- May you have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge… Ephesians 3:18-19
- “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:12
- God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us… 1 John 4:16-17
- We love because he first loved us… 1 John 4:19
God’s love is mutually enjoyed; it looks for a resting place and yearns for reciprocation. His love is only “complete” when those he’s reaching out to reach back. Tozer wrote, “It is a strange and beautiful eccentricity of the free God that he has allowed his heart to be emotionally identified with men. Self-sufficient that he is, he wants our love and will not be satisfied till he gets it.”
In this way love is different than the other characteristics that describe God. This particular character quality of his calls for a response, a return of the love that he extends. In order for it to be complete, and both parties to benefit from it, his love has to be returned.
More directly than any other aspect of his disposition his love is to be reciprocated. As he is holy, we aspire to be holy. He’s longsuffering with us, and so we aspire to be the same. But love is something that we were made to receive and then return back to him. He loves us thoroughly and unconditionally, and with commensurate intensity we’re inspired to love him back.
It’s true that he continues loving me even when I don’t return it, but when I return his advances; the joy of mutual love is realized in both of us. I can only receive the full benefits of his love when I return it back to him. I experience his love the most in the reciprocation. How can I ever feel the warmth of how he feels about me if I don’t return his love? When I receive and return his agape; the world is as it should be. It’s what we’re all put here to do – love the Lover of our souls!
“God so loved the world…” He loves a world full of people, many of whom will never love him back. Though his offer will continue to stand, those who reject his proposal won’t directly benefit from it. For instance, if I love someone, and yet they never choose to counter my affections, then both of us miss the joy of mutual love. If they reject me, neither of us enjoys love’s benefits. We both miss the elation of loving and being loved. Everybody loses.
- God’s heart was grieved… and his heart was filled with pain. Genesis 6:6
- And don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God… Ephesians 4:30
When he dreamed us up, God’s heart must have been filled with an intense desire to share himself with us. He wanted us to know him as he is, become smitten, fall in love, and, in this way, discover life’s most profound joy. He made us in such a way as to find our greatest delight in the delight of knowing we’re loved and reciprocating the same back to him.
To put it mildly, it’s hard for us to love people who don’t love us in return. I don’t do it very well; but the One who loved first loves those who pay him no attention. His unrequited love remains constant regardless of our response to it. It’s who he is. When we don’t love him back we miss out on the benefits of being “so loved.”
Until we return his adoration; his agape – though constant and fixed – won’t be savored by us, and his own outstretched heart is in some way unfulfilled. Those who don’t return his love miss out on its warmth – and because his passion has no place to alight – I have no doubt that God himself feels the heartache. Unrequited love becomes more of an ache in the heart of the lover than a joy to it. Human love, in such a cases, hurts more than it heartens. I can only imagine that with the mass of humanity that rejects him, on one level, God’s heart lives in a sort of unremitting state of restlessness and grief. He offers his love to all his creatures, and so few return it. How would we survive if we had so much affection to give, and so few received and returned it? On the other hand, the ecstasy of his love reaching out and finding receivers and reciprocators must be so great that he was willing to risk the grief.
I wouldn’t want you to worry about him though. He would not be any less God if no one returned his love. It wouldn’t destroy him if everyone he loved rejected his advances. In order to be secure within himself he isn’t dependent on us to love him. His security is in himself. He had intimate fellowship among his triune essence before the world began; and though he created us to be loved and to love him in return, his character would remain intact even if he had no takers. He’d still love, because it’s his nature.
[For more on receiving, reciprocating, and reflecting God’s love see “The Antiphonal Song”]