What is love? (The Trinity)

I don’t pretend to be a biologist or a neurologist, but science can attempt to explain the process of love with neurochemical reactions, as in this article, which states, ‘At the center of how our bodies respond to love and affection is a hormone called oxytocin.  Oxytocin makes us feel good by acting through the dopamine reward system.’ The chemical reactions in the brain which uphold feelings of love seem sound to me, but the very existence and foundation of love should not boil down to a simple ‘reward system’. That is a mechanical process – there’s far more to love than the mere mechanics!

If we look to the Bible, we see the astounding and oft-quoted statement ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). Note that this statement cannot be reversed: if we said ‘love is God’, we would be blasphemous New Age spiritualists (by believing that God somehow is the universe) and we would also assign to God a very human ideal of love which is not always good, since we can love imperfectly, destroy loving relationships and love evil things. But God’s love is far greater and our human love, though it comes from our being made in his image, is only a tiny reflection of God’s.

So why do humans love? ‘We love because he [God] loved us first.’ (1 John 4:19) And how can we say that God is love? I argue that a unitarian god (the Islamic god, for example) could not feasibly be love. If God transcends creation, if he is to be acknowledged as sovereign over it, then how can love be part of God’s image if he did not love before he created? If we take a unitarian god, he would be dependent on his creation for love, and we know this is not the case – God does not need us!

God’s love is eternal, and this is the nature of a triune God, one God in three persons. In my previous article, I touched on God’s covenants with man (the Covenants of Works and Grace). But in order for these things to be, there is first a third overarching covenant known in theological terms as the Covenant of Redemption. This is rooted in the fact that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (three distinct persons, but equal in divine essence) love each other eternally. Though the Father and the Son have equality in essence, the Son who lovingly obeys his Father agreed to be subservient in role, to become an incarnate federal head for mankind (the second Adam) and to be a propitiation for our sins. It was ordained from all time that this should be the case.

From the moment humans rebelled, God had the right to destroy us (if God takes the life of a human, this does not diminish his justice because humans are criminals before him – to destroy us is the just thing to do).  A unitarian god, therefore having no intrinsic love, would have destroyed us instantly for being so wicked. But God has mercy on sinners because of the Covenant of Redemption, because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit share in a loving relationship. The Father loves mankind through the Son – through whom all things are made – who became what man was always supposed to be, bore the price of sin and became our intercessor. The Holy Spirit effects our relationship with the Son (and with the Father through the Son) by imputing Christ’s righteousness to us, so that God on his judgement seat no longer sees a sinful man but Christ himself.

God hates sin and nothing unclean can come into his presence – that would defile him and render him an imperfect judge. The only way that he can truly love us and spare us lies in his triune nature and the Covenant of Redemption. And the love between humans, which arises from the image of God, is patterned on the Trinity – the real reason for love! When we see the unconditional love between earthly fathers (or mothers) and sons (or daughters), we see a tiny reflection of the original unconditional love between the eternal Father and the eternal Son. Similarly, the relationship between husband and wife echoes the relationship between Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church. Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, our human love is flawed and our relationships break down; parents can be abusive, and spouses can divorce. But the love of God is not contaminated by sin!

And this has particular implications for Christians. We must ensure that our relationships are firmly modelled on the Trinity. One striking point from scripture is that husbands are told to love their wives ‘as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’, and Paul talks of marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ that ‘refers to Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5:22-33). This is a great love indeed! In the same way, there must be an orderly and loving relationship between parent and child as there is between the Father and the Son.


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