1 John 4:8

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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Is it correct to say that God’s love is unconditional and without any cause outside God Himself?

So much has been written about God’s love that we can hardly begin to summarize the results of those studies. The most important text is obviously 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (NIV).

John’s purpose was not to speculate concerning the nature of God, but to motivate Christians to love one another. Yet in the process he made this remarkable statement in which he suggested that if we explore the very nature of God, we will find only love, and that divine activity is motivated and determined by pure love.

1. Unconditional? Can we use the term unconditional to refer to the expression of God’s love toward His creatures? If God is by nature love, if the essence of His being is self-giving expressed in concern for the well-being of others, then we must recognize that nothing outside God Himself can move Him to love us. Unconditional is appropriate if understood in terms of our inability to make ourselves lovable before Him. In fact, it is totally unnecessary for us to become lovable, because God by nature loves us. His love is not elicited by our physical or moral attractiveness. He loved us when we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). In practical terms this means He loves Americans and Iraqis, Adventists and Hindus, sinners and saints, etc., with the same intensity. When it comes to God’s love for His creatures and His offer of salvation, God makes no distinctions.

2. Causeless? Since God does not expect us to meet certain conditions before we can be objects of His love, some have concluded that no reason can be offered for His love toward us except love itself (He loves me because He loves me). Accordingly, to go beyond love itself is to rob it of its spontaneity. God’s love, they say, cannot be grounded on any particular reason except the fact that God is love. This is an attractive idea, but theologically damaging to the biblical view of God. It defines God and the nature of God’s ultimate reality as essentially irrational. It is not that love transcends reason, but that reason and love are perceived as incompatible because to provide a reason for love is to condition it. This overlooks the fact that from the biblical point of view the reason God loves us is that He created us. After we sinned, He continued to love us, because Christ died for us, although we were sinful and rebellious.

3. Indifferent? Since God continues to love us in spite of our sin, does that not suggest that He loves us no matter what we do? We should be extremely careful not to give the impression that divine love is like human love, sentimentally born out of irrational emotions accompanied by elements of psychological guilt for personal failures in our interpersonal relations.

Love and permissiveness are incompatible. When we say, “God loves me no matter what I do,” we are indeed saying that God is indifferent to what we do. The opposite of love is not anger, but indifference. The Bible states that God reacts to what we do or do not do, that what we do evokes a reaction from God because He takes us seriously. It is because He loves us that He becomes angry when we rebel against Him. God’s wrath and His love are not incompatible. Divine wrath is God’s love seeking to express its pain while offering reconciliation. God’s love is tough love.

4. Creative: God’s love for us is determined, not by our real or presumed value, but by the fact that He created and redeemed us. However, we should not conclude that we are valueless objects. When God makes us objects of His love, we become extremely valuable. Love moved God to create us, and what He created was valuable, good, very good (Gen. 1:31). We lost that value through the Fall, but when the Son of God became poor in order for us to be enriched, divine love restored our value. We are now children of the King of the universe!
John wrote: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11, NIV). Did you get the point?