God is Love?

“God is love.”

This is one of the most important things Christians say about God. And, it is one of the most abused.

The problem with saying “God is love” is twofold. First, we assume that we know what love means already, so the phrase becomes a bit of a mirror rather than an insight into the divine. Secondly, we make the mistake of thinking that because we can say “God is love,” we can flip the subject and the predicate and faithfully say, “Love is God.”

But Barth gets it right on both counts.

As his discussion of the identity of God unfolds in CD 28.2, the “Being of God as the one who Loves” is continually drawn back to the love of God as it is made known in the Father’s giving of the Son for us.

This is the best of Trinitarian theology: cultivating an understanding of what it means to say “God is” that is relentlessly tied to how God is made known in the story. It is a theology from below, a theology that trusts that the way God has revealed Godself in the stories of Israel and Christ is not mere condescension and analogy, but truthfully revelatory of who this God is.

I confess: the sorts of claims Barth makes in this chapter, while I agree, take increasing amounts of faith the more I compare and contrast other people’s ways of talking about God. The idea that we are not projecting into heaven but receiving what heaven has brought down to us requires an assent to this story, and its claims to be the playground of God.

Throughout the section, Barth reminds us not to think that our abstractions are the ideals to which God conforms: not “personhood,” not “the absolute,” not “the infinite,” not “the power,” and not even love–until love is shaped by the story of the self-giving Son, given of the Father.

This is the triune God–the one who is known as the one who gives in love.

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