Justin Aptaker graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee, earning a B.A. in psychology and a minor in religious studies.
The "God is Love" Bible Verse (English)
1 John 4:7-8 "7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love."
Many people do not realize that there are actually two bible verses that say, "God is love". Both verses are in the same book of the Bible, and in the same chapter. John really wanted to emphasize the fact that God is love, since this is perhaps the single most important statement any human can make, and the most important realization that any person can have. There is no higher truth. So John repeats himself in 1 John 4:16:
"16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him."
God is Love
God is love. The beauty and simplicity of that phrase is exactly the same in the Greek as it is in the English. It is not the least bit watered down. It doesn't mean: "God is loving" or "God is a God of love". Without hesitation, John states that God is love. And just in case we may have thought we misheard him, he says it again.
God is love. The most fundamental essence of God, the very being and person of God, can be expressed as perfect, infinite, eternal love. Anyone who believes in God should marvel and rejoice at this knowledge.
The "God is Love" Bible Verse (Greek)
God is Dead
It often seems to me that for many people, God is dead. That is to say, God, as God truly is, is absent from our minds and hearts and dogmas and creeds and lifestyles. Several people have expressed to me that they don't appreciate all the "overemphasis" on God's love and mercy that they hear about these days. They want to hear more about God's judgment and wrath.
Personally, I see things through quite the opposite perspective. It seems to me that within religious communities in the United States, a disturbingly significant percentage already put a good deal of emphasis on God's judgment and wrath, typically to the neglect of His core nature (that is, love).
"But love is not God's core nature any more than his wrath," I can imagine someone saying. "God is love, but He is also justice!"
Why must we create this dualistic, split God, who must constantly weigh His desire to love against His crushing demand for "justice"? Are justice and love somehow mutually exclusive? Can God not exact justice from the very same individual whom He is in the process of loving? Is the justice of God not, at heart, the very same thing as His love? He is just, so he punishes sin (aka "error"), in order to drive it out of the sinner. What could be more loving than that? For were He to leave us to our own error, we could create for ourselves a far greater hell than He would ever create for us. So it is the justice and wrath of God against sin which saves the sinner from what would surely become his own hell: sin.
Can we suppose that God ever metes out justice without love? Impossible, for God is love. And if the justice of God is always an expression of His love, it is never merely a punitive justice. Love edifies, which is to say that it "builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). Punishment for the sake of punishment alone does not have as its end the building up of anybody. God tears down, but he rebuilds. He does not tear down except that He may rebuild.
Someone once aptly pointed out to me that the justice/wrath of God seemed different than the "discipline" of God, the former being reserved for unrepentant sinners, and the latter being reserved for His faithful followers. They referenced the destruction of Sodom and the great flood in Noah's time, saying that these two events provided examples of God destroying with no rebuilding or restoration to follow afterward.
However, the Christian scriptures themselves point to a restoration to follow both of those ancient events. Both traditional tales told in the early Apostolic church (See: Wikipedia) and the Christian scriptures themselves suggest that when Christ died on the cross, he descended into the realm of the dead, preached good news to the captives there who had "once been disobedient [. . .] in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:20), and "led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men" (Eph. 4:8 - 10).
As for Sodom, Ezekial 16:53 states that God will "restore Sodom and her daughters from captivity", which interestingly shares the captivity motif seen above in Eph. 4:8 - 10.
The Vengeance of Love
But what of that saying, "Vengeance is mine, says the LORD"? Ah, but this only expresses a deeper level of the beauty of God's love. Nowhere does the Christian canon claim that "God is vengeance". But it does say that "God is love." As for vengeance, it is said merely to belong to God. That is to say that perfect, divine Love (God) is the only thing which has any right to take vengeance, as it is the only thing capable of taking vengeance in a spirit of pure love. Human vengeance seeks to destroy. Divine vengeance seeks to destroy, that it may rebuild something better, something lovely.
Divine vengeance is intent on utterly destroying all evil, and it will succeed. However, there is no way to utterly destroy sin except to turn every sinner into a saint. Sin can never be destroyed by merely punishing a sinner unto all eternity; the sinner will remain yet a sinner. Only by causing a sinner to "repent"--a word that actually refers to a complete transformation of one's mindset--is sin ever done away with. This is the only kind of victory that divine love can have, and will have, over evil.
Love will accomplish a complete victory over all evil, not a partial victory over some evil, because God/Love does not fail. So, every sinner who has ever lived will eventually be transformed into a true child of God.
The Categorical Imperative
Love is a universal imperative, a duty that is binding upon everyone at all times. It is an action, not merely a feeling, because love without action is dead. But love is more than a duty. It is more than action alone. Action taken out of duty alone, out of sheer respect for the "categorical imperative" of the law to love, devoid of all feeling and sentiment, is not any kind of love I want to live by.
I've had a number of people express to me that to love our enemies is not an impossible demand, only because doing so requires nothing more than that we pray for them and do good to them. It doesn't require that we actually come to feel love for them. We may pray for them and do good for them, all the while eagerly waiting to see God's vengeance taken out on them. Sadly, I am by no means exaggerating these statements and ideas.
The famous eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that this emotionless, duty-bound "love" is "practical . . . not pathological . . . in principles of action and not of tender sympathy; and it is this love alone which can be commanded" (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals). According to Kant, we cannot be commanded to have affectionate love for anyone, let alone our enemy, but can only be commanded to be beneficent for duty's sake. Kant almost seems to imply that affectionate love is "pathological".
