In the most elevated conception, God in the Old Testament is a god of justice, of mercy, and of condescension. These are the qualities of the ideal ruler; a conception of the best that the best of human beings can imagine, the deepest that the deepest of human beings can fathom. It is a noble, virtuous, compelling conception, forever worthy of respect. It is the conception of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and John the Baptist. But it is not the Truth, as revealed by Jesus.
John’s gospel records Jesus’ new commandment to his followers, that they love one another as he has loved them. And why? John’s first epistle tells us: because God is love. We are to be like God – “Be perfect” – and to be like God is to be like love.
But the wellspring of this staggering thought, Jesus Himself, didn’t offer it in English or Greek. It would have been in a Hebraic tongue, and the word he would have used has the root meaning of to give. The quality being described is a giving nature.
To give someone something is to remove it from one’s own benefit or use or advantage and bestow that benefit on someone else.
So when John tells us that God in this degree loved the world that he gave his son to it, he’s describing the depth of God’s giving nature, and he’s saying that it is bottomless, even to the limit of God’s own self, even to death. Jesus Himself said the same thing: Greater love than this does not exist, than to give one’s own life. That is the limit of love, to have nothing left of oneself.
Jesus provides us with the full revelation of love on the Cross. And God is love.