Here is the Introduction to This Is Love: Tracing The Love of God throughout the Biblical Story by Neil Tolsma.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE IS? We all know what love is—or so we think. I thought I did too. After all, our world has much to say about love. The biologist might suggest that it is a chemical reaction. A love spot in the brain needs to be satisfied—like the hunger spot. Feed me, feed me. Love me, love me.
Then there is the psychologist, who sees love as a form of manipulation, a self-centered thing: “You need to earn my love.” The divorcing spouse complains, “I don’t love him anymore. He doesn’t do anything for me.”
The TV sitcoms have reduced the idea of love to sexual passion: “Let’s make love.” Has Freud triumphed? When I mentioned that I was writing a book about love in the Bible, there were those who automatically assumed that I was writing about sex.
Are we left with the plaintive cry, “It’s love’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know love at all”?1
It is not in some dictionary definition of love that we will learn what true love is all about. Rather, true love is found in the unfolding history of God’s ways with mankind. Our lives have to be understood against the background of the history of redemption. That history has been characterized by significant expressions of divine love that define true love. God is love, and the best definition of love is found in him. This book develops an understanding of love as it has come alive in what our Lord has said and done.
Are you looking for true love? We will begin our journey of discovery in the eternal house of God. There the three persons of the Trinity dwell in complete harmony. Within the Godhead, the shape and scope of perfect love can be found, and from this fountainhead it coursed through human history, from creation, through the fall into sin, to the triumph of salvation in the person of the Son of God. It will climax in eternity, when the redeemed will swim in an ocean of God’s love (as Jonathan Edwards put it).
We will study the great epochs of salvation history that lead us forward in our knowledge and understanding of this glorious concept. And not only lead us forward but also reveal with growing insight how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God in finally taking us to Christ, who loves to the ultimate. To open the Bible is to enter a world of love: Adam communes with the Creator, who loves him; Noah finds grace in the eyes of the Lord; Abraham meets with his divine Friend; Moses proclaims the law of the love of God; Israel is the beloved bride of the heavenly King; Christians are brought to eternal life through the love of the One who laid down his life for them; and believers are enabled to love others with the same sacred love. Having explored these manifestations of love, we ought to be able to say, “This is love.”
While I emphasize certain aspects of God’s love in each chapter, this does not mean the specific characteristic of God’s love I selected for each chapter is isolated to one time or event. Each aspect was there from the beginning. For instance, the Lord’s condescending love did not begin with his covenant with Abraham; God stooped to engage with his creation from day one. Further, his mercy and grace shaped his relationship with man from earliest times, and his love is marked by faithfulness throughout all generations.
Each chapter ends with questions to help prompt discussion and personal reflection. Use them as they are helpful to you. I trust you will come up with some of your own. While I find myself in hearty agreement with most of the authors I quote, there are some I refer to, especially in the discussion questions, with whom I do not agree.
In his day, Paul repeatedly prayed that the churches of Christ might abound in love more and more. May the Lord be gracious and use this book to cause love to grow in the hearts of many Christians and their churches in our day.
I pray that this book will enrich your understanding of the love of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I pray that you will be fired up to read your Bible and read it with a new appreciation. After all, there you will find the best account of what true love is all about. And I pray that the love of Christ will be reproduced in your own life. Jesus loved us to the uttermost and calls on us to love one another as he has loved us. If you are a stranger to the grace and glory of the love of God, I pray that, by means of this book, God will open your heart to receive that love, so that you too may come to love him, and your neighbor, as Jesus loves you.
1. Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now” (Siquomb Publishing, 1967).