1. God’s love is incomprehensible.
No human mind can comprehend God. We cannot define God. We cannot provide a comprehensive account of who he is. He “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16). If God is incomprehensible, then so is his love. While we may and must speak truthfully about his love, we can never fathom it, because it is divine love, as different from our love as his being is different from our being.
2. God’s love can be known.
We cannot define God in the sense of delimiting exhaustively who he is, but we can nonetheless describe him truthfully. We can do so because he has made himself known to us in his Word and he opens our eyes to that Word by his Spirit. How is that possible, given the divine difference? It is possible because God makes himself known to us in creaturely reality.
3. We quickly leap to the wrong conclusions about God’s love.
We are often less alert to the ways in which the love language is to be interpreted in the light of God’s other descriptions of himself. This comes out very clearly when someone says something like, “If I were a God of love then I . . . ” The reasoning that follows is usually un-tethered from God’s wider portrayal of himself in Scripture.
4. God’s love must be “read” within the rest of what Scripture teaches about his divine attributes.
We are not free to pick up the ball of “God is love” and run with it wherever we will. The statement must remain tethered within its immediate context in 1 John 4, within the broader context of John’s writings, and within the ultimate context of God’s entire self-description in Scripture.
5. God’s love must be “read” especially within what Scripture teaches about his triune life.
Further, the wider context in John’s writings will repeatedly connect the love of God to his triune life. John delights to write of the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father. He even records the Lord Jesus saying that the Father loves him because he lays down his life (John 10:17).
6. Reading God’s love in its wider context keeps us from error.
Love is perhaps the most obvious attribute for consideration from a trinitarian perspective, but we more readily observe that than grasp the theological consequences of it. What a difference it will make if, for example, we recall that the love of God is rooted in the Father’s love for his Son and his resulting will to see the Son honoured (John 5:22–23).
7. Understanding the different manner of God’s love helps us to see its immeasurable magnitude.
The consideration of the love of God in its proper biblical contexts is not an exercise in abstraction of interest only to obscurantist systematic theologians. It may be easier just to think “God is love” and to fill that statement with whatever our human minds suggest. Certainly it requires less mental effort just to let our own minds generate our theology, rather than to subject them to the disciplined study of God’s self-revelation in Scripture.
8. God’s love truly perceived always draws out from us a response of love.
The contemplation of divine love in its biblical fullness is never something that ends in itself. Our rest in God never finds its fulfilment in ourselves but always leads us out of ourselves toward him and toward others. The love of God is to be lived as well as learned. The love of God for us begets love in us for him and for others.