ATP has a nice article entitled For the Love of God, in which he bemoans the modern simplistic view of “God is love” – it seems that moderns affirm this, but deny that God is any more than that. Well done, and he makes some interesting theological observations.
First, he intimates that, when we say God is love, we also conclude that He loves us because we are good.
God’s loves us because we are lovely. And therefore, why wouldn’t love me or you? We’re basically good people.
Naturally, this contradicts scripture – He loves us because we have value and beauty (imago dei), but He also loves us despite something – our sinfulness.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Second, the author explains that God’s love is not a response to our goodness or our love, but his own initative based on HIS goodness
1 John 4:10
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.
We see from ‘not that we have loved God but that he loved us‘ that love by definition does not have to reciprocate. In order to give love, one does not have to be loved back. Thus, true love is not contingent on being loved back… It isn’t that we loved God but that He loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:19).
Third, the death of Christ only shows God’s love because it is a sacrifice to appease God’s wrath at sin.
Moreover, in the love of God He sent ‘His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ Propitiation means an appeasing, a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath so that God becomes propitious – or favorably disposed toward us; the claims of divine justice are satisfied. Propitiation is the wrath of God satisfied because of Jesus.
This point is important because it shows that God’s love is not one that averts justice (which would not only be unrighteous, but unloving to those who are victims), it shows that love is more than just forgiveness, it’s the satisfaction of what justice requires. It’s love AND truth, not just some sentimental idea of love that avoids the hard work of being just. As D.A. Carson says wrath
‘is a function of God’s Holiness against sin. Where there is no sin, there is no wrath. The price of diluting God’s wrath is diminishing God’s holiness.’
Fourth, He reminds us that it is not really God who condemns us, but based on the way a just universe works, our own sin condemns us – that is, we are already guilty even before the judge says so.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Lastly, he concludes that to preach the love of God without the context of our guilt is to preach a lie.
To never properly discuss the love of God in terms of His propitious death is to gut what is means that God is love. The grandest demonstration of love in existence was when Christ Jesus took on full strength the wrath of God we all deserved. To say, ‘God loves you and to at the same time withhold or neglect God’s holiness and righteous is to preach a false Gospel meriting eternal condemnation (Gal 1:8-9).