God Is Love
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall
In the days when the great evangelist
Dwight L. Moody was preaching in Chicago, a poor drunkard stumbled up
the steps to the front door of Moody’s church. The man pushed the
door open, scanned the room, and saw no one inside. His eyes, however,
were drawn to a large sign hanging above the pulpit that read “God
Is Love.” It struck him—with anger. He slammed the door, and
staggered down the steps, muttering, “God is not love. If God was
love He would love me, and He doesn’t love a miserable man like
me. It isn’t true.”
He went on his way, but those words were burning inside him, God is
love. God is love. God is love… He couldn’t resist,
Was it true… is it possible? After a while he turned
around, retraced his steps, and entered the church again—confused
and desperate. By now the people had gathered, and as Moody began to
preach the man slipped into a seat in the back corner. He wept during
the entire sermon as anger and confusion began to give way to joy and
Afterward, Moody made his way to the door to shake hands with the people
as they left. But the man didn’t leave. He remained in his seat,
weeping. Moody came over, sat down beside him, and asked, “What
are you crying about, my friend? What was it in the sermon that touched
“Oh, Mr. Moody, I didn’t hear a word that you spoke
tonight,” the man responded. “It’s those words up
there over your pulpit, ‘God Is Love,’ that broke my
heart.” Moody sat down and explained to him the depths of
God’s love. The man listened and gave his heart to God,
understanding for the first time that God really did love him.
In her autobiography, Over Mountain or Plain or Sea, Trula
Cronk, who served as a missionary in India for twenty-four years, tells
of a little girl who visited her house one evening and stayed just a
little longer than she intended. Darkness fell, and she was afraid to
walk home. Trula explained that she should not be afraid, saying,
“Dolan, God loves you and He will take care of you as you walk to
your house.” The little girl replied very solemnly, “No,
memsahib, God does not love little girls.”
Trula Cronk was never able to forget that misguided statement, and it
made her want to tell all little girls everywhere that God is love, and
He does indeed love them.
There are many souls in this world who, like that little Indian girl and
the drunken man in Moody’s hall, believe for one reason or another
that God does not love them. Maybe they have suffered misfortunes that
convinced them that God does not care. Or maybe they believe they have
committed sins that caused God to turn His back on them. Or maybe they
believe that God simply favors certain classes or races or genders and
does not love the others.
Like Trula Cronk, I have a burden to dispel this grievous
misunderstanding. I have a burden to tell you that God is love, and that
He deeply, stubbornly, and eternally insists on loving every individual
on the face of the planet. It doesn’t matter who you are or what
you have done. As speaker and author Max Lucado has said, “You
can’t fall beyond His love.” God’s love includes even
people you may have trouble loving: That person who cut you off in
traffic—God loves him. That woman who was rude at the grocery
store—God loves her, too. That entire nation of people across the
ocean that you deeply mistrust—God loves its every citizen. As a
matter of fact, God loves you.
This is the most important fact in your life. God loves you.
The eternal, self-existent Being who created and sustains everything
that exists dearly loves you. The profound thought of God’s love
should begin and end your every day. It should define your every goal,
your every action.
And He doesn’t merely like you when you do well; He is personally
and passionately committed to your good, even when you fail. God
loves you. What would happen if that three-word sentence became
the theme of your life—if you let it change everything about you
and your world?
Let’s see if we can find out.
The Declaration of God’s Love
The Bible tells us that God is love. The apostle John writes, “He
who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John
4:8). He reiterates this truth a few sentences later: “God is
love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (v.
It is important that we avoid two common mistakes when considering the
statement “God is love.” The first is to invert the equation
and insist that “love is God.” This is a serious error
because there are many false loves that bear little or no resemblance to
the perfect love of God. A man may “love” his mistress, but
this is not God’s love. These false loves must never be equated
with His love.
Secondly, we cannot make the mistake of subordinating all of God’s
attributes to His love. There is more to God than love. For example, He
is all-knowing, He is everywhere present, He is infinite, He is eternal,
and He is just. And John can even write “God is
light” (1 John 1:5). Any time we discuss His love, we must
remember that God “may display one attribute or another at a given
time, [but] no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the
others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows
His love, He does not abandon His holiness.”
However, we must recognize the force of the apostle’s declaration
that God is love. In fact John Stott has called it “the most
comprehensive and sublime of all biblical affirmations about God’s
being.” So what does the apostle mean when he says that God
“is” love? He is telling us something about the nature and
essence of God. It’s not merely that God loves, it’s that
God is love. Everything He does is rooted in and motivated by
love. He made the world because He is love. He formed human beings
because He is love. And He rules the universe in love. In other words,
John is reminding us that when we think of God and the world He created,
we should never forget about His love.
