Before the foundation of the world there was love. Love existed from all eternity. In God, who is Trinity, there is a vast ocean of love that can never be drained, a great energy of love that will never be used up. Excellent truths have been spoken and written about faith but even great faith loses its excellence when compared with love. In fact, the glory of true faith will always be that it leads the believer to God, who is love. Faith is only temporary but love is forever. God seeks us in love in order to bring us into the depths of his eternal love. The great end of all creation is love! Why? “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
My own religious tradition celebrated great faith. We honored those who believed the gospel and had the courage to express the faith, especially in acts of public witness that took courage. But long before anything was created, faith was unneeded. And long after faith becomes sight love will still reign supreme. “Faith (in general) is the evidence of things not seen.” Faith (in particular) is trust in the promises of the living God to save us through the person and work of Christ. We need faith, even small faith. It seems to have been common for the apostles to ask Jesus to give them faith. On hearing him speak about forgiving the same person multiple times (70×7) they were amazed and pled with him: “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:5-6, NRSV). We need faith for sure but we need love even more. Love alone will last forever. Why?
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16, NRSV). These words express with remarkable clarity the heart of Christian faith. The apostle John underscores the link between God’s essence and love when he says: “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT). And, he adds, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love” (1 John 4:16a, NLT). Pope Benedict XVI says John provides for us, in these few verses, “a summary of the Christian life” (Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2006, 7).
I believe he is spot on. This is the God who is and the God who is, is eternal love! The word love, which I will seek to explain in my book Our Love Is Too Small as clearly as my words allow, expresses the essence of God.
The word “essence” in philosophy refers to the attribute, or the set of attributes, that make something what it fundamentally is. When we refer to the essence of something, or someone, we speak of who or what it is by necessity. This means that without this the person or quality we are describing loses its identity. So if God’s essence is love we are saying that unless God is love he is not God!
Without love God is simply not God!
It is a comfort to know that the God who is invites us to trust him is the same God who created us. It is a far greater comfort to know that the one who invites us to know him deeply cares for us, and redeems us, at great cost to himself – all because he is love.
When a young woman meets the man of her life she knows she is loved. Her life changes forever. Everything in her life looks different and everything she will experience is radically enhanced by being truly loved. She feels like a new person through and through. But, “Infinitely more powerful is the experience of the Christian who comes to a more profound understanding of the truth that God is love” (Chiara Lubich, complied and edited by Michael Vandeleen. Essential Writings: Spirituality, Dialogue, Culture. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2006, 55).