Most people are familiar with the famous line from 1st John 4:8, “God is love.” It is a stirring confession of who God is. That our Lord loves us, and that love is one of His principle attributes. That what love truly is, is defined by God.
But can one reverse this statement and have it be true? Is “Love is god” a true statement? In our modern American parlance “God is love” almost seems to demand “Love is god”. In fact, in our day and age love has become the end all and be all of every human interaction and desire. Love has become a god, similar to the ancient pagan goddess of Aphrodite. Love is the source of all good, which for Luther makes it a god.
However, is Love the true god? What do we mean by Love? Our modern anemic definition of love is reduced down to simply a feeling of warmth, a romantic desire, a burning lust, or approval of someone. It matters not what this feeling is directed towards. It matters not if the object of love is something that is actually false or destructive. The feeling is what matters. The acceptance. The lack of judgment. The approval. After all, Love cannot be wrong, for Love wins. This vaguely defined Love is what will conquer all things and make all our problems disappear. Or at least that is what our modern soothsayers would tell us.
However, God, the true God, has a very different definition of what true love is. From this very section of 1st John we have the following:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 4:7-5:5)
Thus true love is the fulfilling of God’s Law (Romans 13:10). It is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Love is to care for one’s neighbor; to do good to them, to prevent them from doing evil, and defend them from evil. It is to rightly direct our emotions to be in line with the Lord’s grand order, and to check our sinful hearts when they are misdirected. Simply put to perfectly love is to do nothing but good.
However even this Love is not god. For this love would bring us to despair. We never love our neighbor to that extent. Our emotions are a train wreck of evil lusts and disappointments. We despise and hate the Law that the Lord has given us as being the highest evil for it tells us that our love is not truly love at all but rather an abomination in His sight. This perfect Love cannot save for we cannot perform its needed works.
But St. John provides the remedy by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God loves us and saves us from our false god of love. His Son has come to us in love and given Himself to us so that we can love. It is this love from God that creates true love in us for God and our neighbor.
Thus we should not make love into a god, for it is a god that would demand all things from us and cannot save. For this god is truly nothing but the Law. Rather we should look to the author and perfecter of Love, the Holy Trinity, and learn from Him what it is to be loved. Namely as St. John records the words of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit for us:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)