Written by Stephen Buckley Sometimes the English language leaves me frustrated. It feels limited, thin. I want to capture a concept and words fail me. Literally.
Take love. Throughout the Bible, “love” shows up in four words. Eros, which is romantic or erotic love. Storge, which is familial love or affection. Phileo, which is friendship or brotherly love. And then Agape, or divine love.
God’s love is that last one. It is unconditional, overflowing, infinite. It has no beginning and no end. Love is not something God feels or does. It is his being, His identity. The phrase unfailing love—sometimes translated as lovingkindness or mercy or compassion or steadfast love—shows up 240 times in the Old Testament. It is who He is.
His is a gracious love. We know this because in Exodus 34, Moses asks God to describe Himself, and this is what God says: “God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”
He is also a God of justice, but even that is tempered by His compassion. He is “loyal in love” for a thousand generations, but He holds children and grandchildren responsible for sins only until the third or fourth generation.
His is a passionate, and compassionate, love. One songwriter describes it as “the wildest ocean,” but that doesn’t begin to sum it up. Long before politicians claimed to “feel our pain,” God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah said that in all our afflictions, He is afflicted. Jesus, just before raising Lazarus from the dead, wept in anguish. He is close to the brokenhearted.
His is an intimate love. The psalms tell us that He knit us together while we were still in the womb, and the gospels tell us that he counts the number of hairs on our head. (For some of us—like me—that’s probably not so hard.) Peter urges us to cast every anxiety, every worry, every concern upon him—“once and for all” because our God cares for us “with deepest affection and watches over us very carefully."
His is a generous love. God gives. Period. He provides for all His creatures, including, of course, us. He supplies our material needs, but He pours out upon us so much more—forgiveness, peace, hope, righteousness, contentment, healing, wisdom, strength, joy, grace. Psalm 23 tells us that His generosity showed itself most fiercely—and most powerfully—on the cross and in the resurrection. He gave all of Himself for us, and He is always enough.
His is a faithful love. He keeps His promises, and He does not change. With Him, James the Apostle says, “there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency.” He is utterly reliable. Psalm 23 tells us that His beauty and love “chase after us every day.”
His is an infinite, relentless love. It is beyond measure and beyond reason. It isn’t just that God overflows with compassion and mercy and kindness for us, although that’s true. And it isn’t just that His love for us doesn’t change, no matter what we do (or don’t do). It is that His love for each of us is infinite. Let that settle in. God. Loves. Each. Of. Us. Infinitely.
King David was ravished by God’s love. So was John the disciple, who was also known as John the Beloved. So was the Apostle Paul. The love of Christ “compels me” to love others, Paul wrote. He was so enraptured by God’s kindness toward him that he couldn’t help himself: He had to love.
I imagine Paul spending a little time every day, breathing in the reality of God’s boundless love, for the world and for himself. I imagine him laying down all his cares and concerns and worries in the light of that love. And I imagine him allowing that love to power his ministry, as he taught and served and encouraged others in his ceaseless efforts to build God’s kingdom.
May we be so blessed.