Love in the English language has many uses. This one word is used describe such things as affection for a sporting team, a one night stand, feelings teenagers have a school dance, the desire for our favorite food, and of course the devotion found within a marriage (at least some of them). When I was a teenager the band Chicago sang of love, or at least a form of it, and their words shaped many minds and hearts about that topic. Their song "Will You Still Love Me" spoke of feelings of destiny, the longing to be with another "for the rest of my life," and the inability to "go on" if this destiny did not transpire.
The topic of love is everywhere in our culture. There are those who got it, those who run from it, those who long for it and those who wish it would be different than what they actually have. This word falls off our lips so easily, but their is probably no other word in the English languagee that actually represent a concept that is less understood.
So when we say "God is love", it is easy to see why God might be so easily understood. You see, our experiences shape how we define words. And if our experiences of love shape a view of love that does not actually fit who God is then we are going to misunderstand God. Let me illustrate with an extreme example. Let's imagine a father who beats his son out of anger to get him to conform to his desires. While nearly drawing blood he tells his son that he is doing this out of love. Years later this boy comes to church and hears that God, the Father, loves him. It is not hard to postulate what will shape his imagination about God's love. The fact that many people have been taught that God is sitting in heaven with angry, disappointed or even vengeful posture could actually be seen as "love" because that is the kind of love they know.
History actually reveals that the common understanding of "the gods" within various is that they are distant, often angry, manipulative, controlling, and capricious. In other words, there character is not based upon love for humans. In reading a few stories about the Egyptian or Hittite gods (contemporaries of the Old Testament poeple) the Greek or Roman gods (contemporaries of the New Testament people) or listen to some legends from tribal peoples today and it becomes clear that the character of the gods is simply a reflection of our experience as humans. There is nothing unique or different, except for the fact that they can work magic and live forever. But their character traits reflect what we experience in this world. It is natural to impose our experiences in this world upon the world of the gods.
And it is natural to do the same thing to how we see the God of which the Bible calls Love. We must understand our natural tendency to define God from our own experiences or maybe the experiences that we have inherited from others. When we fail to do so, our experiences will take over our view of God. But when we clearly consider the various ways that our experiences have mishaped our view of love, we can unpack this view, while at the same time allowing the God of love to define what God means by love.
Take a moment to consider how your view of love has been shaped by your experience. How does that impact how you experience God's love?