Before we can go much further in this discussion, we need to do some
additional disentangling. Just as people tend to be confused about who
God is, they’re also confused about what love is.
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations lists approximately
thirteen hundred different definitions, reflections, and opinions on the
subject of love, from the sappy to the abstract to the perverse.
Everyone talks about love, everyone experiences some form of it, and
everyone is driven by the need to give and receive it. But false ideas
of love are tearing the world apart—homes, hearts, even nations.
Why does this happen? Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft points out that
“the more important a thing is, the more counterfeits there are.
There are no counterfeit paper clips, but plenty of counterfeit
Counterfeit ideas of love are all around us. Kindness is often a
counterfeit for love. Discipline causes pain, which seems unkind, so
parents withhold it in the name of love. But authentic love will
administer discipline to achieve a long-term good for the child. Sex is
often misused as a counterfeit of love, causing unmarried couples to be
led down the dead-end path of temporary pleasures instead of the harder
but more rewarding path of a long-term marriage commitment.
Those who have suffered from common abuses of love are often skeptical
of love from any source, including God. If your heart is broken
romantically, you face the danger of concluding that all love, including
God’s, is just as unstable. If you have a troubled relationship
with your human father, you might conclude that your heavenly Father is
just as unreliable. These mistaken ideas about God can be devastating,
but they are not uncommon.
We cannot afford to make broad judgments about love or God from our
limited personal experiences. Nor can we look to pop culture as any kind
of authority—songs or sitcoms or soaps or cinema. We might as well
get our idea of the beach from a child’s sandbox. Better to go to
the ultimate authority on both God and love. The Bible must be our
In the Bible the love of God is like a multifaceted diamond: Each
glistening facet reveals some blindingly beautiful truth about God. For
this is where the quest for love leads—to an encounter with God
Himself. To begin to understand love, we must begin to understand God.
And to begin to understand God, we must begin in no other place than the
revelation of His love in the Bible.
The Momentous Task of Describing God’s Love
I am going to do my very best to describe God’s love. But I must
warn you, when I have said everything I can possibly say about the love
of God, I will barely have touched it. In many respects I share the
feeling of Frederick M. Lehman, who wrote these words to the well-known
gospel song “The Love of God”:
The love of God is greater far
than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star
and reaches to the lowest hell.
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 above
would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.
In spite of our inability to fathom the full scope of God’s love,
He has revealed it to us in many ways that we can clearly understand.
Exploring what He has said and demonstrated of His love will help us to
grasp, within the range of our limitations, how dearly and passionately
God loves us.
God’s Love Is Uncaused
Our common experiences in life teach us that we must earn love. We must
meet certain standards or conditions that will cause others to love us
because of our good actions, attributes, or attractiveness. This is a
weight we were not created to carry, a burden that leads to addictions
and despair. Henri Nouwen explains:
The world says: “Yes, I love you if you are good-looking,
intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good
education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you
produce much, sell much, and buy much.” There are endless
“ifs” hidden in the world’s love. These
“ifs” enslave me, since it is impossible to respond
adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be
conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of
conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the
world—trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that
fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest
craving of my heart.
In our human relationships, we generally do not love those who manifest
unattractive or repelling actions or attributes. But God’s love
for us is not like that; it is free, spontaneous, unprompted, and
uninfluenced. There is nothing we can do to cause God to love us, and
there is nothing we can do to prevent Him from loving us. God loves us
simply because He is God, not because we have done anything to cause it.
Author John Ortberg brings this truth home to our hearts when he writes,
“Nothing you will ever do could make God love you more than he
does right now: not greater achievement, not greater beauty, not wider
recognition, not even greater levels of spirituality and obedience.
Nothing you have ever done could make God love you any less: not any
sin, not any failure, not any guilt, not any regret.”
When writing to his protégé, Timothy, Paul described God as
the One “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not
according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which
was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy
1:9). To the Ephesians he wrote that God’s love for us is
“according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians
Contemplative author and speaker Brennan Manning calls this concept
“love without motive.” He writes:
As a man, I love the Jersey shore, Handel’s Messiah, hot
fudge, and my wife Roslyn. I love what I find congenial or appealing. I
love someone for what I find in him or her. But God is not like that.
The God and Father of Jesus loves men and women not for what He finds in
them, but for what He finds in them of Himself. It is not because men
and women are good that He loves them, nor only good men and women that
He loves. It is because He is so unspeakably, unimaginably good that He
loves men and women in their sin. It is not that He detects what is
congenial and appealing and He responds to us with His favor. He is the
source of love. He acts: He does not react. He is love without motive.
