As an opening to our weekly college ministry meeting, Brian showed a music video he had found on YouTube that proclaimed “God is love” and that “He loves everyone.” The song was decent and the video was well done, so when I got to work the next day, I found myself looking it up so I could watch it again. While waiting for the video to load, I began to browse the comments down below and was a little surprised at some of the negativity. Contradictory to the message of the song, someone named JesusFreakRKG had posted that God is not, in fact, love and that the video was harmful and wrong.
As I read over JesusFreak’s comments and those who replied to him, I realized that the names looked familiar. It finally dawned on me that JF is the little brother of a friend of mine, so I sent the video to that friend and we later had a long conversation on the subject of “God is Love.”
The arguments against the video are reasonably sound, Biblically-speaking, but perhaps a little too restrictive of God’s sovereignty. Regardless, when deciding where to begin my Online Bible Study, I thought that 1 John would be an excellent place to start examining the nature of God and his love and/or hate.
1 John 1:1-4
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
This concept of the “Word of life” hails from the Gospel of John, where he speaks at length about the Word of God, and this passage is generally interpreted as speaking metaphorically about Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
John achieves a variety of things with these two short sentences. First, he links Jesus (the Word) with the creation of the world and specifically with the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible where God creates by speaking. Each creation phrase begins with, “And God said,” with all of creation springing into being in response to God’s statements. Second, John intimates that Jesus was both the word spoken as well as one with God, neither greater nor less than, but equal to the Father. And third, John states in verse two that Jesus, or the Word, was with God in the beginning, a statement that is later used by the Council of Nicaea to disprove Arius and state that Jesus was not created down the line, but rather was always with God because he is God.
To Bible-believing Christians, at least mainstream ones, this is all old-hat. We’ve been told that the Holy Trinity is just how things are, so we know (or think we do) that Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit are all the same. John, however, is writing to people in the first century of the Year of our Lord when Jesus had just been a guy they saw walking around, giving out fish and healing lepers. If they were reading John’s letter, they had presumably heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, but it’s still quite a leap to go from “resurrected” to “God Almighty.”
Though it mattered a great deal then, does it still matter now? As I read the verses over and over, letting them resonate in my head, I decided firmly that they do.
One of the great joys of Christianity is knowing that we have a God who is sympathetic to our weakness because he was tempted just as we are. Jesus does not respond to humanity as one completely removed from humanity, for he descended to live a mortal life as a human for thirty-some-odd years, and was subjected to all manner of temptation and cruelty during that time. Though he never sinned, he knows and understands the struggles we face.
But it’s not like he just finally figured this out. God knows all things at all times, and when he spoke the world into creation, he knew what was going on. Jesus was there at the beginning.
This has two implications. First, that God created the world knowing 1) what we’d be faced with, but also 2) what we could overcome. He has balanced all things so that we can manage, and though life is almost unbelievably difficult sometimes, God’s strength will carry us through because he designed it that way.
Second, and perhaps more astonishing, is that God let things go down this way at all.
Let me try to put this into a brief timeline to highlight how crazy yet awesome this is. ((I had intended to expand on this in the podcast, but then got distracted by God’s crazy-awesomeness and lost track of what I was saying. Perhaps another time)) Before God created the world, he knew everything. He knew that we would sin and be separated from him, he knew that we would subsequently suffer, and he therefore also knew that he would forgive us and provide the means to rejoin him. God knew that he would sacrifice his son, himself, to pay the price of our sin. He knew that the very Hell created to hold those angels who had rebelled would be the place of punishment for our sins, and would therefore be the place his son would have to endure for three days. And he also knew that despite the resurrection of Jesus, there would still be many, many people who would ignore, avoid, or turn away from his love.
This is all very intricate, complex stuff with a difficult web connecting and justifying all decisions. Each statement in the above paragraph could each have their own subsequent blog entry (or four) explaining why things had to be that way. Let’s try and stay on this topic to the end, though.
The bottom line is that God 1) wanted us to have free will, 2) wanted us to have a relationship with him, and 3) had to provide a means to forgive sin that would be meaningful to us so both justice and mercy could occur. The means of achieving all this is Jesus. He was the Word spoken and he was the sacrifice needed.
This is the Word of which John writes in 1 John 1:1-4. John saw Jesus. He heard him, ate with him, touched him, walked with him, and knew him as a friend. And John wants to share those memories, stories, and wonderful revelations with us so we might have fellowship with him, with God, and with the greater Church.
God’s joy is complete when we, his followers, are in fellowship with each other and with him. It is the reason we were created, for God certainly didn’t need us. But he desired and loves us, and so by entering this fellowship, we bring joy to the Father. What’s more, though, is that John assures us that joining the fellowship of God will likewise bring us joy.
A life with Jesus is a life fulfilled, more pleasing and wonderful than you can imagine. John saw it and shares it through his first letter following his gospel of the life of Jesus. Next week, we’ll dig into verses five through seven of chapter one.