God is Love is a common religious expression and you might expect to find it frequently in the Bible. And yet it occurs only twice, in the first Epistle of John chapter 4:
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
[1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16 ESV]
John also writes: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God [1 John 4:7 ESV]. So it is clear that for the writer of this epistle Love and God are intimately bound together.
If however we look for evidence that God loves – we need look no further than the Gospel of John chapter 3 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life [John 3:15 ESV].
One thing that people from all sorts of religious traditions would say is that God loves us. Different traditions might have different ways of describing God or the Divine but the message that God loves us is common to all. We might then go on and describe God’s love as an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all, although what we receive of that love depends on our openness to it and how we share it with those around. Such thinking brings us to see that God is a loving God but is this the same as saying that God is Love? We may be certain that God loves and that love is from God but can we really say that God IS Love?
Well in a way the simple answer is yes, but we need to explore why this is so.
Think for a moment about an everyday situation which illustrates this challenge. We know that we can get money from the bank because money is stored there. We might even say that the bank is made of money, but we know full well that the bank isn’t money.
Now we could easily view God just like that. We know we can get love from God, indeed we might say that God is the source of all love or even that God is made of love but we may at times stop short of believing that God is love because it doesn’t seem to make any real sense to us.
One way to try and move forward and make sense of this is to look at ourselves. In Genesis we read: Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness [Genesis 1:26 ESV]. So, if we are made in the image and likeness of God, it should be possible to see within ourselves something of the nature of God although what we see will be a very dim and limited reflection of the infinite Divine nature.
We love all sorts of people and things, partners, family, friends, hobbies, possessions and much more. But what tends to happen is that what we love the most becomes most important in our life to the point where our lives revolve about that love.
Suppose we love the pursuit of wealth and its resulting possessions to the exclusion of all else. Gradually our whole life becomes totally absorbed by a focus on how to make money and yet more money. Money has become our whole purpose in living, it has become our life.
By contrast we may make our family the focus of our love. Supporting and caring for our family then becomes the whole purpose in living, it has become our life.
We can see from these two examples that our love tends to show itself in the way we live, so much so, that we can describe our life in terms of what we love, indeed our life becomes our love and our love is our life. In our deepest and inmost being life and love become one and the same thing.
If it can be said of our human nature that love is our life then this likeness of God in us must first exist fully and perfectly in the Divine Itself. Thus we can begin to see that the Life that is God is Love perfect, unconditional, limitless Love.
Emanuel Swedenborg describes the nature of this love in many places in his theological books but particularly in Divine Love and Wisdom as, for example, in these extracts from paragraph 47:
Divine love and wisdom cannot fail to be and be manifested in others that it has created. The hallmark of love is not loving ourselves but loving others and being united to them through love. The hallmark of love is also being loved by others because this is how we are united. The essence of love is that what is ours should belong to someone else. Feeling the joy of someone else as joy within ourselves – that is loving.
Now although it appears otherwise, we really have no life or love in ourselves. What we call our life and our love really come from God because God alone is the source of all life and all love. He leaves us free to accept or reject his life and love, to use it or misuse it. But whatever we do with it, ultimately all life and love come from God, and in God, Life Itself and Love Itself are one and the same thing.
God is not just the source of all love and all life, God IS Love, because God IS Life.
Here are some quotations that reflect on this theme.
This is all that I’ve known for certain, that God is love. Even if I have been mistaken on this or that point: God is nevertheless love.
God is love, and the ability to love is inborn in every living creature, most especially in human beings.
Sadhu Sundar Singh
In loving and serving, we prove that we have been created in the likeness of God, for God is love and when we love we are like God.
And to conclude, some extracts from Divine Love and Wisdom paragraphs 1-4 by Emanuel Swedenborg
LOVE is our life.
We are wholly unaware that it [love] is our very life not just the general life of our whole body and of all our thoughts, but the life of their every least detail.
We cannot know what our life is unless we know what love is.
God alone – the Lord – is love itself, because he is life itself. Both we on earth and angels are life-receivers.