Because God is God, He does as He pleases, and it pleases Him to love us
without cause. Think of the first days of the first man and woman ever
to exist. God made Adam and Eve, so they brought Him no secrets or
surprises. They could offer Him nothing He did not already have. He
loved them simply because it was His plan to do so. From the beginning
of time, God does not love us because we love Him. According to the
apostle John, it is exactly the opposite: “We love Him because He
first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
God’s Love Is Unreasonable
Your first thought may be that it’s blatantly presumptuous for me
to call God unreasonable. But I am not using the term in the derogatory
way we usually apply it. Indeed, as you will see, I am eternally
grateful that God’s love is unreasonable.
From the day Adam and Eve sinned against God, mankind has continued to
rebel, to drift away from Him, and to break every commandment given to
us for our good. It would seem that we have given back to God nothing
but disappointment and heartbreak. Throughout the Old Testament, we see
that if God had responded to us “reasonably” and reacted the
way we do, He would have abandoned or destroyed humanity long ago.
Though God had countless reasons to have lowered the curtain on the
human drama, He had none, humanly speaking, to press on with His love in
the face of humanity’s persistent failings. This is why I say that
God’s love is unreasonable. Though from a human perspective His
love is beyond all reason, we simply need to remember that His thoughts
and ways are as far beyond ours as the heavens are from the earth
(Isaiah 55:8–9). So while His love is “unreasonable,”
it is not irrational; it bears divine reason, which our finite human
minds cannot fathom.
In Romans 5:6–8, Paul brings the reality of God’s
“unreasonable love” down to a level we can all understand.
He raises the question: “What would it take for any of us to die
for another human being?” Very few people would give their lives
even for a good man or a righteous person. But “God demonstrates
His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died
for us” (v. 8).
It is possible to consider—it is reasonable, though something of a
stretch—that someone might be willing to die for a good person. In
Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, we see this
kind of noble sacrifice fictionally demonstrated when the British
barrister Sydney Carton willingly goes to the guillotine in the place of
Charles Darnay. Carton’s sacrifice seems “reasonable”
because he has led a somewhat dissipated life and has little to live
for, while the falsely accused Darnay is a man of great honor, courage,
In an extreme case and under certain dire circumstances and for an
exceptionally good person, you or I might possibly find it in our hearts
to make such a sacrifice. But for the vilest of criminals, a person who
had made no contribution to society, and who seemed to delight in being
an enemy of all that is good and right—would you die for that
person? Your answer would probably be a quick and unmitigated
“Hardly!” And that’s a perfectly reasonable answer.
Yet that’s exactly what Christ did! He died for you and for me,
card-carrying sinners and enemies of God (Romans 5:10). It was in
Christ’s sacrifice that God demonstrated just how unreasonable His
love is. His love is so great, so far-reaching, so overpowering that
Jesus Christ, the only perfectly righteous person who ever lived,
willingly died in the place of unrighteous men and women such as you and
me. We should never cease to thank God that His love is so unreasonable.
God’s Love Is Unending
Grappling with the magnitude of God’s love forces us back to the
basics of who He is. The unending nature of His love is inseparably
connected to one aspect of His own nature, which the Bible reveals in
several places: He is “the Everlasting God… the Alpha and
the Omega, the Beginning and the End… who is and who was and who
is to come, the Almighty” (Genesis 21:33; Revelation 1:8). He
“inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). He is “the King
eternal” (1 Timothy 1:17). Of Him, the psalmist wrote, “Even
from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:2).
All of these passages speak of God’s eternal nature. They tell us
that He existed always and will always exist. We know that God is a
person, but that does not mean He shares the limitations of human
personhood. Unlike us, He is not limited by time or space, because He
created them both. Because He created time and stands above it, He has
immediate access to the entire scope of time from beginning to end.
Because He created space and stands above it, He can be at all places in
the universe simultaneously. He transcends the ticking of the clock and
pinpointing on the map. We cannot even imagine these mind-bending
concepts because none of us have ever taken a step outside of time or
space. Unlike God, we can occupy only one specific location and one
God’s love reflects His eternal absolutes. God’s love is
eternal, like He is: more durable than time, wider and deeper than the
incalculable dimensions of the cosmos. As He tells us, “I have
loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have
drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3).
God’s perfect love for you existed deep in the depths of eternity
even before time began. He created billions of wondrous galaxies, most
of which no telescope will ever see; He created lovely, atomic-level
worlds no microscope will ever penetrate; He knows all, He transcends
all, and He is magnificent beyond human imagining. Yet His love for you
is so close and intimate that it far outshines that of doting human
fathers who, when they first see their newborn infant, often count the
baby’s fingers and toes. God actually numbers the hairs on your
head. He knows and cherishes the tiniest details of your life, He
watches over you every moment, and He has a plan for your life that has
been in His heart longer than the world has existed.
