God is Love


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GOD IS LOVE He who remains in Love remains in God, and God in him (1 Jn 4:16).

Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI: 

Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI Part 1: The Love of God is offered to all human beings, and is related to human love; Part 2: Christians are called to express this wonderful love to those in need in various ways.

Part 1:Who Is God? Who are We?: 

Part 1: Who Is God? Who are We? Sometimes the Name of God is associated with hatred and violence. But the Bible tells us, 'God is Love', and that before all things he has loved us (1 Jn 4:16). But what do we mean when we say 'God is Love'? What do we mean by the word love? (cf. pars. 1-2).

What is “Love”?: 

What is 'Love'? We use the word ‘love’ to describe lots of different things: we feel love for our mum and dad, our pets, our country, our job. A special type of love is that which exists between a man and a woman (cf. par. 2).


A Question Arises!: 

A Question Arises! Are all these different forms of love basically one? Is ‘love’ one reality that has lots of different expressions? Or…are we simply using the same word—’love’—to describe totally different realities? (Cf. par. 2).

The Answer?: 

The Answer? All these types of love are the one reality—or at least they can be (Cf. par. 8). Let’s see how……..

Eros and Agape: 

Eros and Agape In Ancient Greek culture, the word eros was used to describe the love between a woman and man. They thought of it as something so powerful that it must have come from the gods: it was a divine ‘madness’ that caused people to act as if drunk! Because of this, they also believed that if it was really strong it would draw people closer to the divine (Cf. par. 3-4).

Eros and Agape continued.: 

Eros and Agape continued. But what if eros gets carried away with itself? If ‘erotic’ love is our only focus, and if it is just an 'intoxicated' love, we can end up de-humanising others: in other words, they become ‘sex-objects’ rather than persons. From a Christian perspective, this actually leads us away from the Divine, not closer to it (Cf. par 4-5).

Eros and Agape continued.: 

Eros and Agape continued. So what is to be done? Well, eros is good and can lead to God, but only when it is disciplined and coupled with another type of love: agape (Cf. par 5; 6). Agape is another Greek word used many times in the New Testament to describe the love Christians had for one another and for the poor and needy. It is a special type of ‘spiritual’ love 'shaped by faith in Jesus Christ'. It is the type of love that Jesus has for us, and the love he showed in dying on the cross for us (Cf. par 3; 6; 7).

Eros and Agape together: 

Eros and Agape together Eros, or ‘erotic’ love, can actually lead us to God when agape-love is also at work. What that means is that sexual love between a man and woman can be an expression of our faith in Jesus. That’s pretty amazing! But it requires discipline and growth (Cf. par 5-7)…

The Progress of Love: 

The Progress of Love To start with, romantic, erotic love between a couple is full of exciting emotions and feelings, but it begins insecurely. When it matures it becomes less selfish and shows care and concern for the other. It is willing to sacrifice for the good of the beloved. This is where two people really discover each other (Cf. par 6).

The Progress of Love II: 

The Progress of Love II When this love matures even more, it resembles agape more fully. It becomes secure and devoted to one person alone. It also has the promise of lasting forever. It is a journey through which by giving of ourselves more, we discover ourselves, the one we love, and God more. So Agape and Eros are not opposed to each other (Cf. par 6-7).

Summary of Part One:: 

Summary of Part One: So, to summarise, human love and the love God has for us are fundamentally connected. Because God became a human being in Jesus Christ, who sacrificed his life out of love, we can learn how to humanely love, and meet God in doing so.

What Does The Bible Tell Us About God and His Love For Us?: 

What Does The Bible Tell Us About God and His Love For Us? The Old Testament shows us that there is only one God, and that he is the source of all creation. Having created human beings, God also loves human beings personally (Cf. par 9).

What Does The Bible Tell Us About God and His Love For Us?: 

What Does The Bible Tell Us About God and His Love For Us? A few of the Old Testament Prophets actually describe God’s love for his people Israel in strongly erotic images! For example, God is the husband and Israel the wife: their married life began when God gave the covenant to Israel (Cf. par 9).

