BY: DESIREE MACCHIA
How can we define God’s love? Part of the difficulty that we face in answering this question is in the fact that, “love,” is such a slippery word. It has so many different meanings. We use this word to describe our devotion to chocolate ice cream, our pet, our best friends, our parents, and our favorite book. We sometimes use it to describe the butterflies that we feel when we fall for that special someone (or think we have fallen). Love is a term that has so many different uses: some shallow, some self-serving, and some possibly noble. So when we try to define divine “love” we immediately face a great challenge. What does this word mean when applied to God?
I don’t think that our uses of the word will get us very far in answering this question. Any definition we come up with for love is bound to fall short of what that word means in reference to God. It thus seems better to seek where God defines this word, “love”, for us. I think we get such a divine definition for love in 1 John 4:10 (NIV): “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Thus, love is not first defined by us, by our romantic feelings or numerous attractions and devotions. The basis of divine love is, “not that we loved God but that he loved us!” Divine love is not defined primarily by our religious devotion for God, because religion can be just as shallow and self-serving as anything else. Religion tends to lead to idolatry, which is an effort to conform God to our self-serving desires and goals. Even noble feelings and devotions cannot in their own power be adequate enough to reach God or prove us worthy of God’s love.
The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, spent years in a German monastery seeking to reach God through acts of penance, following every command of scripture, only to discover at every turn how inadequate his own religious devotion was in capturing the depth and breadth of divine love. He discovered in a prayer tower that God justifies the repentant sinner by grace and not works. He realized that God has defined love in a way that goes way beyond anything that we can comprehend or produce.
In fact, God’s definition of love shatters our limited conceptions of devotion and reveals their inadequacies. God defined love by becoming human, going to a cross to draw us in. Love is defined where God seeks to embrace us right at the time when we were rejecting him. He cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV). He defines love by pouring out his life for us without conditions or limitations while we were in the act of torturing him. Christ allowed his body to be shattered and his blood to be spilled out for our salvation. There is nothing that we can do to deserve this love or in any way provide a basis for it. We are powerless to do so: “when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 NIV). This is the love that redeems and transforms, providing the basis for our own loving responses to God. Then God would point us to the cross and say to us, “love like this.” Only in doing so can we learn what divine love is. Nowhere else.