God’s Defining Love
Love. We all crave it in its many forms: a character trait, an emotion, a need to be satisfied. From the newborn to the aged and dying, we never escape our deep longing for love. But what is love, really? Even our cat seems to need affection, and in its simpler form, love can be shown in that way. But affection can be fickle, can it not?
In the Greek language, there are several words for love. In John 21, Jesus asks the Apostle Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" Peter replied, "Yes Lord, you know I love you." However, the Greek word for love that Peter used is different than the word for love that Jesus had used.
Peter thought he loved Jesus unconditionally—more than his own life and was willing to die alongside Jesus when He faced the cross. But after failing miserably to fulfill that promise, he probably wondered if he understood love at all.
I think Peter’s confidence in his ability to love the way God loved him was so shaken that he simply could not honestly say, “I love you,” the same way Jesus meant it. Where Jesus asked him if Peter loved him unconditionally, Peter responded, “I have a strong feeling of affection for you.” It was the best he could offer in his own strength.
It is the best any of us can offer each other in our own broken humanness.
While there are baser forms of “love” that simply mean erotic or romantic feelings, the highest form of love is the one written in the ancient scrolls. Scrolls in which the Apostle John speaks of God’s love for us over and over again.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9
Throughout Scripture, God paints a vivid picture of His love. Across the spans of time from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, God's love is there. On it travels, from death to a garden that held an empty tomb. And He wants to etch that story into the deep places of our hearts.
Far beyond affection, which is part of the way God feels about each one of us, He describes His love in promises such as, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “He will rejoice over you with singing.” Nothing can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:38-39)
And if we really want to know how love plays out in actions, the Apostle Paul describes God’s love this way:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proudor rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT)
Volumes have been written on the subject. Songs about love lost or found flood our airwaves. Better minds than mine have studied the varied nature of the love of God.
They tell me that my grandfather used to sing an old hymn called, “The Love of God” by Frederick M. Lehman (1917) when he visited inmates in prisons. If he wanted to impart hope to those men, I’m not sure he could have found a better way.
“The Love of God”
The love of God is greater farThan tongue or pen can ever tell;It goes beyond the highest star,And reaches to the lowest hell;The guilty pair, bowed down with care,God gave His Son to win;His erring child He reconciled,And pardoned from his sin.
Refrain:Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!How measureless and strong!It shall forevermore endure—The saints’ and angels’ song.
When hoary time shall pass away,And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,When men who here refuse to pray,On rocks and hills and mountains call,God’s love so sure, shall still endure,All measureless and strong;Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,And were the skies of parchment made,Were every stalk on earth a quill,And every man a scribe by trade;To write the love of God aboveWould drain the ocean dry;Nor could the scroll contain the whole,Though stretched from sky to sky.