In the modern classic Knowing God, J. I. Packer gives a
beautiful explanation of what it means to realize that our lives are set
within the perfect and constant love of God:
What matters supremely… is not… the fact that I know God,
but the larger fact which underlies it—that he knows me.
I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All
my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I
know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me
as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is
off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore,
when his care falters.
There is unspeakable comfort… in knowing that God is constantly
taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There
is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly
realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about
me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way
that I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his
determination to bless me.
In other words, there is incredible hope for those who are disappointed
in themselves. God’s love for you doesn’t depend upon your
perfection or achievement. It’s not that He looks away or
isn’t concerned when you stumble. He sees it all, and He continues
to love you with a love that is as eternal as eternity.
God’s Love Is Unlimited
Solomon, the son of David and the wisest man of his age, built a
majestic temple to the glory of God. It was a place for worshippers to
experience the Lord’s presence, a place where God had promised to
meet His people in a special way. Even though this temple was a wonder
of the ancient world, Solomon reflected on the inadequacy of anything
built with hands to contain the magnificence of God. He said,
“Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How
much less this temple which I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18).
Here is the paradox. We know that God is as far beyond us as the deepest
reaches of the universe. Yet at the same time, “He is not far from
each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being”
Since God is both beyond us and beside us, His love also exists beyond
us, beside us, and within us. His love is to us as the sea is to a fish:
The sea is huge and expansive beyond the limited range of any fish, yet
in it the fish lives, moves, and has its very being.
Psalm 139 is a hymn to the omnipresence of God, but its observations are
true for His love as well. Where God is, love is. Allow me to illustrate
this wonderful truth by replacing the terms for God with terms
designating His love in this poem:
Where can I go from Your love?
Or where can I flee from Your love?
If I ascend into heaven, Your love is there.
If I make my bed in hell, behold, Your love is there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your love shall lead me,
And Your love shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed the darkness shall not hide me from Your love.
Psalm 139 reminds us that God and His love are always present with His
people. As a pastor, I have listened to many people describe the same
feelings as the drunken man at Moody’s church and the young Indian
girl in Trula Cronk’s story. They are convinced that they have
wandered beyond the reach of God’s love. They say to me,
“God could never love me because…” The truth is that
there is no because that will fill in that blank. It
doesn’t matter how you complete the sentence, you come up with a
wrong answer. God could never love is a false premise. It can
never happen to you or to anyone else.
But we struggle to wrap our minds around that truth because, in our
experiences with fellow humans, we can think of so many ways to complete
the sentence “Bill could never love me because,” or
“Susan could never love me because.” When we seek the love
of other people, we factor in the assumed requirement that we have to be
perfect. But divine math doesn’t work the way human math does.
When you add all of your flaws together and conclude that God cannot
possibly love you, His answer is that He loves you anyway.
Since we encounter so few people who love without limits, we are prone
to embrace doubts about God’s love for us. I believe that is one
reason why the apostle Paul prayed that believers would be “rooted
and grounded in love… able to comprehend with all the saints what
is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of
Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:17–19).
We want to ask Paul, “How can we comprehend such a love? How can
we measure something with no width or length or depth or height? How can
we know that which ‘passes knowledge’?”
The answer is that we cannot—unless we receive help from above.
And we do. Here’s Paul again: “The love of God has been
poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us”
This does not mean that the Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we
can love God. It means rather that God has poured out His Spirit into
our hearts so that we might begin to understand how great God’s
love is for us. So great is His love for His own that it is necessary
for the third person of the Trinity to be dispatched into our hearts
that we might be able to comprehend it.
God’s Love Is Unchanging
In a world that moves and changes as fast as ours, there is one thing
that remains constant: the character of God. “I am the
LORD, I do not change,” God said through the
prophet Malachi (3:6). The psalmist wrote that “the counsel of the
LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all
generations” (Psalm 33:11); and “You are the same, and Your
years will have no end” (Psalm 102:27). James describes God as
“the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow
of turning” (1:17).
What a wonderful thought to know that because God is unchanging, His
love is unchanging. God’s love is constant in its faithfulness and
continual in its expression; it neither diminishes nor disappears,
regardless of our circumstances. In his book The Pleasures of
God, John Piper writes:
Sometimes we joke and say about marriage, “The honeymoon is
over.” But that’s because we are finite. We can’t
sustain a honeymoon level of intensity and affection. We can’t
foresee the irritations that come with long-term familiarity. We
can’t stay as fit and handsome as we were then. We can’t
come up with enough new things to keep the relationship that fresh. But
God says his joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. He
is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasure and
honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is
trying to get into our hearts what he means when he says he rejoices
over us with all his heart.
