Every Christian I have ever met, if they have living faith in Jesus Christ, knows that God is love. Yet few Christians in the West live like they really believe this to be true. These words – “God is love” – express life’s most fundamental decision.

Unknown-1Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical put it this way:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choir or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so love the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should . . . have eternal life (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth.The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4;10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us (God Is Love, 7-8).

In issuing his first encyclical Pope Benedict expressly said that he wanted to clarify some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man.(According to its etymology, an encyclical, from the Greek egkyklios, kyklos meaning a circle) is a circular letter. In modern times the term is used almost exclusively to denote certain papal documents explicitly addressed to the universal church.) Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) was the first such document written and published by Pope Benedict XVI. It contains some of the richest and most highly developed doctrinal teaching on God and eternal love ever written.

Everyone needs love. And everyone desires love. But clearly not everyone understands love. The truth is that there may be no more misunderstood word, or subject, in all of human history than love. To say the word is problematic seems to be obvious to anyone who speaks English.

To say that “God is love” is to make the most astounding statement about the nature and essence of God ever made. It exceeds our imagination. At the center of what appears to be darkness and absence Christianity asserts that there is presence and love. “The world is filled with a Presence for which we may have no name, whose existence we cannot prove, but which we can recognize, experience and marvel at.”