Exploring the Depths of Divine Love: Unveiling the Nature of God’s Love in Scripture

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What is God’s Love?

The apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote, “God is love,” and some have interpreted this statement as defining the essential nature of God. However, this interpretation is a significant error. John was stating a fact about God, but he was not providing a comprehensive definition of God’s nature.

Equating love with God is a major mistake that has led to much unsound religious philosophy and has inspired a lot of vague poetry that is not in harmony with the Holy Scriptures and is far removed from the tradition of historic Christianity.

If the apostle had declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to infer that God is what love is. If we take the statement “God is love” literally, then we would have to worship love as the only God there is. If love is equal to God, then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical.

The God that remains after such an interpretation is not the God of Israel, not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, not the God of the prophets and the apostles, not the God of the saints, nor the God of the reformers and martyrs of the church.

When we say that God is love, we mean it in the same way as when we say of a person, “He is kindness itself.” We are not saying that kindness and the person are identical, and no one interprets our words in that sense.

The statement “God is love” means that love is an essential attribute of God. Love is something true about God, but it is not God Himself. It expresses the way God is in His unitary being, just as the words holiness, justice, faithfulness, and truth do. Because God is immutable, He always acts like Himself, and because He is a unity, He never suspends one of His attributes to exercise another.

From God’s other known attributes, we can learn much about His love. For instance, we can know that because God is self-existent, His love has no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, His love has no limit; because He is holy, His love is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence.

Love is by its nature active, creative, and benign. God demonstrated His love toward us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Love must always give to its own, whatever the cost. The apostles rebuked the early churches sharply because some members had forgotten this and had allowed their love to be spent in personal enjoyment while their brethren were in need. John, known as “the Beloved,” wrote, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

Scripture tells us two important things about the nature of God. First, “God is light” (1 John 1:5), which is the opposite of “darkness.” In Scripture, “darkness” represents sin, evil, and death, while “light” represents holiness, goodness, and life. God is light, which means that He is the sum of all excellence. Second, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is not simply that God loves, but that He is Love itself. Love is not just one of His attributes, but His very nature.

Many today talk about the love of God but are total strangers to the God of love. Divine love is often regarded as a kind of amiable weakness, a good-natured indulgence, reduced to a mere sentimental feeling. The truth is that our thoughts about God’s love need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed in Holy Scripture. There is an urgent need for this, as evidenced by the general ignorance and the low state of spirituality among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is that our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more our hearts will be drawn out in love to Him.

Is God’s Love Conditional or Unconditional?

The terms ‘conditional love’ and ‘unconditional love’ are more psychological and aren’t directly mentioned in the Bible. But in the Bible, God’s love is shown to be eternal, perfect, unfailing, and infinite. People often think of God’s love as unconditional because we all really want to be loved and accepted just as we are, without any strings attached. Only a self-sufficient being like God can offer that kind of love and acceptance.

In Greek, there are four words for love: eros (romantic love), storge (family love), philia (friendship love), and agape (unconditional love). Agape is the word used to describe the love God has for us, and it’s considered the greatest gift from God to humanity (as seen in 1 Corinthians 13 and John 3:16). But it’s worth exploring whether God’s love is really unconditional, especially when considering other Scriptural references:

These examples, among many others in the Bible (e.g., John 3:36, Matthew 6:14-15, Romans 1:18, Psalm 5:5), show that God’s love can also be conditional, meaning that He does not tolerate sins, wickedness, disobedience, and hostility toward Him, which is consistent with His holiness and sovereignty.

Difference Between Conditional and Unconditional Love

There’s a clear difference between the two: conditional love is when you have to earn love by meeting certain conditions, while unconditional love is given freely without expecting anything in return. Conditional love is about loving someone because they deserve it, while unconditional love is about loving someone even if they don’t deserve it.

We’ve already talked about how God’s love can be conditional, but now let’s explore the other side of God’s love that brings life to our souls.

God’s Unconditional Love

God’s love is unconditional in the sense that it’s part of His very nature, so He loves us all the time, no matter what (as seen in 1 John 4:8 and Deuteronomy 7:9). Everything God does comes from love, even when He’s angry, it’s a holy kind of love (like in Psalm 30:5 and Micah 7:18). God is good and kind to everyone, no matter how they feel about Him (Matthew 5:45). No matter how much people might reject or rebel against God, it doesn’t change the fact that God is love. So, God is always a God of love, no matter what we do or how we feel about Him. Dr. John T. Yates described God’s love as an “unconditional and unselfish concern of God, in emotion, will, and action for the highest good of people.”

