Love is not God

Closeup of candle flame.Okay, I admit the title of this post is sort of click bait. I expect a few people to read it angrily, all ready to defend the Bible and let me know that, indeed, Love is God.

Except the Bible never says that. It says, quite plainly in 1 John 4:8, that God is love.

I understand I’m being difficult. And we’re talking semantics. However, in simplest terms, the problem with us saying Love is God has to do with how we define love. If I am dealing with God, then I’m dealing with Love. That’s what God is Love means. However, if I’m dealing with love, I’m not always dealing with God, because love, in our culture, is defined any number of ways, and not every one of those tracks with the real nature of God. And I think this issue with definitions causes us trouble. We decide what constitutes love and then say that’s what God is. Love is not necessarily God.

Jesus says if we love him, we will obey his commandments.(John 14:15).  I hear that tossed aside all the time. No, someone says. God is about love. Anything I do in love is okay. If I try to obey commandments, then I’m trying to earn my way to God, and that negates the entire idea of love. If I truly love someone, I would never judge them or bog them down by suggesting they keep commandments. Love is about making them feel special and encouraging and treating them with kindness.

Except Jesus says if we love him we keep his commandments. The thing is, God is allowed to define the term love, because he is love.  The better way of saying God is Love is saying God defines love. If our version of love negates who God is, then it’s likely we’re redefining love. If a thing isn’t God, then it isn’t love.

Jesus loved God, and he obeyed his commandments. So, if I’m tossing aside commandments, even if it seems it’s in a person’s best interests, I’m not loving. For instance, Jesus said there was only one path to the Father, and that was Him, so if I suggest that any philosophy that includes love leads to God and eternal bliss, even if it doesn’t acknowledge Jesus, I’m not speaking with love. I’m certainly not lighting the path to heaven for those around me, which means I’m lovingly leading them to the gates of hell–in the name of tolerance and kindness–and giving them a shove over the threshold.

Where exactly is the love in that?

God is the litmus of love. Jesus’ actions show us love. And yes, they were radical and kind. He touched the unclean to heal them. He talked to women and foreigners. He ate with enemies of the Jewish people. Love that looks like love–he did that. But after he rescued the adultress from stoning, definitely a compassionate act of love, he told her to repent. He said that a lot, in fact.

I hear If God loved me, he wouldn’t mind if I… or God’s love is unconditional, so he doesn’t care if I… And it’s true he takes us exactly as we are. Nobody has fallen so far that God can’t find him. But God never leaves us the way he finds us. He rescues us from the stoning, loves us with an everlasting love, and then says Repent. Go and sin no more. (John 8)

Yes, love will be followed by change. Obey me, he said. Turn from your previous lives. Paul tells us to work out our salvation, run a race, hold a focus. God is love. I am not love. God doesn’t change. This means if I’m going to line up to God’s definition of love, which includes obedience, holiness, righteousness, I have to change. I can’t change Him so everyone will feel like they belong. I have to change me (or let the Spirit change me, but you know what I mean here.). Then I call others to him, and I gently, tenderly, kindly show them my own changes in the hopes God will change them, because those who never see change in their hearts and lives and behaviors–those people aren’t experiencing the love that truly is God.

This post feels negative. That bothers me. I ache when I see what Christ-followers will do to accommodate a darkening world instead of shining bright beacons through it. We aren’t going to be loved by the world for shining our lights, because our lights expose their darkness. And that’s scary, to be hated and mocked by people who say we’re not loving the way they define loving.

But some, those called by the Spirit, will see the light in the distance, and they will come. They will come long distances to feel that light, to find healing, to stop stumbling without sight, to seek a rescue. They will know that it’s true love when they experience it. They will hear that voice and know their shepherd is calling. Sure, the world mocks and hates, but when those few rescued souls come out of the darkness and into the light–that’s worth mockery and hatred.

For those people, we must be careful not to define God as any trendy idea of love. We need truth, because God isn’t only love. He’s truth (John 14:1). And truth can hurt, and it can divide, and it can wound.

But that loved steeped in truth also rescues and heals and unites, and then it sets the lost souls free.

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