What Does The Bible Tell Us About God and His Love For Us?: 

What Does The Bible Tell Us About God and His Love For Us? God has Eros for his people, but this love is also Agape (Cf. par 9; 10). God gave his love freely to his people, they did not earn it. And when Israel (the wife) 'cheated' on God (the husband) by believing in other gods, God always forgave her. This is agape (Cf. par 10).

What Does the Bible Tell Us About Human Beings?: 

What Does the Bible Tell Us About Human Beings? God created man and woman equally and created them for each other. By nature they are driven towards eros and express this in marriage (Gn 2:23; Cf. par. 11). Human beings are raised up and saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection. We remember the love Jesus had for us when we celebrate the Eucharist together (Cf. par 12, 13-14).


Love of God and Love of Neighbour : 

Love of God and Love of Neighbour To love God with our whole soul and our neighbour as ourself—this is the great commandment set by Jesus (Cf. par 1). He taught us about love of neighbour in his parables, especially the Good Samaritan: our neighbour is not just our close friend or sister or brother, but anyone in need (Cf. par 15). Jesus himself was in need in his lifetime and he identified himself with the poor, sick, hungry and thirsty. When we serve such people we serve him, and in serving him, we serve God (Cf. par 15).


Can Love be Commanded?: 

Can Love be Commanded? But hold on—isn’t love a feeling? How can we be commanded to love others? (Cf. par 16). Love is not essentially a feeling. Feelings come and go and the first ‘spark’ of love can’t be reignited. Love is more than that: it is always growing, and it involves our minds, our choices, and above all, our acceptance (Cf. par 17).


Acceptance Our acceptance of God’s love is our response to God’s love. Remember that he 'loved us first' (1 Jn 4:16). When we experience his love, love can blossom within us too (Cf. par 17). So love is really more than a command—although it is that too—it is a response to God’s gift of love for us (Cf. par 1).

Part Two: The Way The Church Practices Love In The World.: 

Part Two: The Way The Church Practices Love In The World. We have just seen how God loves us and especially how this love is shown for us in Jesus Christ. When we live in relationship with Jesus we are called to act as he did; this is the Church’s responsibility (cf. par. 20). Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out for those suffering and in need. We call this service of love charity (cf. par. 19).

Charity In The Early Church: 

Charity In The Early Church The Acts of the Apostles (2:44-5; 4:32-37) shows the Christian community sharing possessions and distributing goods to those in need (cf. par. 20). As the Church grew, this radical form of material communion could not remain, but the essential ‘core’ did: namely, the willingness to never let anyone be denied what is needed to live a dignified life (par. 20).

Charity As An Essential Part Of the Church’s Ministry: 

Charity As An Essential Part Of the Church’s Ministry As the Church grew and developed, the exercise of charity became established as one of its essential activities (cf. par. 22). Other essential activities included administering the sacraments and preaching the gospel (cf. par. 22).

Saint Lawrence: 

Saint Lawrence Saint Lawrence was responsible for the care of the poor in Rome in 258 AD. When his deacon friends were being captured by persecutors, Lawrence was given time to show to the civil authorities the 'Church’s treasure'. He showed them the poor and needy (cf. par. 23).

Charity is the Church’s Nature : 

Charity is the Church’s Nature 'For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being'. (par. 25a).

Justice and Charity: 

Justice and Charity An important question today is: Do the poor need charity or justice? Isn’t almsgiving a way for the rich to soothe their consciences while avoiding the hard work of changing unjust social structures that keep the poor people poor and dependent on charity? (cf. par. 26).

The Relationship Between Justice and Charity.: 

The Relationship Between Justice and Charity. While there might be some truth to the last question, much of it is mistaken (cf. par. 26). It is not the responsibility of the Church to implement a just social order as such, so that each person in society has his or her share of the community’s goods. This is the responsibility of the State; justice is the measure and 'aim of all politics'. (cf. par. 28a).