God gave us the best gift ever in Jesus Christ, so we can know His love and have a close relationship with Him (Romans 8:31-32). God’s plan from the start has been to help us thrive, protect us, and give us a purpose in life (Jeremiah 29:11). And even more, God, with His amazing love, makes those who accept and believe in Jesus His cherished children forever (John 1:12). It’s such a wonderful blessing and privilege to be loved so deeply by our Heavenly Father, like a parent loves a child, and that love lasts forever. (No parent ever stops calling their child “my child”).

God’s Unfailing Love

The Bible is full of stories about God’s never-ending love. In the Old Testament, God chose Israel as His special people, meant to be a blessing to all nations. But the Israelites often turned away from God, worshipping other gods and disobeying Him. Despite this, God’s promise stayed true: He kept forgiving, restoring, and honouring Israel because of His unwavering love (Jeremiah 31:3). Their journey with God is a lot like our own spiritual journey, relying on God’s eternal love.

God’s love is also seen in the life of Paul the Apostle. Paul used to hate and persecute Christians, but after a life-changing encounter with Jesus, he became a major writer of the New Testament. Paul taught that God’s love is shown through what Christ did for us (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Ephesians 2:4-5). The Bible makes it clear: nothing can ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

Why Does This Matter?

God’s love is both unconditional and conditional. His unconditional love means He accepts us completely, while His conditional love means He disciplines us to bring out the best in us and align us with His holiness (Hebrews 12:6-10).

Unlike God’s love, human love is usually conditional. We struggle to love unconditionally because our nature is self-centred. The Bible teaches us the true meaning of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), but we can only love because God loved us first (1 John 4:19).

Learning to love like God is a lifelong journey. God showed His love by sending Jesus, so we can learn to love God and others (1 John 3:16, 4:7-9). Unconditional love starts with selflessness and dedicating our lives to Christ, who helps us love genuinely (Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 4:8).

Description of God’s love:

Exodus 15:13
Psalm 33:5
Psalm 136
Psalm 143:8
John 3:16
Ephesians 3:16-19
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 John 4:16-18

God’s conditional love:

Exodus 19:5
Deuteronomy 11:26-28
Psalm 5:5
Proverbs 6:16-19
Matthew 6:14-15
John 3:18
John 3:36
John 14:23
Romans 1:18

God’s unconditional love:

Deuteronomy 7:9
Jeremiah 29:11
Psalm 30:5
Psalm 103:13
Micah 7:18
Matthew 5:45
John 1:12
Romans 8:31-32
1 John 4:8

God’s unfailing love:

Psalm 103:10-12
Jeremiah 31:3
Romans 5:8
2 Corinthians 8:9
Ephesians 2:4-5

Christians response to God’s Love:

Galatians 2:20
Hebrews 12:6-10
1 Peter 4:8
1 John 3:16
1 John 4:7-9
1 John 4:19

Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?

It’s a question that makes many Christians uncomfortable. The Bible says God is love, but it also warns about the eternal punishment of hell for those who reject Him. These two ideas might seem contradictory, but they’re not. There’s no direct contradiction between “God is loving” and “Some people go to hell.” If they seem inconsistent, we might be missing something.

Some argue that if God is all-powerful, He could create a world where everyone freely chooses Him and is saved. And if He’s all-loving, He’d prefer that world. But these assumptions aren’t necessarily true. The Bible shows God as both perfectly just and loving. His justice means everyone gets what they deserve, but we all fall short of His standards. That’s where His love comes in. He offers mercy and salvation through Jesus, even though we don’t deserve it.

God’s justice and love meet at the cross. Jesus took the punishment we deserve, showing God’s love. But rejecting Jesus means facing God’s justice. In a way, people choose their own fate. God wants everyone to be saved, but He respects our freedom to choose.

Some argue that eternal punishment is unjust. But this assumes all sins deserve only finite punishment. Rejecting God, however, is an infinite offence deserving infinite punishment. Plus, people in hell may continue to reject God, making their punishment self-perpetuating.

What about those who’ve never heard of Christ? The Bible says they’re judged based on their response to God’s revelation in nature and conscience. Salvation through Christ’s sacrifice is available to all, even if they’re not aware of Him.

In the end, the existence of hell doesn’t contradict God’s loving nature. It’s a tough doctrine, but ignoring it wouldn’t be loving or truthful. The key is understanding how God’s justice and love work together.