How do we know that God is love?

I want to post some quotes from John Owen while reading his book The Glory of Christ, partly because many find him hard to read. I suppose this quote isn’t the easiest one to start out with, but it’s what I came across and have a couple thoughts about. You may want to read the quote more than once if you need to and have the time.

God is love. He is many other things too. John Owen is pointing out here that God isn’t love because He’s a nice gentlemanly fellow and all of the other things we like to imagine outside of what the Bible says. God has primarily demonstrated his love in what he did in sending his only son to die for us. Because so many of us have read and heard about it so many times, it can be even more difficult to grasp the severity of it. Tell someone the (true) story in detail who has no idea of it, and they would probably be much more shocked than some of us are.

I think the translations that put John 3:16 in contemporary language help in describing this just a little bit better. This verse isn’t saying, “God loved the world sooo much (which isn’t what the classic KJV rendering in the language of its time says or means either). Take my word for it.” Telling us exactly how God loved the world is dreadful, descriptive and meaningful.

God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.
John 3:16 GW

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 HCSB

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 NET

But the inquiry is as before, — How shall we have a view of this love, of God as love? by what way or means shall we behold the glory of it? It is hidden from all living, in God himself. The wise philosophers, who discoursed so much of the love of God, knew nothing of this, that “God is love.” The most of the natural notions of men about it are corrupt, and the best of them weak and imperfect. Generally, the thoughts of men about it are, that he is of a facile and easy nature, one that they may make bold withal in all their occasions; as the Psalmist declares, Ps. l. 21. And whereas it must be learned in its effects, operations, and divine ways of its manifestation, those who know not Christ know nothing of them. And many things in providence do interpose to hinder our views of this love; — for although, indeed, “God is love,” yet “his wrath is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness of men;” as all things at this day are filled with evidences of his anger and displeasure. How, then, shall we know, wherein shall we behold, the glory of God in this, that he is love? The apostle declares it in the next words, 1 John iv. 9, “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” This is the only evidence given us that “God is love.” Hereby alone is the divine nature as such made known unto us, — namely, in the mission, person, and office of the Son of God; without this, all is in darkness as unto the true nature and supreme operation of this divine love.

Herein do we behold the glory of Christ himself, even in this life. This glory was given him of the Father, — namely, that he now should declare and evidence that “God is love;” and he did so, “that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” Herein we may see how excellent, how beautiful, how glorious and desirable he is, seeing in him alone we have a due representation of God as he is love; which is the most joyful sight of God that any creature can obtain. He who beholds not the glory of Christ herein is utterly ignorant of those heavenly mysteries; — he knoweth neither God nor Christ, — he has neither the Father nor the Son. He knows not God, because he knows not the holy properties of his nature in the principal way designed by infinite wisdom for their manifestation; he knows not Christ, because he sees not the glory of God in him. Wherefore, whatever notions men may have from the light of nature, or from the works of Providence, that there is love in God, — however they may adorn them in elegant, affecting expressions, — yet from them no man can know that “God is love.”

–John Owen, The Glory of Christ

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  1. 1 The Contemplation of the Glory of Christ | Scripture Zealot blog
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