Christians are fond of declaring that “God is love,” and we are right to do so (1 John 4:16). But what do we mean when we say God is love? How could God have been love in that timeless time that preceded his creation of us and our world? Before God spoke the universe into being, there was nothing to love, so how can we say that God is love?
In answer to this question, Lewis reminds us (Mere Christianity IV.4) that the Christian God is not radically singular (as he is in Islam) but exists as an eternal Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not some lonely, radically monotheistic deity, but three Persons in one God. He is, if it is not too absurd to express it thus, his own community.
When the Bible declares that God is love, it does not mean that he is the Platonic Form of love (Love with a capital “L”) or that he is love in some abstract, idealistic sense. It means that he is love in action. For all eternity, the Father has loved the Son and the Son has loved the Father, and the love between them is so real, so substantial that it is itself a Person: the Holy Spirit.
We’ve all been part of group or club in which the spirit between the members was so strong that it was almost a felt presence. Well, in our world, that spirit of camaraderie is only that—an almost tangible feeling of unity between the members—but within the Godhead, it is a living Spirit that shares equally in the deity of Father and Son.
Actually, love is ultimately not a feeling at all, but an action, a dynamic activity. In Christianity, to be truly and fully saved means not just to have our sins washed away and to spend eternity in heaven. It means nothing less than participating in the triune life and love of God.
Even on the earth, love manifests itself in its fullest form as a movement out of the self toward the other person. True marriage, Lewis writes, is not founded on a feeling (“being in love”) but on an active love that draws husband to wife and wife to husband.
Many of the divorces in our country are caused by the wrongheaded notion that the only true foundation of marriage is the feeling of being in love. Unfortunately, once this premise is accepted, it means that the moment one spouse ceases to feel warm feelings toward the other, he or she is free, if not obligated, to end the marriage.
Now it is true that the feeling of love does strengthen a marriage, but that love proceeds out of the action of love (the movement out of the self toward the other), and not vice versa. Indeed, Lewis advises husbands who no longer feel love for their wives to start treating them as if they loved them. If they do that for several weeks, Lewis assures them, the feeling of love will return.
In the same way, when the Bible commands us to love our enemies, it does not mean that we are to feel warm emotions toward them. Of course we don’t feel warm emotions toward them! But, if we will treat them in a loving manner, we will often find that we are capable of feeling positive emotions toward them as well. This is even more true of charitable acts toward the poor. The more we treat the less fortunate with acts of compassion, the more we will find a capacity within us to feel true (rather than hypocritical and self-righteous) emotions of pity and love.