But the Greek word for "love" used in these scriptures is "agape", which, contrary to certain popular notions, most certainly does involve the emotions and affections, and in a strong way. The noun “agape” comes from a verb (agapao) which, when directed towards humans, can even be translated as “to caress” (LSJ, Middle Liddell). It involves action too, of course, but it is not action devoid of tender affection.
Kant is mistaken when he says that such love can not be commanded. It can be commanded, and it is commanded. God expects us to love as He does (John 13:34 - 35, Matthew 5:48), with all of our will and our emotions (Mark 12:30). He demands nothing less. Or do we suppose that when "God so loved the world", He did so out of sheer duty to perform beneficent actions on our behalf, all the while feeling no emotion besides repulsion towards us? Do we not hope and expect that God loves us tenderly, affectionately, as a good parent loves their own child?
The reason that such true love can be commanded, and commanded towards our enemy, no less, is because we are not expected to love in our own power. We are to love in the power and love of God. It is God Himself who works in us to will and do His good pleasure. There is no good thing in our flesh, but every good thing comes down from the Father of lights. And if He commands us to love our enemy, with all the tender sincerity and affection with which he loved us while we were yet sinners, then it is because He is the only one capable of producing such a love within us. It is His own Spirit which sheds His love abroad in our hearts. To suppose anything different--to suppose ourselves capable of fulfilling in our own power the divine command to love--is devilish.
The End of the Matter
And so, beloved, let us love one another. Let us love not in words alone, or feelings alone, or action alone, or from duty alone. Let us love with words, and with tender feelings. Let us love with our will, and in action. Let us love with utter dependence on the grace and love of God to live and love through us, and with the constant awareness of our duty to love. The one true and abiding joy of life, indeed, the essence of life itself, is to know love. God is love.
© 2011 Justin Aptaker
Justin Aptaker (author) from United States on July 14, 2019:
Thank you very much, Paul, not just for letting me know you enjoyed the article, but primarily for letting me know that you are yet another person who sees no malice in the nature of God. Such fellow-souls seem, in my cultural milieu, like oases in a wilderness. But I also see that the wilderness will one day be fully submerged in living water... we can hope, perhaps, that it will happen much sooner than it may sometimes seem.
Paul K Francis from east coast,USA on June 24, 2019:
Things like vengeance look a lot different when viewed in the light of God being love, and there is no room here for wrath and damnation. I enjoyed reading that, thanks.
Justin Aptaker (author) from United States on June 13, 2019:
Thank you very much, Tim!
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 01, 2019:
Great article. Jesus said the greatest Commandment is Love, and that's what your well written piece emphasizes. Enjoyed it immensely. Respectfully, Tim
Justin Aptaker (author) from United States on March 11, 2017:
Belated thank you!
L R Little on September 22, 2014:
Love this article.
sandiso moyo on April 26, 2014:
The law reveals the character of God,and love reveals himself,if youtalk of love you talk of God,
sonfollowers from Alpharetta, GA on December 02, 2012:
I totally agree with your call to action in the final section "The End of the Matter." We are certainly not to be punishers but lovers of those around us. We say that love is a verb, and it certainly is visible in our actions. But, it must also be found in our hearts. Love is the absence of maliciousness, vengefulness, hatefulness, jealousy, etc. God is every bit as interested in the condition of our hearts as he is in our actions.
One thing I want to point out though is that the the justice of God is not defined as chastening a sinner towards repentance. You're thinking of discipline, not justice. If you read the entire Bible including the Old Testament, you find many examples of God's just attributes that do not fall in line with your description. The flood in Genesis and the end of Sodom are two extreme examples. There was nothing redeeming about these two events for the individuals whose lives were ended by them. And yet God did it anyway. Why is that?
We need to know God as He is and not how we wish Him to be. Vengeance or wrath is not our place. It is God's. We certainly should not be wishing those things on anyone. We should be hoping for the repentance of the worst murderers and rapists. But that does not nullify the fact that these things are part of God's character. They are in perfect balance with the love we so richly enjoy.
Thanks. It was a very interesting read.
john on April 04, 2012:
God died once and for all to deliver the Us from sin
this is the greatest gift from God above. He endured the weight of the cross so we might have eternal life and be his son. No once can compare the Love of God towards Us.
wakeupsheep on February 24, 2012:
Far East on March 25, 2011:
It seems you understand this words, good. The sad part is knowledge in Earth can be gain in schools. Divine knowledge is different thing. If you preach this words without Divine knowledge it will serves as a poison for your soul. Bless you my brother.
Justin Aptaker (author) from United States on February 16, 2011:
Wadnoon, I don't quite understand what you are trying to say here, but thanks for adding a comment :)
Becky, thank you so much for your kind remarks!
Becky from Oklahoma on February 16, 2011:
Awesome hub about "God is Love Bible Verse - The God is Love Scripture" You're right in stating that God is love and you drove that point home in every segment of your hub. Outstanding work!
wadnoon on February 13, 2011:
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh what do ou say god is dead hhhhhhhhhhh you will see the god in the futur dont wory
Justin Aptaker (author) from United States on February 08, 2011:
That He does, Katie. That He does!
katie on February 08, 2011:
God us love he loves everyone!!!