God is Love
o` qeo.j avga,ph evsti,n (this is a good example of Colwell's Rule, by the way)
Interestingly, these words have proved to be a real stumbling block for many Christian theologians. Recognising certain 'dangerous' implications many have sought to 'explain away' the significance of this statement in the name of their theological systems. I urgently refer to Talbott's powerful critique of Edwards, Packer and Calvin at this point in his book The Inescapable Love of God, pp. 109-118. What many of these theologians have done with these words of scripture is quite frankly unbelievable. They claim that God is love but ... [cue to insert theological move to explain force of statement away] that it doesn't say everything about God, or that it is only true about God for Christians, that 'God is love', to cite Calvin, 'does not speak of the essence of God, but only shows what he is found to be by us [i.e. the elect]' (from his Catholic Epistles commentaries).
Of course it doesn't say everything about God! Who ever claimed it did? After all, even the author of 1 John states 'God is light'. And would we want to argue that to say God is holy or righteous is only true about God for Christians? As for Calvin, he contradicts himself hopelessly stumbling over his own reasoning in his struggle with this statement. Would he also want to say that the statement 'God is holy' is only true in terms of how God is found by us? Is God holy and righteous with us, but unholy and unrighteous with others? And of course this text is a statement about God's, for want of a better word, nature or essence. The text couldn't be any clearer.
Of course, exegetes tend not to have any problem seeing what is going on:
'John does not say that "God loves" (as in vv. 10, 11, 19), but that "God is love" … God is not only the source of love (v 7a), but love itself. Thus the assertion "God is love" means not simply that love is one of his activities, but that all his activity is loving … God's judgment (his wrath), for example, is just as much a reality as his love … But theologically these cannot be opposed to each other' (Smalley, S. S. Vol. 51: Word Biblical Commentary: 1,2,3 John, p. 239)
God not only loves but is love. So it says in 1 John 4:18 and 16, anyway, the declaration of one who claims: 'We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life' (1:1). Having heard and seen and touched this Word, 'the "we" of authoritative testimony' (see Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, chapter 14!) writes 'God is love'. The one addressed and captivated by God's redeeming Word to us in Christ rejoices in the truth that 'God is love' without any 'buts'.
Let's stop trying to explain 'God is love' away in the name of our theological systems, and rather let our systems sit humbly before this Word as God addresses humankind in Christ Jesus. As for theological problems ... I prefer to simply exegete and let the cards land where they want.
Now the kicker question: Is God love also for those in hell? *grins*