And add to this, that with God the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite
in power and wisdom and creativity and love. And so he has no trouble
sustaining a honeymoon level of intensity; he can foresee all the future
quirks of our personality and has decided he will keep what’s good
and change what isn’t; he will always be as handsome as he ever
was, and will see that we get more and more beautiful forever; and he is
infinitely creative to think of new things to do together so that there
will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums.
The thought of being loved forever as deeply and continuously as a
newlywed bride should change who we are. How can that thought not make
us eager to respond to God and love Him in return?
We need only look to Jesus for the model of unchanging, ever-enduring
love. Toward the end of His three-year earthly ministry, Christ must
have felt deep disappointment over the lack of spiritual maturity in His
disciples. Thomas doubted Him. Peter denied Him three times. Judas
betrayed Him into the hands of His enemies. His three most trusted
disciples fell asleep when He implored them to watch and pray during His
time of greatest crisis. While He was beginning to agonize over the
Cross and its implications, they were arguing over which of them would
be the greatest in the future kingdom.
On His last evening of freedom, Christ humbled Himself as a servant and
washed the feet of His disciples. Then He sat down to speak quietly to
them one last time before His execution. Even though He knew Judas was
at that moment moving through the streets to betray Him to the
authorities, Jesus expressed to His friends His deep love for them and
urged them to love one another: “As the Father loved Me, I also
have loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9).
Even as these disciples demonstrated their characteristic
misunderstandings, He called them His friends, not His servants. He knew
his own execution was only hours away, yet He concerned Himself with
comforting these flawed and stumbling men. He spoke of preparing them a
place in heaven and about the coming of another comforter: the Holy
Spirit. But again and again He returned to the theme of His constant
love for them.
The apostle John summarizes: “Having loved His own who were in the
world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
It didn’t matter that His soul was in turmoil, that He would soon
perspire drops like blood as He agonized in prayer. He kept on
loving—and not just the eleven disciples around Him. “I do
not pray for these alone,” He said, “but also for those who
will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20). As this
prayer indicates, His love reached across time to this moment—to
you, to me. In the shadow of the Cross, the power of His love never
waned for a second. In a world that was condemning Him, and with
excruciating pain and cruelty facing Him, His uppermost thoughts were of
love for us—of helping us to understand the love of God.
Nothing that happened to Jesus could dislodge His tenacious attachment
to us. He is a living picture of the unchanging love we’re
describing. His love is perfect and always has been perfect, meaning it
never varies, grows, or diminishes. In other words, the love He will
have for us in the future will never be greater or lesser than the love
He has for us now. And His love for us now is no lesser or greater than
it has been from eternity past. His love for us is nothing less than
constant, unchanging, and eternal.
There is a good side and a better side to God’s unchanging love.
The good side is that God won’t wake up in the morning and decide
He’s had enough of us. The better side is that even when we wake
up in the morning and decide we’ve had enough of Him, He will
still love us.
When the Bible tells us that God’s love is unlimited, I think it
means God’s love is something like the love of the mother in this
story told by Michael Brown:
A friend told me about a boy who was the apple of his parents’
eyes. Tragically, in his mid-teens, the boy’s life went awry. He
dropped out of school and began associating with the worst kind of
crowds. One night he staggered into his house at 3:00 a.m., completely
drunk. His mother slipped out of bed and left her room. The father
followed, assuming that his wife was in the kitchen, perhaps crying.
Instead he found her at her son’s bedside, softly stroking his
matted hair as he lay passed out drunk on the covers. “What are
you doing?” the father asked, and the mother simply answered,
“He won’t let me love him when he’s awake.”
God’s Love Is Uncomplicated
The crowning achievement of Switzerland’s Karl Barth, one of the
twentieth century’s most prolific theologians, was his Church
Dogmatics, a theological work containing more than six million
words. It is told that when Barth made his only trip to the United
States in 1962, a student asked him to summarize the broad-ranging
biblical theology he had written in this vast work. His audience awaited
his reply, expecting to be amazed by a profound statement from the
learned man. After a short pause, he said, “Jesus loves me this I
know, for the Bible tells me so.” The audience indeed got
something profound, but they also got something uncomplicated. In a
dozen simple words, Karl Barth summarized the essence of all Christian
theology in a way that a child could grasp as easily as a world-class
John 3:16, the most beloved of all Bible verses, captures the essence of
what God’s love means for us: God loved and gave, so that we need
only believe. We could write volumes of books about the subject and find
new areas yet to be examined. Yet this vast tree of theological
knowledge springs from a single seed, plain in its simplicity: God
loves. Though He loves in profound ways we can never grasp, He has
expressed that love in terms that all humanity can understand. We
don’t have to plumb the depths of theology to understand what
“I love you” means when spoken in the language of the heart.
