(Note: to fully understand this post, please review the article: Defining Love.)
“In the beginning, God…” This is where both the Bible and Christianity start—with God. This in and of it self isn’t very unique—many religions start with God/a higher power. The questions naturally following from this is “What is God like? What are his characteristics?” My impression is that when most people think of God, they think of “omni” qualities: omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere), all powerful, etc. These things may be true, but the God of the bible’s is at his core relational. His primary characteristic is love.
“God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) At his core, God is relational. One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that God is triune. What this means is that God eternally exists in three persons—the father, the son and the holy spirit, a.k.a. the trinity. This is how and why God is relational at his core. In other words, God is by definition relational by the fact that he eternally exists as three persons in perfect relationship with one another.
Love can only exist when there is more than one person. God is love because he exists in relationship. Now love isn’t necessarily present just because there is a relationship. Many human relationships are not loving. However, perfect love defines the relationship among the trinity. Love can be defined as doing what is best for another, even if it means the cost of sacrificing what is best for one’s self. This—perfect love relationship—is the core of God and his primary characteristic.
God chooses to be known in relational terms more than any other in the bible. He interacts with Adam, Eve and their descendants. He speaks to Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When God speaks to Moses, he instructs him that he is to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:15). He is later known as the God of the Israelites. He speaks to and through the judges and prophets. When God showed Moses his glory, he declared of himself “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7) While God displays his power, the primary traits he chooses to highlight here are all loving, relational qualities.
God then comes to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ. This in itself was an act of love: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17). Jesus declared that all of the Old Testament Laws are summed up in the commands to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31). Likewise, he states that his followers will be known, not by their beliefs, but by their love (John 13:34-35). Both Christ’s life and his teaching were love.
Christianity is, at its primary foundation, built upon a God who is foremost relational and loving. If love is not God’s primary characteristic, then you no longer have the God of the Christian faith, but rather a pagan god. The entirety of Christianity hinges on the belief that God is love. All other beliefs follow from this foundational one. This is the place a person ought to start in their faith. If it is not the starting point, then the rest of one’s beliefs will be skewed as well. Unfortunately, skewed views are what is most commonly seen in western Christianity, and are the cause of so many problems. All these things will be discussed further in later articles, as we continue our exploration of the basics of Christianity.