You’ve heard the statement, “if you look up stupid in the dictionary, there’s a picture of you,” implying that the person at the receiving end of the insult has done something dumb and is being made fun of – “dude you are the very definition of stupid!”
It’s not very nice, but it makes me wonder if God has a definition. What is the definition of God? What is the essence of the divine character? If one were to wrap up everything that God is in a simple statement, what would it be? “God is ____________.”
Is it possible?
Can we really define God in a statement such as that?
Well, if you believe the Bible to be a credible collection of documents, then we have such a statement. And only one of them.
According to the Bible the entire character of God can be captured in three words, one very simple definition of God.
God is love (1 John 4:8).
It has been said a zillion times. Maybe it has lost all meaning to us. When we hear the word “love,” maybe we think only of romantic love, emotional feelings, or worse yet, self-centered pleasure-seeking. As Ty Gibson observes, “we talk of love and sing of love obsessively, and yet we are in a continual crisis of love”…because ‘love’ in popular culture is self-centered and self-referencing (A God Named Desire, p. 134).
And so it’s time we begin to revisit biblical love and plunge the depths of meaning contained in this simple phrase that defines the very identity of God’s character.
Because it’s the only statement of its kind in the Bible. God IS love. Not loving. LOVE! We can’t compile a list of such statements from the Bible, which define God as being different things, and then “balance” them one against another. The Bible doesn’t permit us to do this. Yes, the Bible does say God is just and merciful and kind and holy and many things. But these are merely adjectives describing God, where love is noun defining God. The Bible does not define God literally as the nouns justices, mercy, kindness or holiness, but simply describes him as being just, holy, etc.
But the Bible deals with the word love differently. It is the only word used as a noun to define God. The only statement of its kind in the Bible, the very definition of God: God IS love.
And no doubt this includes all of the other attributes (justice, holiness) of God which then must be expressions of God’s identity as love. Rightly understood, every attitude, statement, action, and attribute of God must be an outflowing of the essence of his character of love. Love is much deeper, wider, bigger, and far more mind-blowing than we have thought.
Ty Gibson explains Agape-love this way:
“The declaration, God is agape (1 John 4:8), is the only total identity statement made about God in the whole Bible. It is, in fact the only comprehensive, all-encompassing declaration regarding the divine character that may be made with a single word in the form of a noun. The declaration is not ‘God is loving,’ but rather, ‘God is love.’ […] Love…stands alone as the only word that encompasses the totality of God’s being. Everything that is true of God is true of God because God is love. God is just in all His ways due to the fact that God is love, and because justice is an attribute of love. […] Agape is not one trait in a list of others. Rather, it is the complete whole of who and what manner of person God is” (A God Named Desire, 141-142).
If expressing one’s religious faith required a thesis statement, my vote would be for “God is Love” as the thesis statement of Christianity. Religion can begin with a list of rules. Religion can begin with me and what I want out of it. Religion can begin with an offended deity whom we have to appease. And it often has.
Or…the Christian faith can begin where it ought to: God. And not just any God. The only picture of God in human history where the deity is described simply as the very essence of love. A deity that is personal (not just an energy or force), is relationship, is others-centeredness, is self-sacrifice, is forgiveness…personified. Any picture of God that is other than this is a false God. Any unloving attitudes, attributes or actions with which we clothe our conception of God make him to be a false God even if by the same name.
I’m afraid that much of Christianity has missed this point and cherishes misconceptions about God, and thus, as John says, “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Christians are not known for portraying for the world a God of love through our theology, attitudes, and actions. Is it possible that Christianity, then, to a large degree “does not know God” and is worshipping and admiring a false God in its false conception of God?
The thesis statement of Christianity. The definition of God. Love. And Love is much deeper than we thought.