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What the Bible says about God is love

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Read more from Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament

God is love (4:8).

He is not only love, of course; one listing arrives at 152 different “designations, descriptions, and figures of speech for God” in the Bible!

Yet a foundational tenet of Old Testament theology is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God who zealously loves his people. Moses composed a hymn to God that stated, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed” (Ex. 15:13). Although he punishes rebellion, God shows “love to a thousand generations of those” who turn to him in faith (20:6). When Moses was granted a glimpse of the distant edge of God’s glory, the heavenly voice he heard affirmed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (34:6–7). The Psalms reverberate with affirmations of God’s love. Prophets like Isaiah and Hosea repeatedly extol it.

The covenant love of God is one of the most prevalent themes of all three divisions of the Hebrew Bible—Law, Prophets, Writings. This same God “showed his love among us” (1 John 4:9) in Christ.

In Greco-Roman religion there were many gods, with diverse qualities, so one could not say that the gods were of any particular single quality (except maybe unpredictable). Moreover, where Stoicism held sway, even when “god” (Latin deus) is spoken of in the singular, he is subject to a force greater than he is: fate. Seneca writes, “Although the great creator and ruler of the universe himself wrote the decrees of Fate, yet he follows them. ... It is impossible for the moulder to alter matter; to this law it [i. e., the god] has submitted. ” No picture of God as being love, or even expressing love, can be glimpsed here. In fact, in one remarkable passage Seneca represents “god” as inviting people who encounter sorrows and hardships just to be tough and scorn it all; if that doesn’t work, commit suicide! (see “Seneca’s Theology of Despair”).

1 John 4:16

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

Read more from Expositors Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament

16 The same combination of knowing and believing is found in Peter's confession of Jesus in Jn 6:69, except that there the order of "believe" and "know" is reversed. The fact is that faith may lead to knowledge and knowledge may lead to faith. Here knowledge of God's love necessarily precedes the ability to "rely" on that love. The sequence of thought is this: First, we must know and rely on the fact that God loves us. Second, we come to realize through relying on his love (or having faith in his Son—the meaning is the same) that in his very nature God is love. Third, we discover that to live in God means to live in love. The fellowship we have with the Father and with the Son (1:3) is perceived as nothing other than a fellowship of love.

John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Read more from Case for Christ Study Bible

The Case for Faith: John 3:16
What’s the Meaning of Life?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” —John 3:16

Christianity’s greatest contribution to humankind is the sharing of the good news summarized in John 3:16. This central message of the Bible portrays Jesus and our redemption through his blood. Finally, once and for all, he dealt with the issues of our guilt, our loneliness and our alienation from God. Through his atoning death and resurrection, he opened up heaven for everyone who follows him.

With this truth, Christianity provides a revelation as to the meaning of life and the existence of universal morality. Without that revelation, it’s very difficult to have any sense of life’s meaning. You end up like Albert Camus, who said in the opening paragraph of The Myth of Sisyphus, “Why should I or anyone not commit suicide?” In short, Christianity explains why not. Because of God’s profound love for us, we are able to relate to him and others in a healthy and deeply meaningful way.

—Adapted from interview with Dr. John D. Woodbridge