God’s Love Is Unconditional
Most Christians are familiar with the word agape, which is a
term used to describe God’s unconditional love. For the writers of
the New Testament, the idea of God loving imperfect people in a perfect
way was so radical and new that only the relatively obscure word
agape could capture it. J. I. Packer explains: “The Greek
and Roman world of the New Testament times had never dreamed of such
love; its gods were often credited with lusting after women, but never
with loving sinners; and the New Testament writers had to introduce what
was virtually a new Greek word, agape, to express the love of
God as they knew it.”
This loving, pursuing God was clearly visible in the Old Testament, but
for many who do only a cursory reading of the Old Testament, this can be
difficult to see. In the New Testament, however, God’s love is
fully manifest through the revelation of Jesus Christ. It’s no
wonder that the message left Jerusalem and took hold of the
Mediterranean world so rapidly. It said that God loves
everyone—not merely a single nation, tribe, or a sect; it said
that God desires to save every human being from the web of his or her
own sin, and that He wants nothing in return but the joy of our
fellowship. There had never before been such a message.
Unconditional love flies in the face of the most basic drives of human
nature. We tend to love conditionally; we love only those we consider
worthy. God’s love is nothing like that. Christians see the
unconditional quality of God’s love displayed on the Cross. It is
love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who loves
simply because He is love. Such a love could never be conceived by men.
Only God would dare to love in such a way.
The Direction of God’s Love
On the face of it, this is an easy question: Who does God love? All of
us, of course. But “all of us” includes several identifiable
groups. Let’s explore these special recipients of God’s love
and how the Scriptures describe His love for them.
God Loves His Son
The preeminent recipient of God’s love is His own Son, Jesus
Christ. On two occasions—first at Jesus’ baptism and again
at His transfiguration—God the Father declared, “This is My
beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
In His final intimate conversation with His disciples, described
earlier, Jesus acknowledged His Father’s love: “You loved Me
before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Earlier in that same Gospel we read, “For the Father loves the
Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does” (John 5:20).
We cannot fully appreciate the meaning of John 3:16 and the sacrifice
that verse alludes to unless we realize the deep and abiding love of the
Father for His only Son.
God Loves Israel
One of the central themes of the Old Testament is God’s love for
His people Israel, whom He specially chose to bring His blessing to the
world. Again and again almighty God expresses His enduring love for the
Jewish people. For example, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that God will
be faithful to Israel as long as the sun, moon, and stars shine, the
waves roar, the heavens remain immeasurable, and the earth’s
foundations remain undiscoverable (Jeremiah 31:35–37).
The prophet Isaiah spoke often about God’s special love for
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.
One of the most striking word pictures in all Scripture describes how
God cares for and protects Israel. Two times Israel is called “the
apple of [God’s] eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8).
The Hebrew term for “apple of the eye” actually means
“the little man of the eye,” referring to the tiny
reflection one sees of oneself when looking into another person’s
eye. That “little man” in the pupil of God’s eye is
Israel. He is always looking upon the people of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob. They are reflected in His eye, just as He desires them to be a
reflection of Him.
God’s love for Israel does not mean He loves everyone else less.
But because He chose them to bear a special assignment to implement His
plan to redeem all of us, they have a special place in His heart.
God Loves Those Who Believe in Christ
If we are believers in Jesus Christ, then the Father loves us as He
loves His own Son. It’s an astonishing concept. Yet in that Upper
Room on the night of His arrest, Christ prayed this very truth (John
17:23; see also John 16:27).
The love of the Father for the Son is holy and unfathomable. Yet He has
promised to love believers in Christ just as deeply and fully, making us
His children and full heirs to His kingdom. The apostle Paul says of
those who are led by God’s Spirit, “These are sons of
God” (Romans 8:14). In his Letter to the Colossians, Paul speaks
of Christ’s followers as “the elect of God, holy and
beloved” (3:12). And in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, he
describes God as “our God and Father, who has loved us and given
us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace” (2:16).
God’s love for believers doesn’t mean He doesn’t love
unbelievers. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we have become children
of God. Now God loves us as His own family.
