As we continue in our expanding study of the doctrine of God, we come today to what many may think is the most familiar of God's attributes - God's love. I say "may think is most familiar" due to assumptions surrounding the concept of love and applying those assumptions to God's being and expression as "The God who is love" (1 John 4:8).
Whenever we begin to study the various words for love in the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, the overwhelming conclusion to draw is that love is firstly a self-sacrificial action, followed by emotional motivation driving such actions. We today have reduced love only to a sentimental emotion, often neglecting the idea of self-sacrifice of the lover for the object of love.
Theologian Wayne Grudem defines God's love in the following way,
"God's love means He eternally gives of Himself to others".
As we reflect on this attribute, it is appropriate to begin with God's love as it is to His nature internal to Himself as the Trinity. In today's post we will trace the outlines of God's love within the Trinity, followed by how He expresses His love in other ways in creation and redemption in the next post.
God's love within the Trinity
In this post we will begin our exploration of God's love by understanding how His love operates within and between the members of the Trinity. Such intra-Trinitarian fellowship showcases this Divine attribute. What follows below is an attempted exposition of God's love as shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Father eternally begetting the Son is His relationship of love to the Son.
The Father eternally initiates such love toward the Son in what theologians refer to as "eternal begottenness". Such an act by the Father means that for all eternity, without beginning, the Father has ever shared with the Son the undivided, eternal Divine nature. This "self-giving" by the Father to the Son is alluded by Jesus (John 17:1-3).
The Son, as the New Testament reveals, is the only-begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16). The Son in turn reciprocates this eternal love back to the Father. Indeed, the Father could not be the Father without the Son, nor could the Son be the Son without the Father. The love reciprocated between them functions as one beginningless and endless loop of the Divine nature.
The love of the Father to the Holy Spirit through the Son, and the Holy Spirit's love for the Son and the Father.
We then see the Holy Spirit in His role as the observer and participator in the love of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit ever proceeds from the Father through the Son (John 14:26).
Theologians often refer to this active relationship (as if viewing it from the Father's vantage point) as that of the Father with the Holy Spirit through the Son as eternal "spiration". "Spiration" uses the metaphorical language of the Father "outbreathing" the Holy Spirit through the Son. This "spiration" by the Father, of the Spirit, through the Son, gives us a sound exposition on what the Bible talks about when it describes God as "The Living God".
In viewing this relationship from the vantage point of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit's relationship to the Father through the Son is described as that of being a "procession".
As I said already, the relational activity of the Father and Spirit is called "spiration" due to how what is portrayed is the very life of God Himself expressed by the Holy Spirit as the Eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).
As the Spirit relates to the Father through the Son, and the Father to Him, The Holy Spirit ever makes plain the Son, whom the Father has begotten. The Holy Spirit then reflects back to the Father and Son His joyous, eternal love (John 14:16-17, 23, 26; 15:26). The beginningless and endless loop of the Divine nature I mentioned a moment ago is shared equally by the Spirit.
God as the Trinue God is the loving God by nature.
When John writes "God is love" in 1 John 4:8 and 4:16, He is affirming what God is by nature and in His being as the God who acts out of what He is by nature - namely the loving God. A.W. Tozer remarks in his chapter on the love of God in his classic work, "Knowledge of the Holy",
"From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about His love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense."
"His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed. Yet if we would know God and for other’s sake tell what we know, we must try to speak of His love."
How the attribute of God's love flows from who God is as the Trinity.
God's love, we could say, flows from "what He is" by nature and "who He is" as the Three persons of the Trinity. We can never separate God's nature and Trinitarian fellowship, since each of the Persons truly are God, expressing and fully sharing in the Divine nature.
When we talk of "God's love", we are taken to the very heart of God's Trinitarian life. The great 17th and into the 18th century Baptist theologian John Gill explains,
"The three divine Persons in the Godhead mutually love each other; the Father loves the Son and the Spirit, the Son loves the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son."
We find that as the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, there is the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit eternally participates in the giving and receiving of such love from the other two.
John Gill writes again, commenting on the Holy Spirit's sharing in this intra-Trinitarian love. Gill notes first of the Father's loving of the Spirit,
"The Father loves the Spirit; being the very breath of him, from whence he has his name, and proceeding from him, and possessing the same nature and essence with him (Job 33:4; Psalm 33:6; John 15:26; 1 John 5:7)."
Gill then draws attention to the eternal reciprocation of love between the Son and the Spirit,
"The Son also loves the Spirit, since he proceeds from him, as from the Father, and is called the Spirit of the Son, (Galatians 4:6) and Christ often speaks of him with pleasure and delight, (Isaiah 48:16, 61:1; John 14:16, 17, 26, 15:26, 16:7, 13)."
God's love is the gateway into observing the activity of the Three Persons of the Trinity.
We had noted in one of our earlier posts how Divine aseity (God's self-existence, self-sufficiency) is the gateway into exploring the other attributes here http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2023/08/post-9-doctrine-of-god-gods-attribute.html. It might be said that God's love gives us a similar gateway into seeing the Persons of the Trinity in self-giving activity toward one another in their common sharing of the Divine nature. In the next post we will look at the others ways the Bible expresses God's love.