Recently I have been thinking of writing a small booklet containing my thoughts on the idea of `Community’ — mainly for the benefit of myself and my friends. I will probably write this very slowly over the next few months as I find the time, but I thought I might post the first draft, as it is written, here on the blog. I will then revise it (heavily, no doubt) and post the final version to the blog also. The following are a few paragraphs I wrote while I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago:
Love & the Imago Dei
`God is love’ (1Jo 4:8 and 1Jo 4:16) — this phrase, while not unprecedented in the Old Testament, provides a startling insight into the revelation of God in Christ. It is God as revealed in Christ that makes this simple yet powerful phrase possible. When we look at Christ we are confronted with this profound realisation — not only does God love, he is love. As Pope Benedict XVI says in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est:
`These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity … the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny.’
Many theologians have been inclined to evade the significance of the statement `God is love’ and various ways have been found to explain it away. Calvin famously does so when he says in his commentary on 1John:
`Here then he [John] does not speak of the essence of God, but only shews what he is found to be by us.
For Calvin the idea that God really is love in some essential way simply did not agree with the fact, as he saw it, that God was capable of not loving those outside of he elect — hence God is found by the elect to be love but may be found by others to be otherwise. So, Calvin prevaricated on the idea that `God is love’ and many have followed his example, asserting that the phrase tells us nothing of God’s essence, or nature.
We must be careful, however, not to elide the force of these few verses. It is not just that God’s actions are loving, or that he appears to Christians to be loving, but God is love. If the Jew of the Old Testament understood God primarily in terms of covenant and covenant faithfulness, the Christian understands God primarily in terms of love — in Christ we see the Jewish understanding of God’s covenant faithfulness subsumed under the new and vibrant revelation of his love.
It is an interesting exercise, I feel, to say the phrase `God is love’ and to think of whether you are have an urge to immediately add some caveat or other — `God is love but he is also just’, `God is love but he is primarily holy’ and so forth. Many people are inclined to do exactly this — we should note that John was not.