God Loves the World
The most profound expression of God’s love is wrapped up in this
truth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten
Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting
life” (John 3:16). This world that God loves is a world that man
ruined by his fall into sin. Yet man’s failure did not quench
God’s unconditional love. In fact, as Paul tells us, “But
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still
sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We can also see that God still loves all the world, sinners and saints,
in Paul’s words to Timothy: “[God] desires all men to be
saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
The apostle Peter affirmed this truth, saying, “The Lord is not
slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is
longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all
should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
No matter how wicked this world may become, no matter how deep into sin
it may sink, God’s love is unchanging. Jesus compares it to the
love of a shepherd for a stray sheep. The shepherd goes into the
wilderness to seek and save that lost animal (Luke 15:4).
Make no mistake: God hates sin. But He never stops loving sinners. He
never stops going into the tangled wilderness of their failures to
God Loves You
Against the backdrop of God’s massive love for the world, we could
doubt that God’s love is also intimate and personal. But nothing
could be further from the truth. In his spiritual classic The
Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes: “The love of God
is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the
hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God
does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but
men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can
have no end.” In a similar but more succinct thought, Saint
Augustine is reported to have said, “God loves you as though you
are the only person in the world, and He loves everyone the way He loves
In his book The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the
story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown
of Detroit to visit Ireland on a two-week summer vacation, where he
would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday.
Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk
along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned
and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they
stood there in silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along
the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.
After catching up with him, Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look
very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”
“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face.
“You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very
fond of me.”
In the moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his
Father in heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart. And he
began to dance along the shoreline. Have you ever had a moment like
that? Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love
God Loved You Before You Were Born
Oh, that marvel of conception…
What a miracle of skin and bone, muscle and brain.
You gave me life itself, and incredible love.
You watched and guarded every breath I took.
—JOB 10:10–12 (THE MESSAGE)
Billy Bigelow is a barker—a colorful,
fast-talking character who attracts crowds at the gates of an
old-fashioned carnival. He is the hero of the classic Rodgers and
Hammerstein musical Carousel. Bigelow is rowdy, restless,
proud, and given to fistfights and carousing. But something good happens
to him at the beginning of the story: He meets and marries Julie Jordan.
Their marriage, however, is filled with quarreling. Bigelow has lost his
job, and his shady friends invite him to help commit a robbery. Then, as
he considers the offer, Billy Bigelow’s world is changed. He
learns that he and Julie are going to become parents.
To demonstrate Bigelow’s deep joy and exhilaration, Rodgers and
Hammerstein give their hero a lengthy song called
“Soliloquy.” It’s about three times the length of a
typical Broadway song. The macho Bigelow imagines a son, a namesake, who
will be rough-and-ready, strong enough to do any job he takes on:
“My boy Bill, he’ll be tall and tough as a tree, will
Bill!” The father-to-be glories over the wonderful possibilities.
Maybe he’ll be a carnival barker like his old man, or maybe
he’ll be elected president. Anything is possible for this child.
And then a sudden realization hits Bigelow—What if the baby is
a girl? The song comes to a screeching halt. But not for long. As
he considers the possibility of having a sweet little duplicate of his
wife, he warms to the idea and begins to sing of his concerns about how
to raise a little girl. But finally, with fists clenched in firm
resolve, he bellows at the top of his range, “I’ll try,
I’ll try, I’ll try!” Whatever is required,
that’s what he will do, for a daughter needs a father.
Here’s my point in relating this story: It doesn’t matter
whether Bigelow has a son or a daughter; he is already head-over-heels
in love with a child who won’t arrive for several months. His life
has found a theme.
Tragically, Bigelow concludes that he will need money to be a good
father, and he dies trying to steal it. Later, he returns as a spirit to
see his little girl grown strong and proud, just as he predicted.
Carousel gets its ideas of heaven and salvation all wrong, but
its depiction of a father’s love for his unborn child is right on
the money. We recognize it from our own experience.
When a young couple announces that a baby is on the way, everyone tells
them, “It’ll change your life!” But the fact is, they
are already changed. From the first moment of anticipation, they see
themselves in a different light. They find that it’s possible to
be deeply in love with a tiny human being they’ve never met. They
brim with dreams of the things they’ll do with their
child—taking trips to the beach, getting a puppy, learning about
God. Until that child is born, father and mother will think of little
else; after the child is born, they will devote themselves fully to
their precious offspring.
Where did this powerful love come from? The answer: It’s an
inherited trait. We are made in the image of a heavenly Father who felt
the same deep joy before we were born, but His love is even more
powerful, more boundless. You know that God loves you now, but do you
realize that He always has—even before you were born? Even before
the world was created? He has loved you from the very foundation of
time. Let’s explore what the Bible says about God’s
relationship with you before you were born.
