Arguably one of the most important teachings in the Bible is the proclamation that “God is love,” which is found in verses like 1 John 4:8 and 16.
This brief, powerful statement is laden with theological implications. I’ve also found it helpful when discussing how God loves people with those who hold non-Christian, yet theistic conceptions of God (God as a single, solitary person and being).
Because “God is love,” one of the most attractive features of my faith as a historic Christian is the Trinity. For God’s triunity reveals that there is a plurality of persons within the one divine being of God. And that means that God is analogous to a loving human family. Theologian Gerald Bray sheds further light on the love shared among the members of the “divine family” so to speak:
“God cannot be love unless there is something for him to love. But if that something were not part of himself, he would not be perfect. The Bible does not teach us that God needed the creation in order to have something to love, because if that were true, he could not be fully himself without it. So Augustine reasoned that God must be love inside himself. To his mind, the Father is the one who loves, the Son is the one who is loved (the ‘beloved Son’ revealed in the baptism of Jesus), and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and binds them together.”1
I think what makes the Trinity so important for Christians to appreciate is that it allows God to “be love” within himself and therefore not in need of finding love outside (in his creation). This idea came out in a recent dialogue I had online with a Jehovah’s Witness. I think this dialogue concerning the triune God and love might be helpful for all of us.
Debating God’s Nature Online
Me: If Jehovah as a single solitary God is also loving, whom did Jehovah love in eternity past before he created Christ, angels, and human beings? Was Jehovah lonely? Did Jehovah have to create to get love?
JW: The Almighty God Jehovah doesn’t have needs. Would that not conflict with being almighty? Appeal to sentimentality cannot reconcile your clearly unscriptural doctrine. Christ will always be in subjection to his father.
Me: Love is not mere sentimentality. If Jehovah is a loving God then he has to give that love to someone. Love is defined by giving. But in eternity past, Jehovah [on the JW view] had no one to love. True love is not narcissistic. As a single, solitary God, wasn’t Jehovah either needy or loveless? The Trinity, on the other hand, has loving equals.
JW: All creation had a beginning including Jehovah’s firstborn [Jesus]. God had no beginning, but has lived forever into the past. He was not lonely, or needy as you imagine. He began creating because he wanted to, not because he had to. He has no insecurities, and no equal.
Me: True love includes both giving and receiving. Jehovah [according to the JW view] had no equal to love and no one to give him love in return. Love requires another equal person. It seems a God with no one to love means either God was desperate or loveless. Neither qualifies as a true God of love.
JW: Love is what moved God to begin creating. He obviously put a lot of thought into it. You’re trying to warp the Scripture. It says God IS love, that doesn’t imply that before he created his firstborn, he was not in love with the concept of creating. It took love to create.
Me: Since the Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8), how is Jehovah a loving God when before creation he is all alone without someone to love? When you knock on people’s doors as a JW, do you tell people Jehovah is a loving God? What if they ask how? It is OK if you don’t know. Ask the leaders at the Watchtower.
Using the Trinity
I had been interacting with this person off and on over a couple of days online about the Trinity, but it seemed to me that the interaction changed when I asked about God being love. The respondent became more candid and reflective. It was no longer just a cerebral doctrinal debate. I’ve had similar dialogues with Muslims and Jews about a unitarian (single, solitary being; one God, one person) deity and the issue of love. Those who affirm a unitarian God (non-Christian theistic religions) have trouble responding to this argument about love. Non-trinitarian conceptions of God—a supreme, perfect being without needs—put him in a position of lacking someone to love and therefore requiring his creation for fulfillment.
Maybe the reason that this conversation takes on a unique dimension is that all of us want and need love, and especially the perfect love of God.
Think about this argument carefully and consider using it with those who deny the Trinity.
Reflections: Your Turn
How does God being a Trinity make a difference in your life as a Christian?
- For a very brief introduction to this argument in the context of Islam, see chapter five of my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.
- Gerald Bray, “8 Things We Can Learn from Augustine,” Crossway, November 16, 2015, crossway.org/articles/8-things-we-can-learn-from-st-augustine.