“God is love,” says the New Testament.
And, in fact, divine love is a fundamental theme of Christian scripture.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:7-10).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Such New Testament verses offer a radically different view of God than was common in ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle’s God, for example, eternally contemplated the one thing in the universe worthy of its attention: itself. The “Unmoved Mover” can hardly be described as “loving.”
But how can the New Testament God not only love, but, in some important sense, actually be love? Before creation, before there were creatures, wasn’t God alone? What was there for him to love? (Remember that most Christian traditions do not teach a pre-mortal human existence.)
Mainstream Christian theologians have argued for centuries that the statement “God is love” points to what they sometimes call “intra-Trinitarian love.” There is, they say, a genuine sociality that is intrinsic to God’s eternal character. It grows out of God’s nature as Trinity: He is — and has been, without beginning — Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three persons in one “substance,” and these three persons are bound together by, among other things, mutual love. By being, in himself, both perfect lover and perfect object of love, God can be viewed as, by nature, love itself.
Since ancient times, many Christian readers have seen evidence of the Trinity, and, thus, of sociality or plurality within the one God, in Genesis 1:26-27. The “Church Fathers” of the first few Christian centuries devoted more attention to this than to any other Old Testament passage:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
From a point of view as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite the fact that Mormonism rejects the classical Nicene doctrine of the Trinity, these mainstream Christian readers were and are on to something. The Book of Mormon, for example, strongly and repeatedly emphasizes the oneness of Father, Son and Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:27-28, 44; Mormon 7:7; 3 Nephi 11:2; compare also "The Testimony of Three Witnesses”). They’re separate and distinct beings, yes, but they’re also perfectly united in will, purpose, action and love.
Still, there may be others included in those plurals “us” and “our,” beyond the three members of the Godhead. (Note the fact that human females are also created in the image of God.)
A fascinating strand of recent biblical scholarship focuses on a larger divine or heavenly council that seems to have surrounded El or Elohim and his son, Yahweh or Jehovah, in ancient Hebrew thinking. (For a Latter-day Saint survey and application of some of this literature, see my “‘Ye are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind” online at publications.mi.byu.edu.) On this view, too, God dwells in society, not in the austere and lordly isolation that Greek philosophy and many strands of non-Christian monotheism have historically ascribed to him. (Indeed, from one perspective, “God” may be a kind of society, as the Book of Mormon passages cited above seem to suggest. It’s striking that the word “Elohim” is grammatically plural.) Yet this view (compare Abraham 4) is faithful to biblical concepts and to the thought patterns of the ancient Near East, and doesn’t depend on the Aristotelian and Middle Platonic ideas that contributed so heavily to the formulation of the Nicene Trinity.
Remarkably, all of us have been invited to join the heavenly fellowship, and to receive the divine fullness that accompanies it:
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).