If you know any Bible passages at all, you probably know this one:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
I want to burrow down into the meaning of “love” in this context. From various parts of Scripture, we can pull together a more complete understanding of God’s love. Understanding what it is and what it isn’t is very helpful.
God’s love is a type of favoritism toward our species. The Bible says that humans were created “in His image”. While it is not clear what is all involved with that, there is some commonality with God by which God sees Himself in us. Because of this, the Son of God became a human rather than an angel, or monkey or squirrel. Humans were as rebellious as fallen angels, but salvation is held out to us and not to them.
God’s love is not the same as approval. Human behavior often offends God deeply. He patiently manages His anger or disappointment with us, but He is angry and disappointed often. God doesn’t tolerate sinfulness exactly. He forgives it or He punishes it or He waits for a change.
God’s love is a form of sympathy. Adam and Eve didn’t invent evil, but they did choose it. They seemed quite naive about what they were doing. God’s response was not to be irate. It was much more sympathetic. We are born with a sinful nature. We didn’t choose it. Still, we choose to sin all the time, but that is not without the influence of sinful nature. Through one person (Adam) sin and death came to all of us. So God saw fit that though one person (Jesus) we could receive righteousness and eternal life as well.
God’s love is not an automatic exemption from the consequences of sin and evil. We must live here under the curse. As a result we will experience sickness, aging and death. The Law still applies to us. Either the consequences of God’s eternal judgment will fall on Jesus for us or will fall on us personally. People who are loved by God will go to Hell. But they won’t be able to say that God didn’t try. God is not an enabler.
God’s love is patient. God doesn’t come quickly crashing down on anyone. God launching lightening bolts at people is a nasty characterization. He attempts to bring people to repentance the easy way. He tolerated the nation of Israel 490 years before sending them into exile. Vengeance from God will come, but it never comes fast.
God’s love is not conditional in the sense that you must love Him first or love Him back. It is a choice for Him not a response. There are many people who hate God, hate the idea of God and hate God’s people, but God loves them still.
God’s love is something that can be retracted. It is God’s ultimate desire that all would be saved, but historically certain people have crossed a line with Him. Esau rejected the value of God’s promise and God “hated” him for it. Pharaoh became the object of God’s wrath. Judas the tool of Jesus’ betrayal. And the leadership of Israel a group that would be “ever hearing, but never hear.” These people didn’t lose the love of God lottery. They somehow put themselves in position to be outside of His love.
God’s love (Greek: agape) can seem odd to us. Our concept of love can enable harmful behavior, only last with positive reinforcement and sit passively on the sideline. God acts on His love. He wants the ultimate good for those He loves, but He never compromises His own character.