Before You Were Born, God Knew Your Identity
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
The primary purpose of this passage is to express a truth about God, but
it also says something about the psalmist who wrote it. Clearly David
considered himself to have been a person even before he was conscious of
himself. He was saying, “I, as a person, was covered by Your hand,
O Lord, in my mother’s womb. I was made in secret and masterfully
wrought in the inner recesses of my mother’s body.”
It is important to note that verse 16 contains the only use of the
Hebrew word for embryo found in Scripture—translated here
as “my substance, being yet unformed.” As God was forming
you, He was watching over you in love. We know this to be true because
the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
Everything God does, including overseeing the development of an unborn
human child, is carried out in love. Henri Nouwen explains:
From all eternity we are hidden “in the shadow of God’s
hand” and “engraved on his palm.” Before any human
being touches us, God “forms us in secret” and
“textures us” in the depth of the earth, and before any
human being decides about us, God “knits us together in our
mother’s womb.” God loves us before any human person can
show love to us. He loves us with a “first” love, an
unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and
tells us to become as loving as himself.
Think of a baby being born in a stressful situation—perhaps in a
car on the way to the hospital. The parents have spent nine months
planning for everything to be perfect for their little one’s entry
into the world. And then the unplanned happens—a late start to the
hospital, a traffic jam, a fast labor for the mother. But the baby is
born healthy; and once mother and infant are settled in the hospital,
the mother coos her love to her baby and apologizes for the rough
delivery. If that newborn could speak, he would open his little eyes and
say, “It’s okay, Mom, I’m fine. God has been loving me
from the moment I was conceived. I’ve been bathed in His love for
nine months, and I know you and Dad love me, too.”
As far as I know, newborns can’t even think such thoughts, much
less speak them. Nonetheless, the words I put in the baby’s mouth
are true: God sees and loves infants in the womb from the moment of
conception. That means He has already given them a human identity.
In the passage above, David writes with unmatched poetic eloquence about
this loving and attentive heavenly Father who skillfully knits us
together in the womb and oversees our development. We also learn that in
His infinite wisdom and power, God designs us for our days even as He
designs our days for us, writing our future in His book even before it
comes to pass. Clearly God knew us and loved us as individual beings
with a specific identity before we were born!
Before You Were Born, God Knew Your Complexity
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
Modern technology now allows us to see the astonishing complexity of a
developing child with our own eyes. In a 2010 TED presentation
titled Conception to Birth—Visualized, Alexander Tsiaras,
mathematician and chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale University,
presented a series of incredible images of a child’s development
in the womb. In his production you can see never-before-viewed videos
and photos of the very first cell division, the development of the heart
at only twenty-five days, the development of arms and hands at only
thirty-two days, and the development of the retinas, nose, and eyes at
Clearly astounded by what he witnessed in his own images, Tsiaras
concluded his talk with these words: “The complexity of these
things, the mathematical model of how these things are indeed done, [is]
beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician I look at
this with the marvel of, ‘How did these instruction sets build
that which is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic,
And Bible scholar John Phillips describes the magnificent complexities
of our bodies at the cellular level:
We know that every living creature is made up of microscopic cells so
small that the letter O on this page would contain between thirty to
forty thousand of them. Each microscopic cell is a world in itself,
containing an estimated two hundred trillion tiny molecules of atoms.
Each cell, in other words, is a micro-universe of almost unbelievable
complexity. All these cells put together make up a living creature. Each
cell has its own specialized function and each works to an intricate
timetable which tells it when to grow, when to divide, when to make
hormones, when to die. Every minute of every day some three billion
cells in the body die and the same number are created to take their
place. During any given moment in the life of any one of these cells,
thousands of events are taking place, each one being precisely
coordinated at the molecular level by countless triggers. The human body
has more than a million million of them—a million in each square
inch of skin, thirty billion in the brain, billions of red blood cells
in the veins. Obviously such a complicated and unerring development of
cells cannot possibly be the result of chance.
The psalmist David knew nothing of the physiological phenomena presented
by Mr. Tsiaras or Dr. Phillips—of molecular structures, of cells
dividing and multiplying, or even of numbers large enough to describe
the massive quantity of cells in the human body. And yet when it came to
the bottom line, David knew what these men know. He understood that
God’s work in fashioning him was marvelous—as indeed it was.
Our Creator is an artist of infinite majesty—a craftsman of
breathtaking detail. All He does is driven and guided by His infinite
love for you and me.
Excerpted from "God Loves You: He Always Has--He Always Will" by David Jeremiah. Copyright © 0 by David Jeremiah. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.