The Role of the Church in Society: 

The Role of the Church in Society The Church is independent of the State (cf. par. 28a), but in a way is related to it. How can governments be assured if they are acting justly? Do not power and special interests 'blind' them at times from knowing what is just? Well, faith—as an encounter with the living God—helps purify reason from ‘blind spots’, and this is where the Church has a role: it can contribute towards an understanding of the requirements of justice and how to achieve them politically (cf. par. 28a).

The Role of the Church in Society II: 

The Role of the Church in Society II Without interfering with the State’s role, the Church can contribute to justice without remaining on the sidelines. It can 'reawaken spiritual energy' amongst people to demonstrate that justice demands sacrifice and open-mindedness (par. 28).

Charity Has a Special Importance: 

Charity Has a Special Importance Just social structures are not the whole picture: they cannot replace almsgiving, since charity essentially is an expression of loving personal concern for individuals in need (cf. par. 28b). This is what the Church’s charity organisations attempt to do. The lay faithful participate in the functioning of the social order, in it’s economy and culture, and so are called to 'configure social life correctly': charity must animate the 'entire lives of the lay faithful' and therefore also their political activity. (par. 28b).

State and Church Cooperating : 

State and Church Cooperating Mass communication has made our planet smaller. We know almost instantly about the needs of others even very far away from us. We are challenged to share their difficulties and come to their aid. We now have numerous modern means at our disposal to offer humanitarian assistance. State and Church agencies have begun cooperating because of this new situation (cf. par. 30).

Young People’s Involvement: 

Young People’s Involvement Young people today are increasingly involved as volunteers for charitable agencies or Church agencies. This shows an unselfish love for others and a willingness to 'lose oneself' (cf. Luke 17:33) for others (cf. par. 30).

What Makes Church Charity Unique: 

What Makes Church Charity Unique The Church’s distinctive charitable work must be free from ideologies. Charitable acts should not be disregarded just because they carry with them no agenda for ‘changing the world’. Rather, we contribute to a better world only by personally doing good here and now wherever we have the opportunity. 'The heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly' (par. 31).

Love Is A Witness: 

Love Is A Witness The Christian practice of charity is not a means of foisting religion on others. A pure and generous love is oftentimes the best witness to the God in whom we believe. Sometimes we speak of God, sometimes love alone speaks of God. (par. 31).

Who Performs Charity?: 

Who Performs Charity? The Church is God’s family and must be a place where help is given and received. But Christians must also be prepared to serve the needy who are outside the Church’s boundaries (cf. par. 32). People at all levels of the Church are responsible for charitable activity (cf. par. 32).

Giving of Ourselves: 

Giving of Ourselves We are required in practicing charity to always do more than mere activity: 'If I give away all that I have…but do not have love, I gain nothing' (1 Cor 13:3). Sharing personally and deeply with the sufferings of others is a sharing of ourselves with them, flowing from our own encounter with Christ (par. 34).


Prayer We encounter Christ’s love in prayer, and prayer is essential if we want to carry his love to the needy. Prayer is not a 'waste of time', even if situations appear to call for action alone (par. 36).

All The Great Saints: 

All The Great Saints St Martin of Tours gave half of his cloak to a poor man; then Jesus himself appeared to him that night wearing that cloak. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St Camillus of Lellis, St Vincent de Paul and others are 'true bearers of light within history' and models of social charity (par. 40).

Mary, Mother of the Lord: 

Mary, Mother of the Lord Mary stands out among all the saints. She served others in true charity, especially her cousin Elizabeth during her pregnancy (Luke 1:56). She was totally 'at home' with the Word of God: her thoughts were one with God’s thoughts, her will was one with God’s will (par. 41).

Final Reflection: 

Final Reflection 'Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical' (par. 39).


By Ruth Sheridan. Copyright © 2006, Church Resources.  This document may be reproduced for non-commercial use provided this notice is included. Enquiries: [email protected] Click here for the full English text of the Encyclical.