This is part of my Lent series on J.I. Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ – first post here.
“God is Love” has to be one of the most famous statements about God in the Bible (1 John 4:8, 16) – it’s in the passage which is often read out at weddings. But, it is also one of the most misunderstood!
Packer makes a helpful distinction by saying that ‘God is Love’ is not the whole truth about God according to the Bible. We also have to read it alongside other statements like ‘God is Spirit’ and ‘God is Light’ (also written by the apostle John). We cannot say that God is love without also saying that God is light “Light means holiness and purity, as measured by God’s law.”
So, he says:
“the God who is love is first and foremost light, and sentimental ideas of His love as an indulgent, benevolent softness, divorced from moral standards and concerns, must therefore be ruled out from the start. God’s love is a holy love … God’s love is stern, for it expresses holiness in the lover and seeks holiness for the beloved. Scripture does not allow us to confer happiness on people who will not seek holiness, or to shield His loved ones from trouble when He knows that they need trouble to further their sanctification.”
These are indeed tough words! I’m reminded of reading ‘The Problem of Pain’ by C.S. Lewis. Lewis saw that a good and loving God must surely allow us to suffer:
We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses – that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking for not more love, but less.
He also said, “Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God’s.” It made me reflect on the fact that, although God is ‘love’, that doesn’t mean life will always be a bed of roses for me. I will go through difficult times, I will have struggles. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t working in those times and through those times.
After talking about God’s love not being the whole story according to the Bible – he then goes on to say, it is the whole story for the Christian!
… so far as he [the Christian] is concerned, God is love to him – holy, omnipotent love – at every moment and in every event of every day’s life. Even when he cannot see the why and the wherefore of God’s dealings, he knows that there is love in and behind them, and so he can rejoice always, even when, humanly speaking, things are going wrong. He knows that the true story of life, when known, will prove to be, as the hymn says, ‘mercy from first to last’ – and he is content.
Those are amazing words, particularly that last sentence: the story of my life, when it is fully known, will be “mercy from first to last”. So often in this world I find it’s easy to get caught in in the problems of this life, without actually lifting my eyes to think about the bigger picture. How can I be content in every situation? By knowing that God is love, and as far as I am concerned that is the complete truth about God.