I think about love a lot, and yet I think it's one of those abstract ideas that I still have a hard time grasping. It's a trait that has been twisted and misunderstood in our world by Satan because it is so powerful. The fact that God is love is the reason why Satan is going to be vanquished. Why wouldn't he twist our view of it so that we don't fully understand and live in the power of the great love of our God?
If God IS love, meaning He actually equals it, what does that mean? God = love. What else is God? He is just, righteous, holy, merciful, gracious, etc. The list could go on. He is also angry, full of wrath, and to be feared. One of my good friends told me the other day that whatever God is, He is ALL of that; everything in Him is acting on it. For example, God is love, so all of God's being is behind being "love." So all of God's being is also behind being powerful, just, merciful, wrathful, etc. He's not halfway loving and halfway just; He is everything He is, all the time.
Now I'm going to draw on my many years of math. If God = love and God = just, then according to the Transitive Property of Equality, love = just. So if this is true, then love is also equal to all of the other qualities that God embodies. So love is just, holy, righteous, merciful, kind, gracious, full of wrath, patient, etc. and to be feared.
This is hard to imagine. One reason, is that in our limited view of God, we only see certain aspects of His character at certain times; we don't have the full picture. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12) It's easy to look at His interaction with Mary and Martha and see love, His cleansing of the court of the gentiles as evidence of His wrath, his tears at the death of Lazarus as compassion, etc. But to see and experience all of Him all at once is hard to imagine. And yet that's what He's saying Love is; if Love is Himself, then Love should be all of these things all at once. How do we see it then? How can we ever love if we only see a small picture?
I believe that we have one instance where all of God was evident all at once, so evident that it moved God to turn His back on His own son. So evident that the entire earth was affected, being cloaked in darkness. When Christ died, we see God's wrath and anger towards sin in the world, His mercifulness to relieve us of the death we deserved, His grace to give us the free gift of eternal life, His holiness that He could not look as His perfect son died in shame, His righteousness that the sinner on the cross next to Him could not deny, and His awe - the earth shook and the veil was torn because of His death. And of course love - love so great that God's only son would die for us. All of Christ was there on that cross when He died for us.
So what is love? It is dying - dying to everything I am, just like Christ died to everything He had, "becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8) Love is dying to my pride and any and all desires I have. It's dying to the things that hurt me as well. For me, to love is to act as though I have nothing to lose - to treat others and serve them with no regard to protecting myself, and with no fear of being hurt. I am, after all, dying, and I don't hear of beautiful and painless deaths too often.
Dying is rough; it's hard to bear. As should love be. It's painful, and I think we often candy-coat it. But when we see that love is dying, and encompasses all of the characteristics of Christ, it is so rich. It becomes a beautiful sacrifice, rich in the blood of Christ. C.S. Lewis described it like this:
"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."
I must love others, even if who they are hurts me. I must love others for who they are at that moment. I must love change even if I think I will suffer. If we should love, then we must die, for love cannot be experienced to the full without a death to ourselves and the things we hold onto to preserve us. And the ones that share this kind of love, this all-encompassing love that never fails, know the love of Christ, because they die daily with Him. "Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)