Summary: Love is about relationships, and to really understand love, we need to think about the greatest possible relationship for a human being, a relationship with God.
God is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
The Beatles sang, “All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” Back in August 1967, that was the number one hit song in the USA.
Amazon.com currently (as of 02/17/05) lists 54,923 books with the word "love" in the title. I did a search on Google for the word “love,” I got back 166 million responses. Obviously, love is very important to our culture, but equally obviously our culture has a poor understanding of love. Watch TV, check the internet, scan through magazines, and you realize that by and large most people do not know what love is.
Love is about relationships, and to really understand love, we need to think about the greatest possible relationship for a human being, a relationship with God.
Our world is a world of contracts and conditions. Contracts basically say, “I will do this, if you do that.” They are conditional commitments. If any of the conditions are not met, the commitment is off. That is the way most people think about relationships. But that is not the kind of relationship God has with us. God’s relationship with us is unconditional love.
God sets no limits on his love; God does not love by rule or statue; God does not love piecemeal or conditionally; God loves totally and completely, and that total love opens God up to be hurt or rejected. C.S. Lewis says, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” [C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 169]. But God loves each of us with an infinite and perfect love. Can you imagine then how it breaks his heart when we refuse him or fail to walk his way.
We see the anguish of God in the words of Jesus when he sees Jerusalem for the last time. He say, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (MATT 23:37).
God took an incredible risk in creating us with the freedom to accept or reject his offer of relationship. God is so wildly in love with us that he was willing to risk rejection rather than attempt to coerce us into loving and obeying him. God did not program us to love him without question. God created us with the freedom to say, “no.” God created us with free will so that we would have the possibility of a genuine, loving relationship with him. If we were forced to obey God, forced to go to heaven or hell, we would just be robots. We would be worse than slaves because a slave can at least think his own thoughts. But God does not want robots or slaves, God wants a free people freely worshipping him. God wants real relationships, relaltionships not based on coercion and manipulation, but based on mutual love and respect.
And that means that God must face the real possibility of rejection. There is an old song written Allan Roberts & Doris Fisher and first recorded, I think, by The Mills Brothers in 1944 that says,
You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can’t recall.
That is the “downside” of love. You can get hurt. You are vulnerable. We see the extent of the vulnerability of God’s love in Jesus dying for us on the cross. Jesus opened up himself in love, and suffered horrible for his openness. He knew what the cross would mean for him. He knew he faced pain and agony and death, and yet he considered the value of his own life as nothing compared to the risk of losing us.