is Not God
March 16, 2016 | by: Dave Maniquis | 0 Comments
Posted in: Theology
In our day it’s amazing to take in the smorgasbord of opinions about who God is or what God is. It’s as if God can be anything someone wants Him (or it) to be so long as He/it aligns with their overarching notion of what “life is all about.” We might hear that, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” (John Lennon) Or, “At bottom God is nothing more than an exalted father.” (Sigmund Freud) The first statement I don’t get at all, and I suppose the second one is for people who actually have fathers or at least know what a father is supposed to be.
These “high minded” attempts at definitions sound profound and the proponents have a degree of popularity or credibility in their respective fields. Yet, at bottom, they merely propose a god of their own making. However, it’s indicative of a much deeper problem. In the fuzzy world of combining incongruencies, “God-making” is acceptable as long as it’s inoffensive. Nowadays, this isn’t limited to those who reject orthodox Christianity and the infallibility of Scripture. Unfortunately, an equally trendy attitude has crept into the mind-set of professing Christians. Such thinking supports efforts to provide legitimacy to thinking and behaviour clearly in opposition to the totality of the nature of God revealed in the Bible and demonstrated by Jesus Christ. This has resulted in the serious theological error of taking any single attribute or characteristic of God’s nature to make it ultimate.
The notion of love has always intrigued me. I’ve loved others, albeit imperfectly. I’ve certainly been blessed by receiving love; love from parents, my lovely wife and children, friends, brothers and sisters in the church. Oh…and love from God.
God is a loving God. Consider the Cross and there’s no question of that. In fact, in 1 John we read that “…God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8b; 1 Jn 4:16b) Furthermore, we learn that despite our flawed ability to love God as He deserves, He took the first step and loves us nonetheless. (1 Jn 4:10) That’s the Christian’s reassurance that they will never be unloved by God because He made the ultimate choice to love. Whew! Thankfully, we are not love and our being loved doesn’t depend on us being lovable.
God is, indeed, love. That’s what He’s about. That’s what He does. However, He is also about and does other things as well. God is eternal, creative, capable, powerful, joyous, wrathful, jealous, sorrowful, just, righteous, honest, rational, merciful, patient, good, immutable, “God is Light” (1 John 1:5). And many other things. Those who invoke love as being who God is as His essential nature would never think of saying that God is jealousy or God is wrath. Considering how He has manifested himself in history and defined Himself in all of Scripture, it’s apparent that God is “more than the sum of the parts.”
The danger lies in lifting one attribute of God out of Scripture, in this case love, to excuse or tolerate behaviour and thinking clearly in defiance of God’s other revealed attributes. So often this results in artificially exalting one attribute at the expense of all others. In other words, love trumps all. Is non-belief in God’s judgment of sinners and hell okay? Yes, God is love, He wouldn’t do that. As long as there’s love, everyone will be fine. Is the acceptance of same-sex marriage an acceptable Christian response to cultural and legal norms? Yes. Of course, if there’s love between partners. To not accept it is unloving. Is enabling a child to continue the path of some destructive behaviour okay? Yes, because I cannot be “harsh” with them. That would be unloving. Is it wrong to graciously point out behaviour patterns on the part of a fellow Christian that can be detrimental to them and the church okay? Better check on that one; that not might be love.
Is all of this biblically, and therefore theologically, wrongheaded? In the end, what does it really do? It legitimizes any number of things that grieves God when His clearly revealed will about such behaviour and thinking is ignored and reduced to a single aspect of His nature. That’s not to mention when one aspect, in this case love, is lifted from verses in Scripture and then isn’t even defined—biblically or otherwise. Things get terribly messed up with a reductionist approach by taking just one of God’s attributes to the exclusion of His divine functioning of all of them. In certain cases you end up substituting a description about God, in this case love, and make it ultimate for something completely unbiblical.
Yes. God is love, but love is not God. The theme of 1 John has nothing to do with such glorification of love alone. At best it’s naïve sentimentalism. At its worst it legitimizes a self-indulgent philosophy or supports the enablement of behaviour that grieves God.
A.W. Tozer hits the mark, “The words “God is love” mean that love is an essential attribute of God. Love is something true of God but is not God. It expresses the way God is in His unitary being. As do the words holiness, justice, faithfulness and truth. Because God is immutable He always acts like Himself, and because He is a unity He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another.”
Those who acknowledge what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf by laying down His life so that they may be eternally lifted up isn’t some abstract, pop-cultural speculation or armchair musing about fatherhood to define love. The Christian’s understanding of love is the way God has shown it as a Person since love is, above all, relational. “We do not know, and we may never know, what love is, but we can know how it manifests itself, and that is enough for us here.” (Tozer)
That manifestation is the Lord Jesus Christ and the love he demonstrated by shouldering our sin and being nailed to the Cross for us. It’s there that you see God’s attributes of holiness, wrath against sin, justice, righteousness, grace, mercy (to name just some) and love, working together for His glory and our good. That’s where we see how important it is to see how “God is love” because we see how it describes what He does out of the love that is part of His nature.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. (Psalm 145:17)
Dave Maniquis is a Teaching Elder at Restoration Church. He holds a BA in History from Rutgers University and an MA in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He enjoyed a 23-year career in the U.S. Government, working and traveling extensively in Western and Eastern Europe. He has been a Christian for most of his adult life and has been involved in church planting, overseas as well as here in Port Orange, teaching the Bible and speaking into others’ lives with the Gospel. He is married to Maureen and they have two wonderful sons, Dylan and Evan.