17 April 2011

(W)holy Love

On my right hand I have a ring with "agape," the Greek word for love, inscribed on it. The interior has a a reference to I John 4:16, which reads, "God is love." I can't tell you how many times I have seen this phrase on Christian-ize t-shirts or heard it in discussions. It's become a bumper sticker slogan for Christianity.

While this statement is true, it is also misleading. It leads us to believe that love is God's primary character quality. We equate the two things together.

If God's primary essence was love, then loving sinful human beings is something that just comes natural to him. He would only be doing what is his nature to do. It would not really be a free decision.

Instead of love, holiness is God's primary essence. God is set apart from sin to the point that he cannot have any contact with it, or the creatures that are infected with it. By loving us, God does not do what is his nature to do. He commits a profound act of love by inviting us to have a relationship with him. Loving us was not something that God had to do in accordance with his natural inclination. Loving us is an act of his free volition.
This is exactly what the Greek word "agape" means. Out of all the words for love that John could have chosen (there are several in Greek), John chose the one that signified a deliberate act of affection between unequal social groups. Agape in its truest sense is used when a person belonging to a higher class "stooped" to love someone below their class. Agape destroys social, physical, and spiritual boundaries.

In spite of our sinfulness, God chooses to "agape" us. He reaches down from his state of holiness in order to show his love to those who are unholy.

The simple sentence "God is love" has more theological significance than a bumper sticker can encompass. And yet, I am reminded of it every time I ponder the message on my little ring.

Never underestimate the significance of this three-word sentence.