Defining words, understanding concepts and grappling with interpretations has become an even greater challenge in our post-truth era. Christian words, concepts, principles and core themes are now subject to these various interpretations and more so than ever, by those not following Jesus Christ!
Terms like ‘inclusive’, ‘grace’ and of course ‘love’ are now subject to the ever-increasing flurry of meme-esque definitions, and by those who have are not in a saving, redeeming and restoring relationship with the Creator of all, and the only omniscient and omnipotent ONE.
God is love, yes? Of course, it/she/he is, that’s an incontrovertible, unshakable given of the Christian spectrum, I know, because I hear it all the time – it is the great Christian mantra!
I’ve watched over my lifetime many in the Church who have either deliberately or by a passive default to the ‘flow’, commence and/or continue the crafting God in their image, an effigy of the Divine, if not persona, then nature. I have no doubt in my journey that such moments have also emerged, particularly as I’ve attempted to justify a disobedience, or simply being self-serving.
However, it is only in the last 10 years that I’ve seen this Biblical, divine ‘love’ be labelled, relabelled, defined and redefined in ways that have not only concerned me, but utterly contravened the very character of the Triune God. In my encounters in this space, it is what drives the re-defining/labelling that raises the concern. In nearly every setting for this redefinition, God’s ‘love’ is cast, shaped or moulded by activities of those whom people are in a close relationship with. In this very personal context the redefinition either ignores or defies other Divine attributes or prescriptions of our Awesome multi-faceted and incredibly Wise God; and for the purposes of spinning ‘love’ into a flimsy fitting garment to cover the error, rebellion, brokenness or sin of ‘loved’ one!
So, what is this love, and what is it made of? ‘God’; may be the logical exclamation! This tautological definition does not give us an investigative tool to spelunk this immensely deep cavern, but delve we must, if we are to know, not only the Love of God, but the very God of love Himself.
As I have written elsewhere, the idea/concept of love can have as many definitions and modes as there are unique individuals on the plant – potentially seven something billion! Yet this declared, highest virtue, cannot be abandoned to the capricious musings of feckless, finite and ever so easily manipulated masses; no, this love, this highest of virtues can only be understood, or at the very least examined through the lens of the Author of it.
This divine love is not God, however the Creator, the Alpha and Omega, is love. It is the motivation, the mandate, the mode, even the very means of Gods engagement with His created, and why such omnibenevolence exists in the deistic arena. No other ‘god’ concept, no other metaphysical construct, contrivance or concoction comes close to this Judeo-Christian narrative, particularly around this relational imperative.
In explaining to a university student, the concept to the Trinity, Dr Ravi Zacharias masterfully declared, Christianity is the only religion where love came before life. And he added, the only religious framework where communication came before life. The Trinitarian nature of the One True God explains how love and communication were in play before the universe began. This seminal source of relationship existed in which love, and communication were integral parts, and it is this starting point that we can begin to uncover what this love may be made of.
This Trinity, this One God in three distinct persons, in one unified deity, is multifaceted and flawless in integrity, unity, perspective and perfection, and it is these aspects that also inform the nature of the God of Love!
The perfection of the Author, the Source of the universe, the One who was outside both time and space; the One who calls things into existence from nothing, reveals much more about this nature, this ‘love’.
It is ‘the beloved’ and arguably the youngest of Jesus’ Disciples, who most consistently writes about this love and how it is not only experienced/engaged with but responded to in our lives.
We know we have joined Him in an intimate relationship because we live out His commands. If someone claims, “I am in an intimate relationship with Him,” but this big talker doesn’t live out His commands, then this individual is a liar and a stranger to the truth. But if someone responds to and obeys His word, then God’s love has truly taken root and filled him. This is how we know we are in an intimate relationship with Him: anyone who says, “I live in intimacy with Him,” should walk the path Jesus walked. 1 John 2:3-6 The Voice
For the [true] love of God is this: that we do His commands [keep His ordinances and are mindful of His precepts and teaching]. And these orders of His are not irksome (burdensome, oppressive, or grievous). 1 John 5:3 Amplified Bible
This true love is the supreme version of love as uniquely articulated in the Greek. This ‘agapao’ speaks of a higher, divine virtue in response. It is not just good will, and high esteem and benevolence, it sits in a moral preference. It transcends affections and emotions and moves into the realigning of activities, choices and behaviours with the divine moral nature – a reflection of the character and conduct of God. This intimacy producing love manifests best in our behavioural aligned and joyful compliance with El Elyon – El Hakkadosh, The Most High and Holy God’s best practice – HIS Commandments.
Please keep this in the forefront of your reflections as you continue.
It is in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians that sees both a segue to and melding with the attribute, the quality of God that transcends, but very much envelopes and informs this divine love.
And may the Lord make you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another and for all people, just as we also do for you, so that He may strengthen and confirm and establish your hearts faultlessly pure and unblamable in holiness in the sight of our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) with all His saints (the holy and glorified people of God)! Amen! Thessalonians 3:12-13 Amplified Bible
It is the implementation of the love prescribed in the Johannine letters, and what that produces in and through us, that the nuance Greek language unveils in this passage – A faultlessly pure and unblamable sacredness. (From hagios a setting apart, as unto likeness with the Lord)
In Jewish literature, indeed culture, if one is to emphasize the importance of an issue, draw the hearer’s attention to the absolute necessity to grasp and embrace an understanding of a thing, then repetition is used.
In our current communication space various modes are engaged to create emphasis, bring attention too. In literature we may use bold or italicized text, underlining or even capital letters, but not so the divine text – they repeated.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, often used this mechanism to press imperatives to His audiences. ‘Verily, Verily, I say unto you…’ was used by Jesus Christ 25 times in His recorded teachings. In essence it is saying truly, truly, or with most absolute certainty, I am communicating this very important thing.
Now, when the Second Person of the Godhead, the One who was the medium through which Father God created everything, (John 1: 3; Colossians 1:16) puts that emphasis on an issue, we are to be utterly assured that was is being said is imperative.
So, what would happen to our understanding, our perception if this Ultimate Being were to repeat something three times? Wouldn’t – shouldn’t the answer in this context, be a heart stopping, we must listen, understand and uncompromisingly embrace this?
The term, holy appears more than 600 times in scripture and has a consistent nuanced yet profound meaning of separateness, as in consecrated, set apart, utterly beyond the common – pure and perfect.
Twice in the divine text we see this word, this quality – virtue repeated thrice, this process has been title, in Greek, the Trisagion.
In the Old Testament it is the Prophet Isaiah, the Prophet ‘caught up’ heavenly raptures, that records our first profound repeat Isaiah 6:3 And one cried to another and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!
In the New Testament we find this incredible emphasis recorded by the Apostle John as he too is ‘caught up’ into the heavenly realm, Revelation 4:8 And the four living-creatures, each one of them having six wings apiece, are full of eyes around and inside. And they do not rest by day or by night, saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the One Who was and Who is and Who is coming”.
Where am I going with this? As previously mentioned, repetition in the Jewish literature context is about the degree of intense emphasis on importance – it is to grasp for superlatives, ‘a transcendent imperative’!
It is only with Holiness, this quality, this virtue, this aspect, this facet of the One True and Triune God that receives this vital attention, not love!
Yet, as we have clearly understood from our opening passages, God IS Love!
So now, we have a very clear understanding of the composition of this ‘love’, what that ‘love’ is made of – it is HOLY!
Shane W. Varcoe